Why ‘Drinking of the Milk’ became an Indy 500 tradition

For years, the winner of the Indy 500 has been seen drinking milk. It's a unintentional tradition. (Provided Photo/IMS)

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WISH) – After driving 200 laps around the famed 2.5 mile oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at least one driver, the first place finisher, reaches for a bottle of milk. It’s been a tradition at the Racing Capital of the World for many years.

Donald Davidson, historian for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said the tradition started in the mid-1930s with three-time Indy 500 winner Louis Myer.

Davidson said, “In ’36 when [Louis Meyer] won his third race he was handed the bottle that he was going to drink anyway and so it was recorded on film and apparently an executive in the milk industry said, ‘Hey that’s great!’.”

Everyone who watched Meyer thought milk filled the bottle he held in his hand. It wasn’t. It turned out to be buttermilk. Davidson said Meyer preferred to drink buttermilk to refresh himself.

The track says there was no Victory Lane milk from 1947-55, but the tradition was revived in 1956 and continues today.

In 1993, Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi decided to trade in the bottle of milk for a bottle of orange juice. It didn’t go over well with race fans.

Davidsion said, “The crowd just boo’ed and boo’ed and boo’ed. And that was amazing because he was one of the most popular drivers.” He added, “That sort of defined his career. He won the world championship twice, won the 500 twice, but what does everybody remember? He didn’t drink the milk in 1993.”

The IMS historian said Fittipaldi chose to drink orange juice because his family grew oranges for the Brazilian government so it could make orange juice.

Ever since, Indy 500 winners have been sticking to the strong tradition. Davidson said the drivers now chose what type of milk they would like to drink if they’re able to pull into Victory Lane.

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