Why Indy 500 winners drink milk, kiss bricks

The 1936 winner of the Indianapolis 500 drank buttermilk. (Photo Provided/American Dairy Association of Indiana)

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WISH) — It’s really impossible to predict who will come out on top this Sunday, but there are specific traditions you can bet will always pop up.

“I think if you try to start a tradition it will not take off, that’s my theory. And then what does take off, you think that, really?”

Donald Davidson is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian and, needless to say, a huge racing fan.

“How much do I love the month of May? Oh, I don’t knowhow I would explain that,” Davidson said.

So 24-Hour News 8’s Nina Criscuolo sat down with him to find out why on earth the greatest drivers in the world slug milk to celebrate an Indy 500 win.

“Some drivers have just taken a sip or two, others drank it the whole thing and now they’ve got it where some pour it over their head,” Davidson said.

It started when Louis Meyer won in 1933.

“His choice of milk to refresh him on a hot day, as recommended by his mother, was buttermilk,” Davidson said.

No one really noticed the move that year, but when he claimed the title for a third time in 1936 it got some attention.

“Someone in the milk industry said, that’s great, let’s make sure that happens every year,” Davidson said.

It came at went for the next two decades, until the milk industry put up prize money for the race in 1956. Since then it’s the cream of the crop of Indy 500 traditions.

If milk after a hot day of racing doesn’t appeal to you, maybe kissing the ground, or rather the bricks does.

“That came out of Nascar. That was not a 500 tradition,” Davidson said.

In 1996 at the Brickyard 400 at IMS, Dale Jarrett and his chief mechanic kissed the bricks on a whim after winning the race.

“Fortunately someone got a photograph of it. Because it was so spontaneous, it wasn’t planned at all,” Davidson said.

More than 20 years later, it is now a huge photography production with the winners and a ritual for anyone who can bow at the bricks.

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