Thank you to Indiana Dairy and also Cris for allowing me to write about such an important tradition in our state. This was a true honor.
I grew up in Indiana, so the Indianapolis 500 was always a part of our lives. We would listen to the race on the radio and that marked the start of our summer. Of course, as a child, I didn’t completely understand the importance of the traditions that surround the race — especially the part that milk plays in the Indy 500.
In case you didn’t know, at the end of the race the winning driver is handed a bottle of milk from an Indiana dairy farmer.
But, where did this all begin anyway?
Milk, Indiana and the Indianapolis 500
The tradition of drinking milk at the race began way back in 1933. (I.KNOW.) That year, winning driver Louis Meyer asked for a glass of buttermilk to drink after the race. There began an unofficial tradition of giving the drivers milk to drink for the next 23 years.
However, in 1956, the Bottle of Milk became a permanent part of the 500 victory celebration with winning driver Pat Flaherty taking the first official swig.
Today’s glass quart milk bottles are etched with the words Indianapolis 500 Winner, the year, and the official race logo — making them a coveted trophy for the winning driver (and bloggers who write about the milk bottles). (Sorry, but I totally want one of those.)
The Milkmen Behind the Milk
So, how the heck does the winning driver get that icy cold milk in Victory Lane?
Every year one Indiana dairy farmer, picked by the milk promotions board, serves as the milkman and hands the milk to the winning driver in Victory Lane. A second milkman — the “rookie milkman,” who is in practice to be the milkman the following year — serves the drink to the car owner and the chief mechanic.
Indiana dairy farmers actually host the Fastest Rookie Luncheon — a highly popular tradition among 500 drivers— to teach first-time 500 drivers about the tradition of drinking milk and the life of a dairy farmer. (WAY! I KNOW!)
Meet: Duane Hill
This year’s milkman is Duane Hill of Fountain City, a third generation Indiana dairy farmer.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” Hill said of being chosen to serve in the Milkman role.
He went on to say that it was pretty exciting to be in Victory Lane with Ashley Judd last year as the rookie milkman, who accompanied then-husband, Dario Franchitti on his third Indy 500 win.
Meet: Ken Hoeing
The rookie milkman for 2013 is Ken Hoeing of Rushville. (And, no, you don’t have to be a man to be “the milkman.” Both males and females have served in the position.)
Hoeing’s family started dairy farming in 1947, and the family — going into the fourth generation — still farms there today.
“It’s a great honor to represent [dairy farming],” Hoeing said, and looks forward to attending his first full race.
“I’ve gone to the events, but never a race.”
When asked where you go from here after being in a coveted role like a rookie milkman for your first ever Indy 500 race Hoeing said, “Turn four, I guess.”
Did you know?
The milk at your grocery store probably hasn’t traveled 500 miles like those Indy 500 drivers. The average distance from farm to grocery store for gallons and half gallons of milk is 100 miles.