Growing up on his family’s dairy in Muncie, Ind., the Indianapolis 500 was an event to look forward to for DFA member Alan Wright. One Sunday a year, the minister at Wright’s church would cut the sermon 15 minutes short, and Wright and his family would go home, cook out on the patio and tune in to listen to the race on the radio. The family tradition always ended the same way — getting back to work to produce fresh, wholesome milk.
Last year, instead of listening to the 500 on the radio, Wright got to watch the race in person at the speedway. Just as he had so many times before, he again ended the event by supplying milk — this time to the winning crew as the Indianapolis 500’s rookie milkman.
As this year’s milkman, Wright is carrying on a beloved Indy 500 tradition — presenting the winning driver with a glass bottle of ice cold, Indiana milk.
“I’m just outright a dairy farmer, from a little family farm, and I’m humbled to receive this honor,” he says. “It’s just an awesome feeling being able to represent my family and farm, DFA and dairy farmers everywhere.”
The drink of milk in Victory Lane is one of the race’s oldest traditions, dating back to 1933 — the same year Wright’s family began dairying at their present location. That was the year second-time Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer first requested a glass of buttermilk to quench his thirst at the finish line. When he won for the third time in 1936, he requested the milk again, establishing a ritual that, except for a brief stint after WWII, has been practiced ever since.
Today, the milk is presented to the winning driver by an American Dairy Association Indiana (ADAI) board member. The selected milkman hands the bottle of milk to the winning driver, and a rookie milkman presents a bottle to the crew chief and one to the owner of the winning car. It wasn’t until ADAI took over the Victory Lane tradition that the milk was presented by Indiana dairy producers.
“I think it means a little more, not only to the winning driver, but also to the 500 itself, to have a dairy farmer hand out the milk,” Wright says. “It is always a dairy farmer, and we are quite proud that.”
The tradition is one that race officials and fans take seriously. The milkman and rookie’s duties start Saturday, May 23, with the 500 Festival Parade, where they represent the dairy industry to the more than 300,000 spectators who line the streets of Indianapolis for the event.
Following the parade, Wright and this year’s rookie milkwoman, Janet Dague from Kewanna, Ind., will receive a cooler with three bottles of milk, each etched with “Indianapolis 500,” the year and the official race logo. Wright, Dague and the milk will be picked up early the next morning in a Holstein-printed car and will be joined by a police escort, which will accompany them to the stadium.
“Once the milk is delivered to us, it never leaves our sight unless it’s left with security,” Wright says.
At the conclusion of the race on May 24, Wright will greet the winning driver at Victory Lane with his or her preferred type of milk — whole, skim or 2 percent — as determined by a survey that is sent to drivers prior to race day.
The moment marks a victory not only for the winner, but also for the dairy industry, placing milk and dairy producers in the spotlight.
“It’s not about me — it’s about the milk,” Wright says. “The milk is the rock star, and I just happen to be the one lucky enough to present it.”