For those of you who haven’t spent time in Indiana during Memorial Day weekend, you may not know that the Indianapolis 500 is celebrated far and wide throughout the Hoosier state. And you also may not realize that in most parts of Indiana, the race is broadcast live via radio, not television. And, finally you also may not understand the importance of certain Indy 500 traditions, the most important one being the drink of milk by the winning driver at the end of the race (also dubbed the “Sports World’s Coolest Prize” by sportsillustrated.com).
The American Dairy Association of Indiana is in charge of providing the milk that gets handed to the winning driver. Each year, an Indiana dairy farmer is selected to be the person who gets to hand over the bottle of ice cold milk to the winning driver. This is a two year commitment with the first year being a “rookie” year, and the second year being a “mentor” year. The rookie hands a bottle of milk to the winning driver’s chief mechanic and team owner; the “mentor” hands a bottle of milk to the winning driver. Richard Thomas was the mentor and Dave Forgey was the rookie.
The Milkmen had to be at a designated parking lot in downtown Indy by 7:00 a.m. on race day or else the police escort would leave without them. What would have been a two to three hour drive through traffic became a less than 10 minute zip through traffic. Once inside, the milkmen had to take the milk and secure it in their suite. They came back down and talked with fans, handed out Indy 500 pins, and held several interviews on television stations.
Once the milkmen were done giving interviews, they were able to relax and enjoy the pre-race festivities a bit. Again, for you non-race fans, the pre-race festivities are steeped in tradition, including the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana”, balloons being released before the start of the race, the singing of the national anthem, a fly over by a U.S. military aircraft, the famous line “Ladies and gentlemen start your engines”, and finally the official start of the race—the pace lap. As the green flag waved, the cars take off.
At lap 175, the milkmen were escorted to Victory Circle where they waited to greet the 100th Indy 500 winner, Dan Wheldon, the team owner and the chief mechanic with a cold bottle of milk. The race was over, the milk was delivered, and Richard and Dave were homeward bound to go back to their dairy farms to continue to produce that wholesome, nutritious product – milk- that will be given to next year’s winner of the Indy 500.