Behind the scenes of the Rookie Luncheon

By Mary Nicholson

One of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s longest-running programs under the same sponsorship since its inception is the American Dairy Association of Indiana’s Fastest Rookie of the Year event.  This year marks the 37th time this annual awards luncheon has been held.  Now I wasn’t there for the first one of these, but I can tell you what it’s been like the last few years.  Have you ever had a party in someone’s honor, but didn’t know who that someone was until a day or two before the party?  It’s a little like that.

Our awards luncheon is held on the Tuesday after the last day of qualifications, and it’s an invitation only event.  The rookie drivers and usually a few people from their teams are there, and that really varies from year to year.  I think my first Rookie Luncheon had a group of maybe 12 rookie drivers, and not that long ago, there were only two!  It’s a similar situation with our board of directors – if it’s been a wet spring and they haven’t been able to get into the fields to plant corn for their dairy cows, only a few are able to come to the luncheon.

There is always some time to mingle before the things get started with a brief welcome, invocation, and a delicious meal. ABC and ESPN’s Vince Welch has been the emcee for many years, and he always knows stories to tell on each of the rookies as they are introduced. This year’s class could add another female driver to the mix!  Pippa Mann from Ipswich, England, has driven on the famed oval in the Indy Lights series, but this is her first opportunity to try to become an Indy 500 driver.  This year’s rookie class also has the potential for the first Chinese racer with Ho-Pin Tung driving for Schmidt Dragon Racing. Scott Speed returns to the track, but this is his first time in an Indy car. When he was here before, he was driving in the Formula One race.  So he still qualifies as a “rookie”.  Two other Englishmen – James Jakes and Jay Howard – could be among our guests, as could Californian Charlie Kimball or Canadian James Hinchcliffe.

No matter who is in attendance at the Fastest Rookie Luncheon, the program will conclude with the awarding of prizes to the fastest qualifying rookie driver, everyone singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” led by our board member Paul Mills (he could go up against Jim Nabors any day!), and finally, a “milk toast”.  Thanks to our Indiana dairy farmers who make this great tradition possible!

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