Milk always wins at Indy500

100th running is one for the books    

Story and photos by Sherry Bunting - reprinted from Farmshine


 After 500 miles, 200 laps, 54 lead changes and 13 different leaders, the winning of the 100th Indy500 came down to a fuel strategy that put Alexander Rossi -- the 9th rookie ever, and the first since 2001 -- into Victory Lane on Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the sweet taste of victory in the form of the 80th traditional ice cold drink of milk, delivered this year by milkwoman Janet Dague of Kewana and rookie ‘milkman’ Joe Kelsay of Whiteland.


Nearly a half million people turned out for the 100th running of the Indy500 on Sunday. To put it in perspective, the largest-ever attendance of the NFL Superbowl was just over 100,000 people. The 100th running of the Indy500 on Sunday clocked in at 350,000 in the gates and another estimated 100,000 outside the gates just wanting to “be there.”


This year’s customary #winnersdrinkmilk moment was accompanied by the distribution of commemorative bottles of milk in special packaging made available by Prairie Farms, the American Dairy Association Indiana (ADAI) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).


Distributing 100,000 bottles of milk to fans on a jam-packed race day was a challenge. Prairie Farms staff manned the trucks keeping all of those 16 oz. bottles of specially-labeled 100th Indy500 milk cold, And ADAI brought in Rossville FFA to provide the 80 volunteers to distribute milk all day with an ADAI lead person at each truck to assist.


Dague, the Indiana dairy producer with the honor of presenting this year’s milk to the winner has been a longtime avid fan of the race, and she had been hoping the winner would be a rookie, or someone who never won before.


“I was so very excited to see our rookie win the 500,” said Dague afterward. “I was jumping up and down, cheering in Victory Circle, when Alexander Rossi crossed the finish line. I even said to Joe ‘I told you I wanted a rookie to win!’


By “our rookie,” Dague was referring to Rossi earning the 42nd Fastest Rookie award given annually by the ADAI at a special dairy-and-racing-focused luncheon on the Tuesday before the race. There, Rossi was honored as the qualifying rookie with the fastest 4-lap average speed on qualification day, at an average 228 mph.


Dague described Rossi as “so gracious about winning. I think because of the rookie luncheon that just took place, he understood how important this was for the ADAI and every other dairy farmer around the world,” she explained. “In every picture, he made sure to take a drink of the milk and even made sure our logo was facing front and center. We couldn’t ask for a better spokesperson.”


“The milk tasted better than anything I’ve ever had. I am forever a fan of milk,” said Rossi after the ceremonial #winnersdrinkmilk moment, giving “a huge thank you to INDYCAR and the American Dairy Association.”


Rookie ‘milkman’ and dairy producer Joe Kelsay’s excitement about participating in delivering the milk to the winner in the 100th running was obvious. “To have the spotlight shine on the nutrition of milk in this way is just awesome,” he said during the 500 Festival Parade Saturday. “It is an honor to represent fellow dairy farmers who are back home milking and feeding and listening to the race on the radio. It has been a humbling experience so far.”


“It was so amazing to see the large number of fans that showed up to see the 100th running of the Indy 500,” observed Dague, who has been going to the race for 21 years. “I have never seen such a crowd. People were just happy to get in the gates and sit in their lawn chairs on the Plaza and watch it on the big screen on the Pagoda. They just wanted to be there and share in all the festivities and celebrations of such a special day.”


The military tributes during the 500 Festival parade on Saturday and again in the pre-race festivities on Sunday were awe-inspiring as the Memorial Day reverence was part of the experience. The crowd was visibly moved.


While the pre-race attention on crowd participation in the “milk toast” was reliant on electronic screen messages and announcements over the loudspeaker, fans were spotted mostly on social media Twitter and Facebook toasting with their milk before, during and after the race, versus one large crowd simultaneously lifting their bottles.


Mostly at that final moment, spectators were lifting cameras and either intent on the driver who had just won or attempting to beat the crowd to their cars.


Certainly, the crew was celebrating -- milk in hand and mouth -- in Victory Lane. Owners Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta were toasting each other, drinking their milk. Andretti, in particular, was happy to taste the elusive beverage right from driver Rossi’s official bottle while Rossi did his victory interview with ESPN.


“The milk in Victory Circle seemed like a time honored tradition to the team, the owner and Rossi,” noted Kelsay. “There seemed to be quite an appreciation for what it means to toast the milk to one another, and many of the crew shared a drink after Chief Mechanic had his sip.”


Kelsay said the most memorable part for him as a ‘rookie milkman’ was their recognition and appreciation of the tradition. “It seems as important to the fans as it is to dairy farmers,” he said. “Even one of the police officers mentioned what an honor it was to meet me (the rookie milkman) and he continued by quipping that he would be sure to keep me safe if something happens. We just thank Louis Meyer for starting this trend 80 years ago that we can highlight the healthy choice of milk and deliver that message to a global audience here at the Indy500.”


The main value of this tradition and the expanded ‘milk toast’ for the 100th Indy500 was the opportunities it provided on race day and for months leading up to race day -- to share the good news about dairy milk’s superior nutrition.


View photos from event here

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