Forget champagne this Sunday, one of the most popular car races in the world will award the winner an unusual prize: milk.
This Indianapolis 500 tradition was inspired by Louis Meyer. After winning his second Indy in 1933, he requested a glass of buttermilk. He requested another glass after his third win in 1936, but was given a bottle instead.
A photographer captured Meyer holding up three fingers, signifying his third win, and holding his glass of milk in the other hand. A dairy executive saw the photo and realized the marketing potential by promising the winner of future races a bottle of milk.
The tradition has persisted to this day, apart from 1947 to 1955 and two other exceptions when drivers declined to drink the milk. Most notably, in 1993, Emerson Fittipaldi drank orange juice instead of milk. He owned orange groves in his native Brazil and wanted to promote the citrus industry. The self promotion and break from tradition earned criticism from fans and he was booed many times after that event.
Although Meyer started the tradition with buttermilk, that’s not an official option — the winner can choose between skim, 2% or whole milk. However, the winner can buy a lot of buttermilk with the cash prize, estimated around $1.5 million.
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