The world of sports is filled to the brim with plenty of equally beloved and head-scratching traditions with origins many people never really even seriously consider.
For example, you probably know plenty of professional athletes celebrate a championship or other major win by spraying champagne all over the locker room, but there’s a good chance you’re not aware that particular type of victory lap can be traced back to the MLB teams who reportedly embraced it in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Champagne is also inextricably linked with the world of auto racing thanks in no small part to Dan Gurney, who inadvertently sparked a movement when he doused people near the podium with the bottle of bubbly he received after winning at Le Mans in 1967.
However, there’s another beverage that’s associated with another race that comprises what is known as the “Triple Crown of Motorsport”: milk, which is traditionally consumed by the winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Now, milk can certainly come in handy when it comes to helping your body recover after a particularly grueling athletic outing, although it’s usually not the first beverage a person will reach for when they’re in need of some refreshment (and—to paraphrase Ron Burgundy—it can be a particularly bad choice in plenty of scenarios).
As a result, the fact that it’s become a staple of post-race festivities at the Indy 500 is somewhat puzzling, so let’s take a look at how it became A Thing at The Brickyard in the first place.
Why do drivers drink milk after winning the Indy 500?
Milk’s history at the Indy 500 can be traced all the way back to the 1930s courtesy of Louis Meyer—or, more accurately, his mother.
Meyer’s mom was a French immigrant who told him there was no better way to beat the heat on a hot day than a cold glass of buttermilk, which he reportedly consumed from a glass after winning the race for the second time in 1933.
However, the tradition we know today really started to gain legs when Meyer recorded his third victory in 1936 and opted to cut out the middleman by chugging directly from the glass bottle.
It took a little while, but an enterprising executive in the dairy industry eventually smelled an opportunity and reached an agreement with race organizers to ensure a bottle would be handed to whoever reached the podium in 1956 to usher in a tradition that lasts to this day.
As things currently stand, drivers are allowed to pick the type of milk—whole, 2%, or skim—that’s given to them after the race (the American Dairy Association helps coordinate the handoff, and while it doesn’t officially sponsor the Indy 500, there’s an obvious reason alternative nut or plant-based options aren’t on the menu).
It is worth noting one man managed to cause a bit of a stir when he broke with tradition, as Emerson Fittipaldi issued an apology after he caught heat for drinking orange juice (a nod to his past farming the fruit in Brazil) following his win in 1993.
However, he’s been the exception to a long-standing unofficial rule.