Indy 500 historian talks drivers’ wacky traditions

SPEEDWAY, Indiana (NEXSTAR)– The Indy 500 is known for some fun and wacky traditions. Fridays in the month of May are known as checkered flag Fridays and people wear all sorts of cute and creative outfits.

It’s really impossible to predict who will come out on top Sunday, but there are specific traditions you can bet will always pop up.

“I think if you try to start a tradition it will not take off, that’s my theory. And then what does take off, you think that, really?” said Donald Davidson, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian.

Donald Davidson is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian and, needless to say, a huge racing fan.

“How much do I love the month of May? Oh, I don’t know how I would explain that,” said Davidson.

So we sat down with him to find out why on earth the greatest drivers in the world slug milk to celebrate an Indy 500 win.

“Some drivers have just taken a sip or two, others drank it the whole thing and now they’ve got it where some pour it over their head,” said Davidson.

It started when Louis Meyer won in 1933.

“His choice of milk to refresh him on a hot day, as recommended by his mother, was buttermilk,” said Davidson.

No one really noticed the move that year, but when he claimed the title for a third time in 1936 it got some attention.

“Someone in the milk industry said, that’s great, let’s make sure that happens every year,” said Davidson.

It came at went for the next two decades, until the milk industry put up prize money for the race in 1956. Since then it’s the cream of the crop of Indy 500 traditions.

But if milk after a hot day racing doesn’t appeal to you, maybe kissing the ground or rather the bricks.

“That came out of NASCAR. That was not a 500 tradition,” said Davidson.

In 1996 at the Brickyard 400 at IMS, Dale Jarrett and his chief mechanic kissed the bricks on a whim after winning the race.

“Fortunately someone got a photograph of it. Because it was so spontaneous, it wasn’t planned at all,” said Davidson.

More than 20 years later, it is now a huge photography production with the winners and a ritual for anyone who can bow at the bricks.

Now Friday is Carb Day at the track. It is the last day drivers are on the track and includes a pit stop competition. Saturday is Legends Day, which is a day-long tailgate leading up to Race Day including concert headliner Keith Urban.

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