Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato pulled his car in Victory Lane, took off his gloves and helmet and was ready for the throngs of photographers, journalists and well-wishers.

Among those waiting for Sato was Whiteland’s Joe Kelsay, who presented the winner with the traditional bottle of milk on behalf of the American Dairy Association Indiana.

Sato took the bottle and briefly chugged the 2 percent milk before pouring the rest on himself.

“(Sato) pulls in and you can just see the excitement on his face,” said Kelsay. “Today was so exciting, and to celebrate with him, what a great moment.”

The handing off of the milk to the winning driver is one of the greatest signs of the thrill of victory. It’s right up there with the Stanley Cup being paraded around on the ice and the donning of the green jacket at the Masters.

And the tradition might not have happened had three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Louis Meyer not requested a cold drink of buttermilk after his second win in 1933.

Meyer didn’t get photographed with the milk in his hand at Victory Lane until his third and final win in 1936.

After two years of passing out milk, Kelsay will get to sit back and be a fan again.

“Last year was my rookie year, this was my veteran year and now I get to enjoy the race like every other fan,” he said.

Kelsay’s job was important as there were three different types of milk — whole, 2 percent and fat-free — that were selected by the drivers. Had Marco Andretti won, he would have chosen whole milk, and if Charlie Kimball won, he would have been given fat-free.

“Before the race, we have a poll for all the drivers,” Kelsay said. “We collect the information and we deliver the milk that they choose.”

Toward the end of the race when there were a few lead changes, Kelsay made sure he had the correct milk ready to go no matter what. Once Sato took the checkered flag, 2 percent it was.

Kelsay’s job is now complete.

The American Dairy Association Indiana will select a new person to be its rookie in 2018, but the memories will linger for Kelsay.

“This year was incredible,” he said. “The race had lots of starts and stops and I’ve never been to a race that was red-flagged. Today was just a great day to be a part of history of the Indianapolis 500.

“I will have to watch (next year) as a regular fan. There’s nothing like the Indianapolis 500 and it’s a very special place.”

In addition to getting a “Baby Borg” replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy, Sato receives a $10,000 cash prize for taking the drink from the American Dairy Association.

And he gets to keep the bottle he received from Kelsay as another prized possession.

Author photo
Ken Severson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.