Whiteland farmer chosen for Indy 500 Milk Man tradition

When the Indianapolis 500 winner pulls into Victory Circle next month, he'll be joined by his team owner and chief mechanic.

All will partake in the hallowed Speedway tradition of a victory drink from an ice-cold bottle of milk.

Joe Kelsay will hand-deliver two of those bottles — one each to the owner and mechanic — in Victory Circle, at the height of the celebration, with the whole racing world watching.

"You talk about a bucket list (item) that I never thought I'd be doing," said Kelsay, co-owner of Kelsay Farms in Whiteland. "What a cool thing."

Cool, for all kinds of reasons.

First, it's the Indy 500. Second, it's the historic 100th running of the Indy 500. And third, the milk tradition is a huge part of Indy 500 lore.

Kelsay will be at the center of it.

Kelsay was selected by the American Dairy Association of Indiana to be the Rookie Milk Man for this year's race. In that role, Kelsay, 39, will hand a bottle of milk to the winning team owner and chief mechanic in Victory Circle. Milk Lady Janet Dague of Kewanna will hand the bottle of milk to the winning driver.

Dague was last year's rookie. Next year, Kelsay will be the veteran and tasked with handing the bottle to the winning driver for the 101st running of the Indy 500.

But Kelsay is especially excited about this year's opportunity.

A longtime Indy 500 fan, he grew up attending races and listening to races and has a Hoosier's appreciation for the majesty of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Being center stage for the 100th running is something he never dreamed of.

"It's just amazing to be a part of it," he said. "It's going to be a really, really great life experience."

Kelsay won't be the first family member to take part in the milk tradition, which began after the 1936 race when Louis Meyer was famously photographed drinking a bottle of buttermilk after winning his third Indy 500.

Kelsay's father, Merrill Kelsay, was the Rookie Milk Man in 2006 and was the Milk Man in 2007. He handed the bottle to winning driver Dario Franchitti that year.

"I hope he offers some helpful advice when the date gets closer," Joe Kelsy said.

The night before the race, Joe Kelsay will have the milk and will be in charge of delivering it to the Speedway in a special cooler on race day, May 29.

At about Lap 165 of the 200-lap race, Joe Kelsay and Dague will make their way to Victory Circle with the coolers in tow. They will personally hand the bottles to the winners within moments of the car's arrival from Victory Lane.

Each quart bottle is a custom-made square design with a special engraving for the driver, owner and chief mechanic.

The milk will be anonymously sourced from an Indiana dairy farm. Indiana has more than 1,000 dairy farms, and the Milk Man tradition is designed to spotlight the state's dairy industry.

Joe Kelsay, who works in government affairs for Indianapolis-based Dow AgroSciences, is a former member of the National Dairy Association and has served as an advisory board member for the American Dairy Association of Indiana. Individuals who have served on the board are eligible to be chosen as Milk Man or, in Dague's case, Milk Lady.

Dague hails from a third-generation family-owned dairy farm in Kewanna. Kelsay Farms is a sixth-generation family-owned operation.

Along with farming and the daily milking of about 500 cows, following the Indy 500 also has been a Kelsay family tradition.

"We're planting corn or doing field work or whatever, and we'll have the race on the radio," Kelsay said. "We'll even have a checkered flag on some of the tractors as we're doing some field work."

Merrill Kelsay has fond recollections of his Rookie Milk Man and Milk Man opportunities and is delighted his son now gets to do the same.

"It's very exciting and a wonderful experience. Not everybody gets to do it," Merrill Kelsay said. "It's going to be even greater this year when he does it because it's the 100th."

"It makes you a hometown hero for five minutes."

Joe Kelsay, who will be joined at the race by his wife, Amy, plans to savor every second of it.

"It's going to be quite an experience, and one that I'll never, ever forget," he said. "That 100th running. What a cool thing to do."


Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.