Members of the racing and dairy communities came together today for the Fastest Rookie of the Year Award Luncheon to celebrate the eight rookie drivers starting in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.
>> Click here for a full photo gallery from the event.
While the drivers were the stars of the show, the annual event, sponsored by the American Dairy Association of Indiana, turned the spotlight on another honoree: the dairy cow. Black and white tables were sprinkled with cow-shaped confetti and featured centerpiece ice buckets filled with milk jugs. Guests had their choice of vanilla and chocolate milkshakes, and cheese and crackers stood in as hors d'oeuvres; two live cows greeted them as they entered the Plaza Pavilion at IMS.
The dairy theme is an important tradition for the annual event, which is one of the longest-running awards featured at IMS under the same sponsorship. Milk and the Indianapolis 500 became synonymous when three-time champion Louis Meyer requested the beverage after winning the 1933 race, and awarding the winner with a bottle of milk has since become an indispensible part of Indy 500 culture.
The post-lunch ceremony, hosted by ABC Sports’ Vince Welch, awarded 21-year-old Josef Newgarden of Hendersonville, Tenn., with the Fastest Rookie of the Year Award. (Newgarden qualified to start in the seven spot over the weekend, highest among all newcomers.) His name was engraved on the Fastest Rookie trophy, and he received a $5,000 cash award.
Newgarden’s age inspired several jokes.
“I did my run this morning in a shirt that is older than him.” Welch said during Newgarden's introduction. He then guaranteed to give said shirt to Newgarden if he won the race.
Welch later asked Newgarden’s mother, Tina, to stand up for recognition.
“When the drivers are so young that their mom is accompanying them,” Welch said, “It’s a new era in Indianapolis.”
The ceremony ended with Paul Mills, VP of Milk Promotion Services of Indiana, singing the chorus of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” The crowd then raised champagne flutes filled with milk, while the drivers toasted with milk bottles whose shape resembled the bottle given to the winner on race day.
Mayor Greg Ballard said he always gets the chocolate shake when he attends the luncheon.
500 Festival Queen Taylor Adams and Indiana Dairy Princess Mallarie Stookey both attended the event. Adams, who will present the milk bottle to the race winner, said she hopes to meet Bachelorette hunk Arie Luyendyk Jr. (who, alas, will not be among this year's starting field).
The only rookie driver not at the luncheon was Rubens Barrichello, who was unable to attend due to another commitment. Welch said he knew he liked Barrichello, though, when he heard the Brazilian say that he did two things well: being a dad and driving a race car.
Photos by Meredith Cohen