Advertisement

Indy 500 fastest rookie Kyle Larson embracing traditions, including milking cow

2024 INDYCAR Indianapolis 500
2024 INDYCAR Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS – Kyle Larson has been a quick learner of the Indianapolis 500 and its traditions.

His four-lap average of 232.846 miles per hour in the Arrow McLaren/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet during Indy 500 qualifications made him the fastest rookie in the field.

Tuesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Hoosier dairy farmers honored Larson at the Fastest Rookie 50th Anniversary celebration as the recipient of the American Dairy Association Indiana’s Fastest Rookie of the Year Award.

Larson’s Fast Six qualifying speed is the second fastest in the 50-year history of the Fastest Rookie Program. Tony Stewart’s 1996 four-lap average of 233.100 mph ranks faster.

Larson’s inscription was added to the permanent Fastest Rookie Trophy on display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, but he also received a custom-designed plaque and a $10,000 cash award from the dairy association.

But Larson, and the other rookies honored including Kyffin Simpson of Chip Ganassi Racing (231.948 mph), Linus Lundqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing (231.506 mph), Marcus Armstrong of Chip Ganassi Racing (232.183 mph), Ed Carpenter Racing’s Christian Rasmussen (231.682 mph) and Tom Blomqvist of Meyer Shank Racing (231.578 mph) all had to take part in another Indy 500 tradition that began with Alexander Rossi in 2016.

They had to milk a cow, raised on an Indiana Dairy Farm. Larson has achieved a tremendous amount in his racing, career, but milking a cow was a first for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion from Elk Grove, California.

“She was full of pressure and ready to release some milk, so it wasn’t too difficult,” Larson told NBCSports.com Tuesday at the event. “It’s cool.

“I learned about this on Fast Friday when I was asked if I was ready to milk a cow. I thought she was messing with me.

“Everything about the Indy 500, there is a lot of tradition, and this is a fairly new tradition going back to 2016 with Alexander Rossi. It’s neat to be here with the other rookies and get to do something fun and funny.”

2024 INDYCAR Indianapolis 500
2024 INDYCAR Indianapolis 500

Experiencing the traditions of the Indianapolis 500 is something that Larson has enjoyed. He will get a chance to experience the pre-race pageantry on Race Day, one of the most dramatic and emotional buildups to any sporting event on Earth.

The pre-race of the Indianapolis 500 is a Memorial Day tradition that honors the brave soldiers who have given their lives in defense of the United States. It also pays honor to the courageous competitors who have been killed at the Indianapolis 500 over more than a century in their quest for racing fame and glory.

It's also a chance for 350,000 spectators to cheer on their favorite racers as they prepare for a 500-Mile journey with one driver getting a chance to celebrate in Victory Lane as the latest winner of the Indianapolis 500.

For a rookie driver at the Indy 500, it’s a chance to experience the traditions personally.

“I’m sure all of us rookies are soaking in the experience and the atmosphere and all that,” Larson said. “It’s all been great, and I look forward to race day and getting to experience that atmosphere as a competitor.

“I’ve been here as a fan a couple of times but getting to experience it as a competitor will be something different.”

Larson was honored at the Fastest Rookie of the Year luncheon from the 1,000 or so guests in attendance with the traditional toast.

It was milk, of course.

NBCSports.com asked Larson if he dreams of another Indy 500 tradition that involves milk – celebrating the victory with the traditional bottle of milk in Victory Lane after winning the World’s Biggest Race.

“I would love to win it, but I don’t think you fully can expect to know what your emotions would be like until you do it,” Larson said. “Hopefully, I get to experience that someday and it would be pretty neat if this year were the year.”

Each driver in the field has to notify the American Dairy Association of Indiana their choice of milk should they win the race. Usually, it’s whole milk, 2-percent, skim milk or chocolate.

“I was going to choose almond milk because my daughter had dairy allergies, but I was told the photos look better with the whole milk,” Larson said. “So, I went with whole milk.”

The “Bottle of Milk” in victory lane dates all the way back to 1936 when Louis Meyer became the first three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. He requested a bottle of buttermilk in victory lane.

Milk was awarded in victory lane off and on over the next several years until it became a permanent part of the celebration in 1956 by Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Anton “Tony” Hulman.

Five members of the Louis Meyer family – Sue Meyer, Brad, Tonya and Scott and Cara Balch, attended the race celebration.

The Fastest Rookie of the Year Award began in 1975 and has an impressive list of past winners including Rick Mears in 1978, Chip Ganassi in 1982, Michael Andretti in 1984, Jacques Villeneuve in 1994, Tony Stewart in 1996, Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, Tony Kanaan in 2002, Scott Dixon in 2003, Danica Patrick in 2005, Kurt Busch in 2014, Rossi in 2016 and Fernando Alonso in 2017.

Larson has more traditions ahead this week including Carb Day on Friday, the final two-hour practice session for the Indianapolis 500.

On Saturday morning, it’s the public driver’s meeting, where 30,000 spectators watch and listen to the final pre-race meeting that IndyCar officials give to the field of 33 drivers in the race.

After that, it’s one of the largest parades of the year, the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade held on the streets of downtown Indianapolis that draws about 200,000 fans.

2024%20Indianapolis%20500%20Rookie%20Luncheon%20-%20Tuesday_%20May%2021_%202024_Ref%20Image%20Without%20Watermark_m105972.jpg
2024%20Indianapolis%20500%20Rookie%20Luncheon%20-%20Tuesday_%20May%2021_%202024_Ref%20Image%20Without%20Watermark_m105972.jpg

“The drivers meeting will be fun and to be part of the parade for the first time, I’ll have the kids and Katelyn riding along in the parade and I’ll get to soak that in,” Larson said. “I’ve felt a lot of support from the fans this whole time. I’m sure we’ll feel it up close and personal in the parade.

“As soon as that is done, we’ll head over to Charlotte, North Carolina to practice and qualify the NASCAR Sprint Cup car.”

Larson will compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race on the same day on May 26. He will be the first to attempt the “Double” since Kurt Busch in 2014.

Larson’s tradition is driving any type of race car, any time and any place. It’s a tradition he will continue Sunday in Indianapolis and Concord, North Carolina for 1,100 miles of racing in one day.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500