County man has honor of handing milk to winning Indy 500 driver

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When Dario Franchitti crossed the yard of bricks on Sunday to win the Indianapolis 500, he also began to participate in several traditions involving the race and the race winner.

One of the biggest and most revered is the drinking of milk in the winner’s circle – and this year Switzerland County played a role in that tradition.

Franklin Weaver, who operates a dairy farm of about 120 head of cattle on Coleman Road along with his brother, Rodger, was one of two members of the Indiana Milk Promotion Board who was in Victory Lane following the race – bottle of cold milk in hand.

Franklin Weaver is a member of the 14-person Indiana Milk Promotion Board representing Southeastern Indiana, a post that he has held for about eight years. He was voted onto the board by his fellow dairy farmers, and represents DFA – Dairy Farmers of America – on the board.

Each year one member is chosen to be one of two members of the board who are part of the ceremony. Once chosen, you represent the board for two years, according to Franklin Weaver.

“The first year is like your ‘rookie’ year,” he said. “That was me last year. I got to give bottles of milk to the winning car owner and the chief mechanic.”

The honor of handing the bottle of milk to the winning driver is bestowed on the second year representative, and this year that was Franklin Weaver.

“I think it was the first time that someone from this part of the state has had the honor of handing the milk to the winning driver,” Franklin Weaver said.

At the end of the race, with Dario Franchitti celebrating in Victory Lane, everyone watching the worldwide broadcast heard, “…and Franklin Weaver from Bennington, Indiana, with the traditional bottle of milk…”.

Franklin Weaver said that he was third in line in Victory Circle, behind the man who placed the wreath around the winning driver and the 500 Fair Queen.

What was the experience like?

“It was great,”, he said of the experience. “I’ve actually had four days up there. We started out with interviews on May 20th. We went to TV interviews and radio interviews. I think we did two live television interviews and three live radio interviews.”

Franklin Weaver said that he also participated in the Rookie Luncheon on May 25th, where all of the first-time drivers are in attendance, with a prize being awarded to the fastest rookie qualifier.

“It was really a great event,” Franklin Weaver said. “It’s amazing how educated these drivers are. We had two ladies qualify as rookies, so it was a great time.”

Franklin Weaver also participated in the 500 Festival Parade on May 30th, where a reported 300,000 people lined the three-mile route. He was on board a float which featured a large bottle of milk and a red farm barn, sitting at the front of the float along with fellow board member Richard Thomas from Fort Wayne and holding up the bottle of milk while waving to the fans.

“We kept switching the bottle back and forth, because it’s harder than you think to hold up a bottle of milk for three miles and wave all the time with the other hand,” Franklin Weaver noted.

Each year since 1956 – when Pat Flaherty was the winner, representatives of the Indiana Milk Promotion Board has provided the bottle of milk that the winning driver drinks from.

“The tradition actually started back in 1933, when Louis Meyer won the race and asked for buttermilk to drink following his win,” Franklin Weaver said. “When he won the race for a third time in 1936, he again asked for milk to drink. It was off and on until 1956, and it’s been there ever since. Eight years ago they started letting a dairy farmer give the bottle of milk to the driver, and I think that’s gone over very well.”

On race day, Franklin Weaver said that he got to the track at approximately 7 a.m., and that he met a police escort at another location in town and taken directly to the track.

Franklin Weaver and son, Brian, kept the bottle of milk in a container in their hotel room the night before, joking with friends that someone had to stay up all night guarding the bottle against theft.

They watched the race from a suite across from the start-finish line, and also had the opportunity to go outside to a viewing area – but hot weather meant that they didn’t stay outside very long.

The suite was located just across from Victory Lane, and Franklin Weaver noted that he had to begin preparations to make the presentation around lap 185 – so he didn’t get to see the spectacular crash involving Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay that occurred on the final lap of the race.

“We have to go down and get prepared for everything, so we don’t get to see the last part of the race,” Franklin Weaver said. “We have to get down there and get ready and do whatever we’ve got to do.”

In the chaos of victory circle following the race, each presenter is told to count so many seconds off in their heads for their presentation and then step away.

“I had trouble getting the bottle open,” Franklin Weaver said. “I probably should have opened it earlier, but I didn’t want to open it because I wouldn’t want an open container handed to me. The driver said, ‘I’ll open it’, but he couldn’t open it, either, so the car owner took it and opened it.”

And then the moment finally arrived.

“That was the highlight of the whole thing, when he drank from that bottle of milk,” Franklin Weaver said.

Franklin Weaver said that when Dario Franchitti was interviewed a couple of days before the race and he was asked that – if he should win – what was he looking forward to the most, he answered “drinking the bottle of milk.”

“It was a great experience,” Franklin Weaver said. “Something I’ll never forget. I was never much of a race fan, but I’m getting to be more of one. Being a farmer, you don’t get away very often, so this was a big treat for me.”

- Pat Lanman