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Dairywoman presents famous bottle of milk to Indy 500 winner

Kimmi Devaney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 23 November 2016
Indiana dairywoman Janet Dague hends the milk to Alexander Rossi

The greatest spectacle in racing – the Indianapolis 500 – has a unique tie to the dairy industry. As the winning driver completes the 200 laps and pulls into Victory Circle, two Indiana dairy farmers are waiting for that winner with the famous bottle of milk.

This year, it was Janet Dague, a third-generation dairy farmer from Kewanna, Indiana, who handed the milk to fastest rookie and winner Alexander Rossi during the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

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Three generations of the Dague family work together to run their dairy farm

“I am very proud to represent all dairy farmers in Indiana, across the country and around the world,” Janet says. “There is no bigger platform for us dairy farmers to tell everyone about the great benefits of milk and dairy products than the Indy 500.”

The tradition started when Louis Meyer requested buttermilk after winning his second Indianapolis 500 in 1933.

The milk people are selected from the American Dairy Association Indiana’s board of directors. ADAI is the state’s dairy checkoff organization, which sponsors the famous tradition.

Just as in racing, there are rookies – and there are veterans. Before becoming the Milk Woman for this year’s race, Janet was a rookie in 2015, assisting Alan Wright with this monumental task.

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The lead milk person hands the bottle to the winning driver while the rookie milk person hands the bottles to the chief mechanic and team owner. Joe Kelsay from Whiteland, Indiana, served as the rookie this year and will hand the milk to next year’s winner.

Janet says she was the most surprised by the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes.

“It is a lot of hard work by a lot of different people at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the American Dairy Association Indiana,” she says. “I am so proud of all the hard work they put in to make it all look so easy on TV and for the pictures.”

Janet and her husband, Andrew, milk about 180 cows in partnership with Andrew’s parents. Their children – Adrianna, Aubrey and Austin – are the fourth generation.

Janet Dague  and Andrew fedding calves

“I know how hard each and every dairy farmer works to produce such a great and wholesome product,” Janet says. “That is why I took my role as Milk Woman so seriously. I wanted to make all dairy farmers proud and most importantly, I wanted to make my family proud.

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Andrew, our kids, his parents and our employees all had to take on extra work to make up for when I was gone. Without all of these great people in my life, I wouldn’t have been able to do this job to the best of my ability.”

The race is the main event, but there were many festivities leading up to the big day, including media interviews, the Fastest Rookie Luncheon and the Indy 500 parade.

This year, aside from the race itself, Janet was most looking forward to the milk toast. To celebrate the 100th running, Prairie Farms donated 100,000 pints of milk so all the fans could toast the winning driver at the end of the race.

Race day is long for drivers and for fans. The milk people were no exception.

“Our day started 5:30 a.m. when we met up with our police escort,” she says. “There is a film crew there waiting to capture the milk’s arrival at the track. Then there are a few media interviews before the race starts, at which point we get to enjoy the festivities just like everyone else.

With about 25 laps to go, we are back on duty and head down to the green room under the pagoda. We wait and watch the end of the race on a small screen before we are escorted out to Victory Circle to meet the winner of the race. Joe and I kept checking the race leaders to see which milk they chose in the poll.”

Each of the drivers participated in a poll prior to the race to select which milk they want if they win. Their options were skim, 2 percent and whole milk.

Since that day in May, it’s back to normal for Janet and her family. This experience, she says, has been a great way to reach consumers with the story of milk.

“I want all consumers to understand that all dairy farmers work hard every day,” Janet explains. “Yes, everyone does it a little different from each other, but we all live and work on our farms.

If we don’t take care of our land, we can’t feed our animals. If we don’t take care of our animals, they can’t take care of us. We all need each other to survive, and we don’t do it because we have to. We take care of our cows and the environment because we want to and because it is the right thing to do.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Indiana dairywoman Janet Dague hands the milk to 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi. Photo provided by Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

PHOTO 2: Three generations of the Dague family work together to run their dairy farm. (L-R) Front row: Austin, Aubrey, Janet. Row 2: Jim, Tyler Bennett, Peggy, Adrianna, Andrew.

PHOTO 3: Janet (right) and Andrew Dague have farmed in partnership with his parents since 1994. Feeding calves is one of Janet’s favorite farm chores. Photos provided by Kimmi Devaney.

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