Millions of people watch the Indianapolis 500 every year. One Indiana dairyman won’t just attend but be a part of the show.
Joe Kelsay, a dairyman from Indiana, has done it all. He manages his farm of 500 cows and hundreds of acres outside of Indianapolis.
“We are a sixth generation dairy farm,” said Kelsay. “We were land granted in 1837 by President Martin Van Buren. For generations, we have been a part of stewarding this land and taking care of the animals.”
It’s a responsibility he’s carried from the farm to the State House.
“In 2009, I was appointed to be the Director of Department of Agriculture here in Indiana,” he said. “I talked about ag and promoted what we do every day.”
He’s taking on another big job, not far from his backyard. Kelsay is representing dairy producers like him across the country at the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
“There is nothing like Indianapolis in the month of May and the excitement that exists in and around the track is an experience to behold,” said Kelsay. “This is something that I think is so extravagant that it’s hard to put into words. I’m extremely excited about being there and being a part of the Indianapolis 500 this year.”
Kelsay’s job is to award the winner, chief mechanic and team owner with the bottles of milk. It’s a tradition dating back to 1933, when winner Louis Meyer asked for a glass of buttermilk in Victory Lane.
“When you can connect the traditions that happen in auto racing at the Indianapolis 500 to the traditions that happen within your own family, it’s quite a special feeling,” said Kelsay.
Kelsay has some pretty big shoes to fill this year. His dad, Merrill Kelsay, was the 2007 Indianapolis 500 Milk Man.
Merrill Kelsay awarded the 2007 winner, Dario Franchitti the coveted bottle of milk in front of spectators on TV and from the track.
“To be able to step in and fill those shoes behind him, that’s a special event for me and my family to remember him as he’s passed just last year,” said Kelsay. “To have those special memories of the things we share in common, it’s a special set of memories for sure.”
Joe says his father didn’t exactly give him advice for the race but he did leave an adage to live by.
“[Merrill] was one of those guys who always had a special way about him when he would give you advice but it was more of a ‘make the most of every situation that you find yourself in’ advice,” said Kelsay.
It’s a way to hold family memories close and share his everyday passion on race day.
“I’m really blessed to be a part of the industry and community that is agriculture,” said Kelsay. “I’m excited to share it.”
The chief mechanic, team owner and winner may pick which type of milk will quench their thirst between whole, two percent and skim. Two percent and whole milk are gaining steam, they’re picked more and more each year.