The History of the Checkered Flag

One thing that many people don’t know about me, is my love of racing. Horse racing, NASCAR, Indy, Rally, you name it. The competition is intense, the atmosphere electric, and the crowd is noisy! Watching a race on TV doesn’t really do the trick, it has to be live!

Back in March I went to the NASCAR race in Atlanta, and took note of something I hadn’t noticed before. You guessed it… an abundance of flags! Upon entering the stadium you see flags flying high. The US flag, Georgia State flag, NASCAR flags and even sponsor flags. But there was one flag that stood out the most above others. One flag that everyone noticed and is so important, it even caught the attention of the racers. Of course, I’m talking about the checkered finish flag. Considering it’s one little flag that’s proved to be of such importance to these prestigious racers, I thought I’d look into exactly why the flag is checkered and why it stands for the finish of a race.

The most interesting theory of the origins of the checkered flag that I found dates back to the 1800’s after the date of the Louisiana Purchase. An early American past-time in the Mid-West settlement included horse racing. After the races, those in attendance would gather for lunch or dinner. Often, a table-cloth would be taken and waved in the air to signal that the food was ready, and the racing should come to and end. Lo and behold, typical tablecloths of the time happened to be checkered! Soon, that waving checkered table-cloth acted as a brand or a recognized symbol to end the races. Over time, checkered flags were created and produced specifically for this purpose, and still used today!

Now, here’s the kicker. The above theory is just a theory! The table cloth idea has been passed down over 200 years, and could very well be just a tale. The more likely reasoning for the checkered flag is the contrast of colors being something easy to see for the racers. Back in the earlier days of racing, the tracks were dirt roads. Dust and dirt would kick into the air, making it difficult to see, especially when moving at high speeds. The contrasting black and white checkered flag was easy to spot and therefore made the perfect finish line flag.

The next time I go to the races, I know I’ll be looking for that checkered finish flag to see who won. On that day, Kurt Busch won the big race, Matt Kenseth came in 2nd and Juan Pablo Montoya in 3rd. The next time you head to the race track make sure you bring your NASCAR flags to support your favorite racer.