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.

The 7 Flags of Racing (part 1)

In honor of the newly formed NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Racing) Hall Of Fame, I have decided to do a breakdown of all 7 flags used in the sport today. Today we will break down the 3 most important: The green flag, checkered flag and yellow flag.

Green Flag

The green flag signals the start/restart of each race. It is flown at the beginng of the race and each time the race resumes following any cautions or delays. Sometimes you may hear the term “green flag conditions” which just means the laps are not under caution or delay. The only other time a green flag is used is at the entrance of pit road. When it is flown in this manner, it indicates to the drivers that pit road is available for pit stops.

Yellow Flag

The yellow flag (caution flag) indicates to the driver that either a wreck, debris or some other situation has forced the race to come “under caution”. When this happens, speed limits are restricted and passing is not allowed. In NASCAR, a pace car will come onto the track to limit the speeds of the drivers and essentially line them up for the restart. The only time passing is allowed under caution is during pit stops; however, pit “row” has a speed limit as well.

Checkered Flag

The most recognizable flag of NASCAR and racing in general is of course: the checkered flag. This flag simply means that the race is finished. Most often this occurs when all laps are completed but can also be used in times where weather or track conditions have made it impossible to continue and the end of the race has been determined by NASCAR officials. Many times following the end of the race, the winner will drive a “victory lap” around the track holding the flag outside of the window.

You can check out our NASCAR or racing flag set to get the racing flags you need! Check back for part 2 of our NASCAR flag breakdowns!