Get Ready to Race: What do the Auto Racing Flags Mean?

July 12, 2019

Whether you’ve spent time on a track or have seen it in a film (Rush, anyone?) – odds are you have seen auto racing flags waving proudly. And, with the 2019 Honda Indy Toronto Races happening this weekend, maybe you’ll get a chance to see some professionals in action.

But aside from the checkered black and white flag waving at the end of a race, what do the rest of the flags actually signify?

Why Do They Use Flags?

First are foremost, who uses flags? And why? The flags are waved by marshals, which have been noted as racing’s silent heroes. These silent heroes ensure the safety of each rider on the track in various roles such as first aid, debris removal and providing clear communication to all involved. Because of the nature of the situation, the roaring noises and extreme speeds, the only way they can communicate with the racers is through track flags.

Understanding the Flags

Note: some track day organizers and different races may treat flags differently. If you are using this information for your own track day event, remember to pay close attention in the briefing to ensure you know what each flag means for your specific race.

Green racing flag.Green flag

Green is good. It often signifies to start the race, that there is an end of hazard or restart of the race. It can also be on the entrance to the pits to indicate that the pits are open and signal the end of a local yellow-flag zone.

YellowYellow flag

Like regular driving on a road, yellow signifies caution. This racing flag means that drivers must slow down due to a hazard on the track. If they wave two flags at once, it means the hazard blocks all or part of the track.

Red and yellow racing flag.Flag with yellow and red vertical stripes

Yellow and red vertical stripes mean the surface area has been affected. This can be oil, debris, rain or anything making the track surface slippery ahead. If the flag is held still, there is a dangerous substance on the track. Slow down around this area and be cautious of your grip. If the flag is tracking a car, that often means that is the car with the hazard.

Red racing flag.Red flag

A red flag often signifies that the race should be stopped. The track is unsafe at any speed.

White racing flag.White flag

A white flag means two different things for different races. FIA: a slow vehicle on track. NASCAR: final lap.

White racing flag with red cross.A white flag with a red cross

For IndyCar, there is an ambulance on the course.

Black Racing FlagBlack flag

This means there is a disqualification or penalty. If someone is waving this at you, you must go to the pit area for a consultation with the officials. You can be pulled over because you disobeyed the rules, or if you have mechanical failures that are hazardous to you and others on the track.

Black racing flag with orange circle in the middle.Black flag with an orange circle

FIA gets a bit more specific, letting a black flag with an orange circle signify that there is a mechanical problem on a certain car.

Black racing flag with white stripes making an X.Black flag with white X

This signifies disqualification. Can also be a white cross in certain races.

Blue racing flag.Blue flag

A blue flag means that there is a faster car approaching, the driver should slow down to let the faster vehicle or vehicles pass.

Blue racing flag with a single yellow stripe across diagonally.Blue flag with a yellow (or orange) diagonal line

In NASCAR, this means there is a faster car approaching. The driver would move aside to allow the cars with increased speed to pass.

Black and white checkered racing flag.Checkered black and white flag

The most iconic of the auto racing flags. A checkered black and white flag will signify the end of the race. Drivers are required to slow to a safe speed after crossing the finish line.

There are a ton of myths and speculations as to why they use a checkered flag. Aside from the obvious, that the pattern stands out, one theory is that during the era of horseracing, people used to wave their checkered picnic blankets.

By waving their picnic blankets it signalled to those racing that dinner was ready and the race should end. This supposedly caught on when it came to racing motorized vehicles.

For more information on flags and get a track breakdown for the Canadian Tire Motorsport Centre, check out our video below.

Now that you know all about auto racing flags, perhaps it’s time to put your knowledge to the test and get out on the track!

Never been before? Check out our Beginners Guide to Track Day. Have been but want to go again? Get Track Day Insurance to protect your car. Either way, sooner than you know it you could be the first to pass that iconic checkered black and white flag!

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