Saturday, July 24, 2010

Flag It: A Look at the Language of Racing Flags

I had originally posted this information on Foxsports a couple years ago.  However, as I was at the track a couple weeks ago, I realized again how often people do not know what the flags mean.  So, here is a refresher for you.  Remember that local tracks and sanctioning bodies may have different rules for each flag (or may not even use some of these flags).

One of my favorite things to do during a race is watch the flagman.  Regardless if it is a six lap heat race or a 400 mile race, the flagman is conversing with all the drivers during the whole event.

Knowing what the flags mean helps the spectator understand what is going on during the race.  Most race fans know the basics, but are unable to explain what the black flag with white cross means.  Be forewarned, however, that different series have different rules pertaining to the flags they display.

Green Flag:  Shown to start the race.  Will typically be shown when no other flag is appropriate.  Some sanctioning bodies (USAC, WoO, IMCA) will only count laps run under green flag conditions, others (Nascar, IRL, F1) will count laps run under other flags.  An Interesting note, Formula One now uses a green light system to start the race, but before that used the National Flag of the country to start the race.

Yellow Flag:  Slow and maintain position as there is a hazard on the track.  Universal.  In Formula One, the location and movement of the flag or flags indicate where the hazard is on the track or off the track.  This flag is also used by Nascar to indicate during a practice session that cars should pit immediately.

Yellow & Red Stripped Flag:  Varies slightly by sancationing body:  In Nascar,  used on road courses only to indicate debris or slippery condition. 
 In F1, it means a "deterioration of adhesion" due to oil or water on the track ahead.   In IRL, means oil or slippery condition.

Red Flag:  Stop immediately.  Usually indicates the track is unsafe or blocked.  In F1, it indicates the cars should immediately go to pit road.

Red with Yellow Cross:  Pits are closed.  Used primarily in the IRL.  Not used in F1.  Nascar may have used in the past, but does not use currently. 

Black Flag:  Shown to individual car.  Means penalty of some sort, and consultation in the pits is required.  Some sanctioning bodies use to indicate mechanical problems as well as driving problems.  If shown for consecutive laps (usually between 2-4) , with driver ignoring the flag, will eventually mean the car is no longer scored.  Formula One uses two other black flags, one which is be half white with diagnoal stripe, which means car has committed unsportsmanlike conduct.  And the other is black with an orange disk, indicating mechanical problems, pull into pits immediately.

Black Flag with White Cross:  Car no longer scored.  Shown after car ignored Black Flag.  Also indicates whatever you did wrong is now more serious as you just disregarded race officials request for a consultation.

Blue with Yellow Stripe:  Faster car approaching.  In Nascar, does not mean you must give way.  In F1, this flag is solid blue.

White Flag:  One lap left in race.

Checkered Flag:  Race is complete.  Car who finishes laps first, wins.

White with Red Stripe or Cross:  In IRL, with Red Cross means ambulance on course.  


Information from,,,, and wikipedia.  Flag artwork from,, and