Racing Flags, the 7 we use and what they mean.

Racing Flags, the 7 we use and what they mean.

Displays the current flags in use at Mohave Valley Raceway

Race flags currently in use at Mohave Valley Raceway

Racing flags are a long and storied artefact of modern racing that has endured since the earliest days of the sport. Today flag stations and track marshals make up the primary means of direct communication between drivers and race officials across nearly all categories and classes of racing. Since racing is a growing sport across the country, we thought it might be helpful to review the different flags we use and what they mean. Most people understand that flags have a general meaning, but few people know that flags can also be presented in waving, standing, and pointing positions. These positions denote different meanings, levels of urgency, or scope, depending on how and when a flag is presented. Well go over these positions as we go over each of the flags below.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no universal system for flags and their meanings. While racing associations and series will have internal standards, these can differ in both flag pattern and meaning from group to group. Some flags carry through across multiple groups, though many flags are unique to a specific type of racing. At Mohave Valley Raceway, we tend to avoid the more complicated patterns in favor of the most recognizable colors. If you’re interested, you can see a full list of the various global flag standards, colors, and meanings here.

Green Racing Flag

Green flags are the easiest to understand in concept. They are used to mark the start, or restart of a race and are typically presented in the waving position.

Yellow Racing Flag

A yellow flag warns drivers of a stopped vehicle that may be out of their line of sight and are presented to drivers in either a waving or standing position. If a yellow flag is waving, then a stopped vehicle is on the track and presents a collision hazard to drivers. A standing yellow flag indicates a stopped vehicle is off the track. Whether standing or waving, no car is allowed to pass another while under caution.

Red Racing Flag

Red flags indicate an emergency, and are typically presented in a waving position. Rules for red flags can vary depending on the track, but generally require all drivers to exit that track as quickly as is safe. Often this exit is to the nearest manned marshals station, but some tracks send their cars back to the pit.

Black Racing Flag

Black flags are not commonly seen but are fairly universal. These flags can be presented in the waving, standing, or pointing position. A waving black flag is an indicator to all drivers to return to the pits, and is typically used as a result of weather or some other non emergency track event that forces racing to stop. Black flags presented in a standing position are awaiting a specific driver, which the marshall will then point at with the black flag. Used in this way, black flags are an indicator that a specific driver is to return to the pits at the next pass. This typically happens when a driver violates a caution flag, breaks a driving line rule, or encounters a non emergency issue with their vehicle that requires a return to the pit.

Blue Racing Flag With Yellow Stripe

Blue w/ Yellow Stripe is a situational flag which is typically presented in the pointing position. We use it as an indicator for specific drivers that the vehicle trying to pass them is a lap ahead of them and must be allowed to pass. 

White Racing Flag

The white and checkered flags are almost universal in their presentation and use. A white flag indicates that the lead car has entered the final lap, while the checkered flag is an indicator that the lead car has finished the race.

The Checkered Flag

The checkered flag is actually a bit of an anathema, and is the most unique of the different flags in use. Stories aboud of its origins, from French Bicycle racing, to native american horse racing, to naval signal flagging. Nobody seems sure about where the checkered pattern got started, but its first recorded use in racing was the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup race in Long Island, New York. It spread quickly from there to become the standard indicator for nearly all forms of racing globally.