As you hear the words, “Ready, Set, Go!” your eyes would probably be on the hands holding the flags indicating that the race has begun. Sooner, you will know the race result once checkered flags signal the end of the race. But have you ever wondered why checkered flags and not any other patterns are waved around at the finish line?
Brief History of Checkered Flags
There are several theories that is said about the origin of checkered flags and most of them concern horse racing in the early settlement in America and bicycle races in 19th century France. The first concrete record of them being used is in one of the Glidden Tours named from one of its sponsors, Charles Glidden.
The concept of using checkered flags is attributed to the check point scoring system developed by Sidney Waldon to recognize the winners. Once a participant reached the checking station, checkered flags will be marked signifying the participant’s passing through the checking station.
The first picture ever taken of checkered flags at a finish line was in the Vanderbilt race of 1906 in which Sidney Waldon was a committee member. The flag man at the time was Fred Wagner. In 1980 in the Indianapolis 500 race tournament, the tradition of two checkered flags being waved at the finish line was initiated by Duanne Sweeney, a USAC (United States Auto Club) flagman.
More Facts About Checkered and Other Race Flags
Checkered racing flags in motor tournaments are just but one type of flags used for communicating to the driver. There are many flag colors each sending out a message and they are the following:
1. Green – Start or restart
2. Yellow – Caution
3. Red and yellow stripes – Slippery road
4. Red – Session stop
5. Red cross – Final lap and ambulance emergency
6. Black – Penalty, like a car returning to its pit
7. Black flag with orange circle at the center – A car must return to its pit due to engine problems
8. Diagonal black and white – Un-sportsmanship conduct
9. White X across black flag – score disqualification
10. Blue flag, sometimes with a stripe of diagonal yellow line – A faster car approaches
Basically, checkered racing flags mean that it is the end of the race. But with so much flags and colors in the race, why it is that checkered flags became imprinted within the minds of the viewers and probably the drivers in a race tournament? This is because the flag signifies that a decision will soon be made and that the winners will soon be named. The flag is often used as a background while the winners are being photographed. It is awarded to the winner together with the trophy. That is why when a racing tournament event is being announced, you will also see pictures of checkered flags in their announcements. The flag clearly became a racing tournament signature.
There is also no standard for the shape of checkered flags. They can be a triangle or a square as long as they are filled in alternating squares of white and black. INDYCAR waves two big checkered flags at the end of the race while NASCAR waves one. Checkered flags also come in different sizes starting at 4×5 to 24×30 inches.
Due to their popularity, checkered flags are no longer used only for signaling the end of the race. They can also come as small flags to be given as mementos for the event. You can find checkered flags for sale at some sports stores or you can have checkered flags ordered from the Internet.