If you’ve ever watched racing on TV or in person, you have likely seen a track marshall waving different color flags as the race progresses. The checkered flag is obviously the most recognizable, but there’s way more to these patterned flags than most people realize. Everything from a crash to a friendly reminder to move out of the way can all be communicated with a colorful piece of cloth. So, what are some of the more uncommon flags at the race track? Let’s take a look.
Debris, Fluid or Animals
Represented by vertical stripes that alter from red to yellow, this flag is a serious reminder that some serious changes in track surface are coming your way. Pay attention to this if you see it during a race as it just might be the difference between a quick turn of the steering wheel or a race weekend that crashes and burns, quite literally. You hardly ever see this one on TV, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t crucial to understand.
The passing flag is pretty common to see on TV, but it is often unexplained. A solid dark blue with a bright diagonal yellow line slashing through the middle of it, this one lets you know that a faster competitor is coming up on you. Your job is to safely get out of the way when you see it, but that is easier said than done. It is not uncommon to see drivers completely ignore this one and not give way. Don’t be that guy on the track. Failing to comply might result in a penalty and may ruin someone else’s chances at a victory.
In the FIA, a flag is used to indicate major mechanical issues that require a driver to pit immediately. This safety indicator uses a purely black flag with a large orange dot in the center. It’s pretty hard to miss and lets you know your vehicle might be smoking or have dangerous bodywork hanging off of it. Perhaps one of the rarest flags to see, this one isn’t something to mess with. Pit immediately if you see this because something could have gone wrong that you are completely unaware of.
This flag is a reminder that you messed up and are now being asked to remove yourself from the competition. There’s no getting around the fact that if you receive one of these, you are either going to be pissed off or embarrassed, maybe both. These are reserved for drivers who conduct themselves in a dangerous manner or fail to yield position. In various sports, the black flag is used either absolutely or in a three-stage warning process. If you get this one, sorry, but your day is probably over.
Every racing series uses flags in a slightly different manner, so be aware of the organization you run with and what each flag means. The last thing you want to do is find out you just pitted for a black flag that was a warning and not a full-blown reason to stop the race. Generally speaking, these flags will not change in terms of meaning, but various sporting organizations from NASCAR to Indy Car might have minor changes in terms of which flags are displayed, and potentially how they are waved. It’s all subject to your arena of competition, so it's helpful to study the rules.