Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Rookie Stripe: Flying High: The Eight Flags of NASCAR and What They Mean

Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
When I was little, one of my favorite children's books was P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! A clan of dogs driving cars is on the go, fast and furiously, headed towards a mysterious destination. You don’t know where they’re going, but their journey is ruled by a traffic light. The dogs go. The dogs stop. Then they go some more.

Like the traffic lights in the book, NASCAR’s hallmark flags dictate stop, go and more on the track. They are NASCAR's silent language at powerful speeds. A flying flag can indicate that a driver has won, but another may mean that he or she is in trouble. But if you're a rookie fan, they might be new to you. Here are the eight flags and what they mean:

Green: Go! The green flag is waved to start a race or to restart a race after another flag. Other drivers can’t pass the lead driver until the green flag has been waved.

Yellow: Caution. A yellow flag cautions drivers to slow due to dangerous conditions, often resulting from debris on the track or something else that makes the racing unsafe, such as rain or a wreck.

Red: Stop. A flag that teams usually don’t like to see, a red flag means that drivers and teams have to cease racing and pit crew work immediately. During a red flag, cars come to a halt on a clear part of the track. A red flag occurs for an emergency, such as a big wreck requiring lots of clean-up.

Black: Normally a black flag happens when there's a rule violation and a driver must respond to NASCAR within five laps. This flag is also called the "consultation flag" and personally when I think about it, I just can’t help but think of a misbehaving kid called up to the front of the class to talk to the teacher. Black flags are often used for speeding on pit road or other car issues that could cause hazards..

Black with White Stripe:
 When a driver fails to respond to a black flag within five laps, they get the black flag with white diagonal stripe, and won’t be scored until they're cleared by NASCAR. If the black flag is trouble with the teacher, the black-and-white-striped flag is detention.

Blue with Yellow Stripe: This flag is somewhat of a courtesy indicator and is waved to drivers not on the lead lap to signal that they should allow faster cars to pass. It’s kind of like your mother telling you to mind your manners. The cars don’t always obey it.

White Flag: The white flag flies when the lead driver is on the last lap of the race. It signals drivers that there's only one lap to go.

Checkered flag:  The waving of the checkered flag means that a race is over because someone has just crossed the finish line and won. You’ll often hear the expression that a race winner “took the checkered flag.”

Amidst burnout smoke, Erik Jones grabs his checkered flag after winning the Xfinity race at Dover on May 14, 2016.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs  
Even though it’s only used once during a race, the checkered flag is one of the most recognized symbols in racing. You can read more about its history on NASCAR also offers its own guide to the flags of NASCAR.

Being a NASCAR flagman is actually a really tough job, and it means staying perched in the flag stand for the duration of the race. Flagmen are close to the track, meaning they get pelted in the face with dirt, rubber and other debris, and must wear eye protection. According to this article, bathroom breaks aren’t part of the job, so they plan carefully. While the heat and wind gust around them, flagmen wave their flags like giant sirens above a roaring track of cars, sometimes traveling close to 200 miles per hour. For them it's just a normal day at work.

And because everyone wants to know the ending of a great story, back to my favorite book, Go, Dog. Go! The dogs’ destination? I hate to spoil an ending, but it turns out to be a dog party in a tree. That’s not too far off from Victory Lane, if you ask me.

A NASCAR flagman awaits the start of a race.
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs


  1. Thank you so much for writing this article Logan Stewart. Many might have already know this, but I bet there many of us that didn't and wouldn't want to admit it. Being NASCAR fans and all,guess it is assumed we would have this knowledge. I am making a copy and keeping as my cheat sheet:) And big SHout Out to all the NASCAR Flag Person's.