Racing Flag Colors and Their Meaning During the Race
In all forms of car and motorcycle racing, the track crew uses flags to signal the riders of track and corner conditions. Every organization is different, and uses a variation of the flags to convey their own meaning, but for the most part, many flags are the same. With modern day radio communication many of the flags are more ceremonial, but they continue to be used assuming that racers are watching and paying attention to the track workers.
The following table outlines the basic racing flags.
Basic Racing Flags
Expected Rider Behavior
Give way to faster riders
Move off the racing line and allow faster riders to pass
Race Start / All Clear
Start the race / Keep Racing
Race only one more lap
End of the Race
Race is over
Problem with Rider's Equipment or Behavior
Pull off the racing line ASAP, and then exit the track safely
Black with Orange Circle
Pull in the pits to serve a penalty
Checkered and White rolled and crossed
Race is halfway complete
Race the next half of the race
Race is stopped
Signal, Slow down, Spread out
Watch out for an on track incident
White with Red Plus
Ambulance / Safety Car
Either the ambulance or safety car is rolling or parked on track
Racing Flag Usage
Green Flag - Race Starts
White and Checkered Rolled and Crossed - Race is halfway complete
White Flag - One lap remaining
Checkered Flag - Race is over
Green Flag - Most times it only signals the start of the race, but some race orgs will display it in a corner to show that everything is clear, but the lack of the green flag in this situation has no meaning.
Yellow Flag - A rider has crashed and parts of their vehicle or body are on the racing surface or in the crash zone. Proceed with heightened caution. Some organizations do not allow passing from the showing of the Yellow Flag to the incident. This can lead to ambiguity if there are multiple incidents on the track. Some race organizations use two yellow flags to symbolize "Full Course Caution", instead of a yellow flag for only a single corner.
Blue Flag - "There's a race, you're not in it" is the common mantra of the recipient of this flag. The rider is often being lapped by the leaders, and should be mindful and respect them. Failure to heed the Blue Flag could result in being "Black Flagged."
Black Flag - There is a problem with the vehicle (Smoking, losing parts, etc) or maybe the rider forgot to strap their helmet. In NASCAR, the pit crew often leaves a tool attached to the car, like the wedge adjustment tool. Behaviorial problems, like crashing into someone can lead to being "Black Flagged"
Red Flag - The red flag signals that there is a significant problem on the track, and the race needs to stop. The problem with this is that all of the riders need to see it at the same time. Consider a situation where two riders are drafting, and the first rider sees it and checks up, but the second rider is so "heads down", that he slams into the leading, checked up rider. Thus, it is very important to continue at pace until it is safe to decelerate. This is the same for the checkered flag at the end of the race. Many riders will signal with a hand or foot prior to changing their pace. This is where the signal, slow down, spread out mantra originates.
Debris Flag - Some race organizations will use a "Debris" flag, which can be used to symbolize objects / bodies on course, slippery conditions (rocking), or rain (pointing to the sky)