Race Weekend Central

Potts’ Shots: Where Did The Checkered Flag Come From?


Editor’s Note: John’s column was completed before the Chad Knaus / No. 48 team penalty was handed down. For a full analysis of that ruling, and what it means for Hendrick Motorsports “click here.”:/mmclaughlin/37409/

We got the same question this week from three people, wanting to know why Matt Kenseth was only five points ahead of Dale Jr. after the Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished second Monday night, but failed to lead a lap at Daytona for the first time since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

The point system was changed before the 2011 season to a 43-42-41-etc. format. There are three bonus points for winning the race, one for leading a lap, and one for leading the most laps. This format actually makes it a four-point bonus for winning, because you can’t do that without leading a lap.

Junior didn’t lead any laps, leaving him with 42 points while Kenseth has 47.
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*Ralph Teagardin* in Tucson comes up with a great question: _”I have made numerous searches to find the origin of the use of a checkered flag to finish auto races. No luck. Do you have an answer?”_

Well Ralph, I told you that if I couldn’t find it, I knew somebody I was sure would know. As luck would have it, I found some pretty good information on my own. The exact origin of the checkered flag’s use seems to be lost in history, but a number of theories exist.

One of the most unlikely is that horse races during the early settlement of the American Midwest were followed by large public meals. To signal that the meals were ready, a large checkered tablecloth was waved. Presumably, they waved it before they set the table, so the meal wasn’t really ready, was it?

Another explanation is that a “high contrast” flag would be more conspicuous against the background of a crowd. The earliest photograph of a checkered flag being used at the end of a race comes from the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup race held in Long Island, N.Y.

And, a 2006 publication, “The Origin of the Checkered Flag – A Search for Racing’s Holy Grail,” written by Fred Egloff, traces the origin to one Sidney Waldon, who was employed by the Packard Motor Car Company. He used the flag to mark “checking stations,” which we now know as “checkpoints” on the Glidden Tour, a rally-style event.

I have to take exception to an assertion I found on Wikipedia, though. They say that starter Duane Sweeney began a tradition at the Indianapolis 500 in 1980 by waving twin checkered flags at the end of the race, and that he also used twin green flags for the first time to start the event.

Well, Duane Sweeney, who was taken from us in 2004 by cancer, did indeed start that tradition at Indianapolis. Duane was a good friend of mine, and was a great starter/flagman.

However, I was using the twin checkereds and twin greens in ASA races in the late 1970s. Understand me right – I’m not doing this for my own gratification. The first starter I saw use double checkered flags was the late Shim Malone, who flagged USAC championship races in the ’70s and was USAC’s Midget Division Supervisor until he and several other officials were killed in a plane crash in April of 1978.

I copied Shim’s act, and I was proud to do it, and continue doing it after his death. Whenever anyone asked me where I got the idea, I was proud to say I saw Shim do it first.
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We also heard from *Don Eslinger,* who comments on the recent death of Joy Fair, a highly-successful and highly-regarded stock car driver in the upper midwest…

_”I looked back at the pictures I have of him at Mount Clemons in his Mustang and on his trailer with Joe Ruttman. The first time I saw his name I thought he was a she and then I thought his name was Joey. He was a great driver and he will be missed by a lot of people, especially Ruttman. There seems to be more bad news than good as we get older. What do you think about Joy?”_

I’ve got to admit that I only got to see him a couple of times, when he came to run with us in ASA’s early years. He was definitely a charger, and he was fun to be around as well. You can’t argue with the success he had, and he’s another one we’re going to miss a lot.

You’re right, Don, there’s more bad news than good as we get older, especially about the heroes we had back in those days.

“Don’t miss out! Ask John Potts a question, and you may be in this column next week”:https://frontstretch.com/contact/18438/

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