In my years of watching racing, I have noticed a few small quirks that are seldom questioned and have so investigated their origins. This blog will ask and answer those questions at the risk of being compared to pretentious people who speak by answering their own questions.
Why are ovals always run counter-clockwise?
This is something of a chicken vs. egg scenario. Oval racing is the most popular in a country of left-hand-drive cars. Since the riding mechanic was ditched (but before the notion of seating the driver in the center of the car), it seemed most reasonable to keep the car going in the same direction as its center of gravity. Tracks are then built with walls shaped in response to the flow of traffic. Whenever an opening needs to be made in a wall, it must be shaped so that a wayward car cannot steer itself go behind the wall while out of control (lest you wish to kill corner workers and photographers) and to ensure that said wayward car never hits the leading edge of a solid wall. Two fine examples of this are Jeff Gordon?s crash at Las Vegas a few years back and Elliott Sadler?s Pocono crash this year. Having a wall that isn?t uniform may seem dangerous to the untrained eye, but it is a necessary part of track construction. Running an oval clockwise is entirely feasible (even in a left-hand-drive car), but would require the inside walls to be rebuilt.
What is the deal with the blue flag with a yellow stripe?
The FIA?s spec yield flag is powder blue of the Pantone value: 298C (yes, the pantone value is part of the regulations). While FIA sanctioned series take a hard line on enforcing the yield flag, it is generally accepted as only a suggestion in North America. The yellow stripe is a quirk of oval racing. In a road race, this flag is shown only by corner workers and is displayed at eye level with the drivers. At an oval, this flag is shown only at the start/finish line from a flag stand that is about 20 feet over the driver?s heads. If the oval driver looks up to see a solid blue flag, it may get lost against a blue sky. The yellow stripe keeps it visible.
Why does NASCAR use black and red flags to end a practice session? Why not checkered?
It seems a little strange that NASCAR would not use the checkered flag to end a practice session as other sanctioning bodies do, but I noticed that the difference goes beyond nomenclature. When the checkered flag comes out in a practice session, it indicates that any car on the track may finish whatever lap it is currently on and return to the garage at its leisure. By using the red flag, NASCAR is forcing all cars on the track to return to the garage as soon as possible without their current lap counting for anything. The black flag?s usage here is preemptive; it serves to warn drivers that not clearing the track will result in penalty. It seems reasonable to clear the track as quickly as possible when another series may be about to begin a session.
Why don?t some tracks have catch fences?
Some of the aforementioned Pocono incidents raised concern about the lack of catch fence on the Long Pond Straightaway. A disappointingly small number of people noticed the lack of catch fencing at Charlotte?s turn three. The reality is that catch fences exist to protect the fans, not the drivers. If no one is sitting behind a wall, there is no real need to protect that area. If I had to choose, I would much rather get launched over the wall without a catch fence than hit that fence. Behind the fence is usually a few bushes or some billboards, both of which are normally made of wood, and wood is softer than metal.
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