First Use of Checkered Flag


INDIANAPOLIS -RIS- Auto racing historian and vintage race car owner Howard Kroplick has uncovered what is believed to be a photo of the first use of a checkered flag to signify the end of a race.

The photo was published in the October 14, 1906 edition of the New York Times, and it shows Louis Wagner winning the 1096 Vanderbilt Cup race in Long Island, N.Y.

Prior to 1906, a variety of flags were used by different racing organizations to signify the beginning and end of a race, and it would be a few more years before the checkered flag was standardized as the flag shown to indicate the conclusion of a race.

The photo carried this caption:


This remarkable photograph, made especially for The New York Times, shows the sensational finish by Wagner, the winner, in the Darracq car Saturday, Oct 6th. W.K. Vanderbilt, Jr. is seen just above the black and white checkered flag, dropping of which indicated the finish of each car. In the row back of Mr. Vanderbilt is Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt, Jr., and at his left is Peter D. Martin. Jefferson Demont Thompson, who is in charge of the foreign entries, is seen climbing the railing back of the signal flag, no doubt to escape the winning car which left the centre and came much closer to the rail than usual. Coutrlandt Field Bishop, prominent in Aero Club circles, is leaning over the rail just above the word "Cross" in the warning legend. At the right is the timers' box, and in the foreground is the signaler with a red flag to indicate a clear course."

Mr. Kroplick remains one of the leading historians of the early 20th Century Vanderbilt Cup races, and owns the 1090 and 1910 Vanderbilt Cup car, the Alco-6 "Black Beast", which also competed in the very first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

For excellent information on the races that helped build the American appetite for motorsports, check out Mr. Kroplick's website at VANDERBILT CUP RACES.

Another great website for information concerning the earliest days of motorsports, particularly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, visit Mark Dill's extraordinary site, FIRST SUPERSPEEDWAY.

Tom Beeler

Tom has been a contributor to RIS since 1992. He was invited to join the staff as a full-time reporter/editor in 1995, and has covered IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR, Grand-Am, ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In addition to his RIS work, Tom has been a contributor for General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and the ACO.

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Volume 2014, Issue 5, Posted 2:42 PM, 05.19.2014