This Is Why Some American Flags Are Backwards On Race Cars And Planes

It’s because of exactly what you see in the photo.
It’s because of exactly what you see in the photo.
Photo: Win McNamee (Getty Images)

A vaguely hilarious Motorsport Network tweet last week asked folks to spot the American flag in the Haas Formula One livery, and some confused folks in the comments made me realize that not everyone knows about the way American flags are represented on things like race cars, planes, and spaceships. They’re backwards.


Some folks asked if this was an intentional slight on the part of Haas, which is sporting a very Russian livery this year. And the answer is no. It’s standard practice, and it’s listed in the United States Flag Code.

Clause 7.i states the following:

When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.

This also relates to the left and right side of race cars, planes, space ships, military uniforms, etc. The ‘field’—i.e. the blue plane containing the 50 stars—points in the direction of the ‘movement’ in question. Basically, this is supposed to represent the flag in motion. If you’re watching a Haas car from its right side and imagine a flag on a pole flying as it moves, the flag would look backwards from your vantage point. So, US flag code asks that the flag be shown as if it’s flying backwards. If you watch that same car from its left side, the flag would appear normal.

So, no: it’s not a sign of disrespect! It’s just supposed to mimic natural movement.

It’s definitely one of those things unique to America. In other countries, the representation of its flag in reverse would turn it into another country’s flag. In still others, you’d never be able to tell if the flag was backwards or not because the flags are mirrored down the middle.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.



It seems that at this point some people would rather default to being butthurt than do any critical thinking or research. I wonder how many of the people who thought this might be a slight against America or the flag own apparel or bumper stickers that DO in fact infract upon the flag code?