Most races (be it humans, machines or animals) on a circular or oval track run in a counterclockwise direction. The exceptions being the Australian version of NASCAR (AUSCAR) and some European horse tracks.
The reason for the counter clockwise direction for some sport like NASCAR is fairly obvious. Since the driver is on the left side of the car (in this country at least) driving
counterclockwise provides a lot of physical advantages: drivers are shielded from the wall on banked turns, they have better visibility on the left side of the car where most people pass and the position of the driver is conducive to the effect of centrifical force. Since the boys from down under have the steering wheel on the right side of the car it only makes sense that they would drive clockwise.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of win, place and show
In the case of American horse racing the reason has less to do with physics and much more to do with politics. In 1780, the first circular US race track was established by William Whitley near his home in Lincoln County, Kentucky. A staunch supporter of the Revolution, Whitley insisted that horses race counterclockwise, as opposed to clockwise as was the custom at the time in England. While some race tracks were slow to adapt (Belmont racetrack in NY actually ran clockwise until 1921), now all racetracks in the US follow Whitney�s patriotic tradition. God bless America and the Kentucky Derby!
That explains NASCAR and horse racing, but what about all the other forms of racing: track and field, speed skating, cycling, roller derby, dog racing and Ancient Chariot racing. While there does not appear to be any logical reason for the counterclockwise rotation of these events, there is definitely not a lack of theories. Most however are a crock-
Nature is Left-handed
The list of natural phenominium that run counterclockwise is quite impressive. It includes: the molecule structure of amino acids, the shape of seashells, the rotational direction of all the planets (except Venus), and the orbital direction of the earth around the sun.
The list of man made events is even more interesting. Carrousels, windmills (except in Ireland), revolving doors, cable operated airplanes, the usual direction in which people spin Hula Hoops, the running track in Central park, most washer and dryer, baseball runners and Elvis' hips all move counterclockwise.
Pretty interesting stuff, but what does it all mean. Is counterclockwise motion the default direction for everything in the universe? No, not really. Number one, there are many things that move clockwise: phonographs, CDs, Monopoly board pieces, playing cards, the formation of sugar molecules, door knobs, pencil sharpeners, most can openers and Rick Martin�s hips. Number two, the directional spin of an object all depends upon your frame of reference. For example, the earth rotates clockwise if viewed from the south pole. Politics aside, your choice of the Northern or Southern hemisphere as your frame of reference is purely arbitrary. Therefore, in the illustrious words of Jessie Jackson, the question is moot. Finally, what in the world do amino acids and Elvis� hips have to do with the roller derby?
It's all Greek to me. "The Greeks ran counterclockwise, therefore we just followed their tradition".
The problem with this theory is that it is probably wrong. Coins and pottery of the early Ancient Greeks depict chariots racing from right to left. Assuming that the artist drew it from the point of view of the horse crossing the finish line one can deduce that they actually ran clockwise.
So just like the Greeks tradition of running in the buff, somewhere in history we also stopped the tradition of running clockwise. Good thing. Quite frankly I don�t think anyone wants to see Michael "Johnson" running buck naked around a track, be it clockwise or counterclockwise. Even in his golden shoes. .
A 2000 year old Urban Legend
"Legend has it that the Romans followed the ancient Greek traditions of running clockwise until an unlucky chariot racer accidentally hit Emperor Nero in the check with a whip. The charioteer was immediately executed by Nero and the next day all races where run the opposite way."
While Nero certainly was certainly a nut case (he killed his mother, allegedly burned Rome to the ground and committed suicide), there is no real concrete evidence of this story. According to Guy Kay, a leading expert in the field of Byzantine chariot racing and an Ask The Rick charter member, the Nero story is most certainly "apocryphal". For those of you less educated Ask The Rick members (like me) that means fictitious, doubtful or fake. Thank goodness for Microsoft Word�s built in Thesaurus! It appears urban legends have been around for close to two thousand years.
There is however archeological evidence that the Romans did indeed race counterclockwise. Hollywood actually got it right in Ben Hur which depicts good o'le Charlton Heston racing counterclockwise. Why they switched from the Greek tradition however still remains a mystery. The Nero story will have to do for now.
The Toilet Bowl Theory
"We run counterclockwise because of the added benefit of the coriolis effect. That's the same reason our toilet bowls flush counterclockwise in this hemisphere"
The coriolis effect is probably one of the most misunderstood principles in physics. While the physics are beyond the scope of this goofy Newsletter, in general it has to do with the effect that the earth�s rotation has on moving objects. It is often incorrectly attributed to the following phenomenon: toilet bowls flushing counterclockwise in The Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, the rotational direction of draining bath tub water and the errant throws of Carl Lacerte. Carl Lacerte a.k.a Pallie, is an old high school buddy and fellow Ask The Rick member who used to blame his wild throws from 3rd base on coriolis. Sorry Pallie, it was just your arm.
While the coriolis force impacts extremely large systems like hurricanes (they actually do move ccw in the Northern Hemisphere and cw in the Southern Hemisphere), they would have absolutely no measurable impact on any object moving around a typical race track.
The Right Hand Rule
"We run counterclockwise because it is beneficial to right handed people"
Wrong again. Counterclockwise motion actually favors southpaws. While it is true that the right side of our body travels further around the track when running counterclockwise, the left side of the body is subject to the most force. This is the reason NASCAR tires wear quicker on the left side and also why the strongest Roman chariot horses always raced on the left side of the chariot.
The Real Reason a.k.a The Rick Theory
While there truly isn�t any clear cut answer to Mr. Yurtkuran�s question, that won�t stop me from giving one. Just ask anyone who I have every played Trivial Pursuit with.
Pretend you are sitting in the stands in front of the finish line at a race running clockwise. Now close your eyes and visualize the finish. Feels kinda funny doesn't it. Almost backwards. That's because we read from left to right. It is also the way we graphically represent time on a timeline.
You may think this theory is a stretch, but if you think about there are many arbitrary things that we do that are based on ingrained habits of a completely different activity . A great example of this is our choice to walk on the right side of the mall. As an experiment, the next time you go the mall try walking on the left side. You'll bump more people than Delta on Thanksgiving weekend. Everyone (even the young punks with the baggy pants) walks on the right side. Yet there are no signs or laws mandating that you do so. You probably never even thought about it. You just naturally walk on the right because of the habits of completely unrelated activity, driving. I believe the same subconscious correlation happened somewhere along the way between reading and viewing races.
Unless of course you live in England. But they seem to do everything backwards. But that's another topic.....
Probably this is not a new theory. It is just a simplistic thought that the races, from Greeks history and/or much later, from the view of the audience, just like reading, is from left to right, except for Arabic and Chinese. Earlier races of 100 yards/meters , whether horse racing or people racing, the audience will view a race from left to right, especially at the finishing line. If the race is for a longer distance, say 200 yards/meters, then it would be too far from the stands if the run is in a straight line. Thus it has to run in curve. Would the run curve towards the audience at the finish? That is certainly not going to happen. It has to start like what it is now, somewhere from a point where the audience can see the runners, and finish in front of the audience, again from left to right. To make it a full circle for 400 meters/yards, similar argument follows. The runners should still in the view of the audience, should not be too far for them to shout their support, and must end in front of them. The audience also would not like to lose their view of the runners, so the runners should not run encircling the audience on the stands and behind them for a few hundred meters/yards! So, it is very logical that they have to run anticlockwise, for a full circle, all the time in front of the audience, especially at the grand stand, where the VIPs are, and finish running from left to right at the finishing line in front of the audience. No big deal!
· 10 years ago