It seems to me that every type of race on an oval track moves in a counter-clockwise direction. Off the top of my head, I know that this happens in:

  • auto racing of any kind
  • roller derby
  • horse racing
  • speed skating
  • running races (the 'track' part of 'track & field', I suppose)
  • greyhound racing

What is the history of this custom? Is there a reason all races are run counter-clockwise? Are there exceptions to this rule (if it can even be called a rule)?

  • 3
    Re-tagging is certainly welcome - I wasn't sure where to put this.
    – hairboat
    Jun 21, 2012 at 3:03
  • 1
    The BBC just ran an article covering this point: bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-19047586
    – Ste
    Aug 6, 2012 at 22:34
  • 2
    The important question is, do they run counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere only, and clockwise in Australia?
    – Joe
    Dec 16, 2014 at 15:31

4 Answers 4


Not all tracks are counter clockwise, The exceptions being the Australian version of NASCAR (AUSCAR) and horse racing is often run clockwise outside the US such as England(St Leger - wikipedia.), Continental Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong. also some of F1 races are clockwise like .

The decision to run horses counterclockwise in the US dates to the American Revolution era. 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.

In IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations)
IAAF Rule 163.1 states:

The direction of running shall be left-hand inside


there are explanations for counterclockwise races but none is formal:

  1. International agreement stipulating the direction related to the setting up of equipment to time the finishes and judge dead-heats (close finishes). If all running events are run in the same direction it means that it simplifies the process of setting up the equipment across different venues.
  2. Every NASCAR oval track has only left turns, because the drivers sit on that side of the car. The drivers generally try to keep to the inside of the track (because it is a shorter distance around the track) So by making all left turns, the drivers can better see what is going on around them.
  3. Safety reasons, keeps the driver away from the out side wall (guardrail in the old days).
  4. that spectator will percieve the runners as moving left to right - the same direction our eyes move when we read.
  5. the human body is slightly heavier than the right because of the heart and when running anticlockwise, the body would tend to very slightly incline towards the left, which could be an advantage while running anticlockwise
  6. Most people are right hand/leg dominant.Moving counterclockwise we have a better control and move faster.

Read more: wiki.answers.com, answers.yahoo.com

You can look on different interesting paper that tool about the directions types in generally and not only in sport - straightdope

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    The "NASCAR drivers keep to the inside" line isn't always correct. While it's true that it's shorter, NASCAR drivers don't care about shorter, they care about faster. Usually the race line is outside to inside to outside, allowing the shallowest and lowest-G turn, thus retaining the most speed. On short tracks with no restrictor plates, you'll sometimes see drivers take a very high (outside) line for the entire turn because they can just power through it faster than someone hugging the inside.
    – KeithS
    Aug 10, 2016 at 15:48

In regards to roller derby, most skaters (like most humans) are right side dominant. That means right-footed people are more comfortable moving their right foot over their left than their left foot over their right. Crossing a foot over another automatically changes your direction because of the weight distribution between your inner and outer wheels. Having your right foot cross over your left makes you turn left.

This post also mentions some other reasons, but I'm not sure I buy all of them.


In my opinion, the reason for only left turn in races is as follows:

Most of the races take place in the northern hemisphere. Coriolis force affects and will naturally make water, wind, etc turn or swing in the anti-clockwise direction. Going clockwise in the northern hemisphere would be going against nature. Since racing started in the northern hemisphere a trend must have been set.

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    it will be nice if you can add source that will support your opinion.
    – Dor Cohen
    Nov 26, 2012 at 15:41

NASCAR etc always turn to the left due to the centrifugal pull of the motor (the internals of the motor are always turning in that direction). If you go to the right you will be turning against the pull of your engine. Try it for yourself in your own car. The turn of the motor will push you into the left turn . Against to the right.

  • On a rear wheel drive car, the torque from the engine pushes the left rear wheel down and tries to lift the right rear wheel up. Turning left at speed puts more weight on the right wheels, thus counteracting the lifting effect from the engine and making the car more stable. Turning right at speed would mean even less weight on the right side and a possible loss of traction.
    – Stew-au
    Sep 27, 2018 at 2:10

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