Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Set...

Why do races (runners, horses, cars, dogs, etc.) all run in a counter-clockwise direction?

This particular question recently found its way to our Reference Desk, prompting us to scratch our heads for a moment before plunging into a search for an answer. After doing some digging, we found two different answers from two very credible sources.

According to the USA Track and Field Association, their organization arbitrarily made the decision to race in a counter-clockwise direction in 1912 and have kept things the same ever since.

Hmm. Probable enough.

But according to NASCAR, the origin of the counter-clockwise direction in racing comes from the earliest horse races. In 1780, American tracks were set counter-clockwise because breeders were still angry at the British, whose racing tracks ran clockwise.

Hmm. Very convincing!

Which answer is correct? We'll let the Track and Field Association duke it out with NASCAR for winner's rights; in the meantime, we'll just point you in the right direction, counter-clockwise or not!

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