A standard theory that has been passed down through the years dates the checkered flag origins back to the 1800s.
Racing at that point was done on horseback, and those at the races would typically eat together afterward. To signal when dinner was ready and the racing should end, a tablecloth – which, during this time period, was checkered – was waved.
A less romantic theory: In the early days of racing, the tracks were on dirt roads. With dust and dirt kicked into the air throughout the race, visibility was incredibly limited.
A flag with contrasting colors – such as black and white – was an easy target to spot for drivers gunning for the win.