A victory lap (also lap of honor) is a term used in motorsports to describe an extra lap of the race track after the conclusion of a race. This lap, driven at reduced speed, allows the winning driver to celebrate their victory and gives the spectators an opportunity to congratulate and honor the competitors. Commonly, trackside flag marshals will wave their flags in a gesture known as the FIA salute or the Monkey Dance in the US. It is not uncommon for marshals to clap or wave their hands at drivers as a gesture and sometimes the drivers wave back in response.
Victory laps can sometime become dangerous for the winner and the other drivers, since in many tracks the safety nets can be easily climbed over by the crowd, which then becomes an obstacle for the racers.
Victory laps have regularly seen drivers who have retired in the final stages of a race being given a lift back to the pits on one of their competitors' cars. Some notable examples in Formula One include Riccardo Patrese and Didier Pironi at the 1982 Monaco Grand Prix, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna at the 1991 British Grand Prix (pictured), Jean Alesi and Michael Schumacher at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella at the 1997 German Grand Prix, Mika Häkkinen and David Coulthard at the 2001 Spanish Grand Prix, and Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso at the 2011 German Grand Prix and 2013 Singapore Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel and Pascal Wehrlein at the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix.
Recently the FIA, motor sport's world governing body, have restricted what a Formula One driver may do on his victory lap. The sporting regulations state that at the end of a race, "all cars must proceed on the circuit directly to the post race parc fermé without stopping, without overtaking (unless clearly necessary), without receiving any object whatsoever and without any assistance (except that of the marshals if necessary)."
Polish victory lapA Polish, or Kulwicki victory lap entails the driver turning his car around and driving in the opposite direction, which is clockwise on NASCAR ovals. It has been used in road courses.
This style of victory lap is common in local short track or dirt track races, where the victorious driver takes the checkered flag from the flag stand, and then proceeds to drive with the driver's side of the car facing the fans for their victory lap.
The term was first coined as a result of Polish American Alan Kulwicki's celebration of his first career Winston Cup victory at the Checker 500 (Phoenix) on November 6, 1988. He celebrated his victory by driving a clockwise victory lap. A Ford engineer slapped him on the back and asked if that was a "Polish" victory lap. Kulwicki's only other Polish Victory lap came in 1992, in celebration of his Winston Cup Championship at the 1992 Hooters 500.
The term was solidified after Kulwicki's death. Kulwicki died in a plane crash on Thursday, April 1, 1993, near Blountville, Tennessee. Hours after Kulwicki's death, Peter Jellen drove Kulwicki's racecar hauler counter-clockwise around Bristol Motor Speedway before leaving the track. Two days after Kulwicki's death, Bristol Busch Series race winner Michael Waltrip honored his old short track foe by turning Kulwicki's trademark reverse Polish Victory Lap, but only half a lap, stating that he didn't want to do Kulwicki's entire routine. The next day, Winston Cup winner Rusty Wallace followed Waltrip's lead, and proceeded to run a full Polish Victory Lap, both after that race, and after each victory for the rest of the 1993 season. Tom Roberts, Wallace's and sponsor Miller Brewing's publicist, was also Kulwicki's publicist. In addition, most winners for the remainder of the 1993 season honored Kulwicki with a Polish victory lap. On November 14, 1993, after the Hooters 500 (Atlanta), the last race of that season, the race winner Wallace and 1993 series champion Dale Earnhardt ran a Polish Victory Lap together while carrying #7 and #28 flags commemorating Kulwicki and Davey Allison, respectively.
Mike Joy frequently refers to this as an "Alan Kulwicki victory lap" in memory of the driver, and noted the spectators see the driver, who usually waves and sometimes has his helmet off, as he salutes the fans. Joy's term is reminiscent of other cases where a term is named for the person who developed the idea (i.e., Gurney flap, Petty bar). The term "Polish victory lap" is considered by some as politically incorrect, referring to Polish jokes.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. did a Polish victory lap after winning the 2001 MBNA Cal Ripken, Jr. 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway in the first NASCAR Winston Cup Race following the September 11 attacks while holding a large American flag out the driver's side window.
Jimmie Johnson celebrated a special win by doing a Polish victory lap on October 31, 2004 after winning the 2004 Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The week before on October 24,tragedy struck when a Hendrick Motorsports airplane crashed outside of Martinsville, Virginia.
Kurt Busch celebrated his 2005 win at Phoenix with a Polish victory lap. Busch watched his first NASCAR races at the track, and wanted to honor Kulwicki. Kyle Busch also did a Polish Victory Lap after his 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup win at Bristol.
Many local racetrack winners and series champions have saluted Kulwicki or his underdog spirit with a Polish victory lap, especially in his home state of Wisconsin. 2006 Milwaukee (Wisconsin) race winner Paul Menard (a Wisconsinite) celebrated his first Busch Series win with a Polish Victory lap.
Kurt Busch, with his win at Atlanta in Sprint Cup, 2009, ended up putting the car in reverse and driving it around the track backwards. His brother Kyle also used this after his win in Bristol. The practice was later dubbed, "The Unwind Lap".
In 2012, Tony Stewart did a Polish victory lap after finally winning for the first time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Kobalt Tools 400.
In 2014, Earnhardt, Jr. celebrated his Daytona 500 victory with a Polish victory lap. His second win of the 2014 season came on June 8 at Pocono, where he repeated it. He also performed the feat after winning the Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 in October.
In 2015, Denny Hamlin celebrated his Nationwide Series in his home state track at Richmond International Raceway with a Polish Victory Lap, and completing it while performing a burnout.