by Bitches Bruze
As skaters we spend a lot of time focusing on personal gear. But how much do you know about the one piece of equipment we all have in common—the flat track?
A Little History
Necessity is the mother of invention and the flat track in today’s modern roller derby is a prime example. For the ladies in Texas who had been promised a banked track by a shady promoter in 2001, they weren’t about to give up the year of training they’d put into becoming derby skaters, so they created a game with what they had—a flat roller skating rink and several rolls of tape.
The first couple bouts were skated on a track smaller than the one we use today as it fit their first venue. When they moved to a bigger rink in 2002, Amy “Electra Blu” Sherman committed the design of the track to CAD attempting to provide an effective banked track giving the skaters a little more width as they exited corners to account for the centripetal force of turning on a flat surface. When the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association formed in 2005, Electra Blu’s design was adopted into the rules and the design has not changed since.
The track itself is 88′ long and 53′ wide. The rules prescribe an outside crash zone of 10′ necessitating an overall track space of 108′ x 73′ but if a boundary is provided to separate players from observers, the crash zone may be as small as 5′ wide making the minimum space required for a regulation track 98′ x 63′. In comparison, an NBA basketball court is 94′ x 50′ and a high school court 84′ x 50′. Elementary school courts are even smaller. A typical hockey rink at 200′ x 98′ is considerably bigger, technically allowing enough space to have two tracks.
Roller derby may be played on a variety of surfaces including polished concrete, wood, and sport or skate court. Pioneer Valley Roller Derby has invested in a roller derby formula Skate Court. This is considered one of the most ideal and consistent surfaces for the sport. Temperature and humidity affect this surface less than concrete or wood surfaces. It takes quite a bit of man hours to move our court from our practice space to venues, but it allows us to play practically anywhere there is enough space to put our track down.
Setting up the track
Under the inside and outside boundaries of the track is a piece of rope which meets the requirement of having a raised boundary. The rope must be no less than ¼” and no more than 2″ tall. A track requires 385′ of rope for under the boundary tape and a minimum of 520′ of tape to cover the rope for the boundaries, jammer and pivot lines, and 10′ markings. Throw in a few hundred feet more to mark out crash zones, penalty box boundaries, and bench boundaries, and track set up usually consumes about 750′ of tape total and takes a small crew to set up.
The inside arc of the two corners has a 12′ 6″ radius while the outside arc is a 26′ 6″ radius. The two arcs have their center point offset by 1′ so that the entrance to the corner is 13′, the midpoint is 14′, and the exit is 15′. The 35′ straightaways connect the ends of these two sets of semi-circles. All markings across the track are perpendicular to the inside boundary. The pivot line is set exactly where the straightaway meets the beginning of the inside arc and the jammer line is set 30′ behind it. The marks around the track are considered 10′ marks and there are 18 of them (including the jammer and pivot lines). Where those marks meet the inside of the track they are only 7′ ½” apart around the corner, but at some point just inside the center of the track they are 10′. They are used as guides for determining engagement zone, pack composition, out of play status, and direction of game play.
Flat Track Terminology and Dimensions
Using the Track to Play
The track is not a true oval; it has two semi-circles (corners) and two straightaways. Skating in a straight line requires different footwork, posture, and balance than a corner. Learning the transitions between these areas, both as an individual and working as a pack is part of the game.
The entrance to the corners is 13′ wide and the exit is 15′ wide. Since the entrance to the turns is 2′ narrower than the exit it is usually the easiest point to defend while the exit from the corners is considered the hardest point to defend. The track averages 14′ wide.
There are a total of 18 10′ marks making the track effectively 180′ long including 70′ of straightaway and 110′ of corners. Getting a sense of distance is critical for pack skaters to keep from earning out of play and no pack penalties.
The pivot line marks the beginning of the transition from straight to turning. Some effective blocking techniques involve taking advantage of a skater transitioning from straight to turning momentum and timing. The jammer line is 5′ past the transition from turning to straight.
The space above the track is considered “in play”. A skater who jumps and leaves the track in bounds and returns in bounds is considered to have remained in bounds during that jump. With only a 12′ 6″ radius, many skaters are able to jump over some portion of the inside of the track, legally avoiding skaters “holding the line”. These are called apex jumps. There is a rule which prohibits skaters from making contact with opponents while not having contact with the floor with a skate. This prohibition is enforced regardless of impact on the game—as in, an “in flight” skater who makes contact with an opponent before or while landing automatically receives a major Misconduct even if the skater contacted doesn’t stumble or lose position.
The most efficient, unobstructed path around the track is an oval skated touching (approximately) the midpoint of the outside of both straightaways (53′ wide) and the inside apex of both corners (60′ long). Jammers not skating in the pack will often skate this path for efficiency.
The boundary markings are considered in bounds. The pivot line is part of the blocker starting zone and the jammer line is part of the jammer starting zone.
The boundaries are raised between ¼”-2″ and have a width of 1-3″.
When talking about the areas of the track, the track “starts” between the jammer and pivot line. This is the front side straightaway. The opposing straight away is the back side straightaway. The corners are numbered starting at the pivot line, counter-clockwise (direction of game play), one through four.
The penalty box may be located anywhere close to the track in a neutral area. The team benches must be located along the outside or on the inside of the track. One of the most common arrangements is having the penalty box between the benches along the front side straightaway with the respective teams’ box and benches opposite each other. However, venue restrictions may have them placed in other locations.
The Track in the Rules: Section 2.1 Track, Section 2.7 Penalty Box