Friday, October 30, 2009

NASCAR? Green? For Real?

As the resident NASCAR fan among the Blue Voice writers, Mari (the closest thing we have to an expert on environmental matters here) knew I'd be interested in this USA Today article, "NASCAR, rooted in fossil fuels, turning over new green leaf," so she forwarded it to me for comment.  I was already aware of some of the stuff mentioned in the article, but it does a pretty good job of summarizing all the different ways NASCAR is going green.

I hear you scoffing, and I understand your skepticism.  After all, this is a sport with a gigantic carbon footprint.  In the big leagues, the Sprint Cup Series, you have 43 cars circling race tracks 36 weekends out of the year -- in the most extreme cases, 500 miles of driving in an afternoon (600 miles in the Memorial Day weekend race at Charlotte) at around 200 miles per hour, averaging around five miles per gallon.  Which doesn't even take into consideration practices and qualifying and the other series that might race on a given weekend, and also doesn't take into consideration all the thousands and thousands of fans that descend on a racetrack for the weekend's entertainment, tracks often in small towns in some of the most beautiful places in the country like the Napa Valley and the Pocono Mountains and Dover, Delaware, and Bristol, Tennessee.

Skepticism?  Yeah, this is a sport that, compared to Formula One and IndyCar Racing, is a technological anachronism, gasoline powered cars that still use carburators.  They didn't even make the switch from leaded to unleaded gasoline until last season.  Plans for changes to the cars like fuel injection and alternative fuels are still on the drawing board, but NASCAR is making green strides, and they seem to be more than just lip service or a PR stunt or greenwashing -- more a case of if they can do it, anyone can.

One year ago NASCAR announced the hiring of Dr. Mike Lynch to head up their green initiative, but some key elements were already in place.  One important piece was a 2005 sponsorship deal with Safety-Kleen that continues today.  The waste cleanup company collects and recycles all the used oil and oil filters, antifreeze, brake fluid, cleaning solvents and other liquid waste.  Other sponsors are also chipping in.  Goodyear collects and recycles all the tires.  Waste Management, the country's largest recycler, handles all the garbage that piles up when 100,000 or so racing fans congregate for a weekend.

There's more, too.  There's stuff like LEED certified buildings, solar farms that power the racetracks and nearby homes, carbon offsets and tree planting initiatives, and this seems to be a long-term initiative that is still in its infancy.  Perhaps the most important things NASCAR can do for the environment are the ongoing educational and promotional projects -- educating fans about the importance of recycling and fuel conservation, and promoting the hybrids, diesels and plug-ins being produced by the NASCAR auto manufacturers.

So read the USA Today article and tell me what you think.  Greenwashing or an honest attempt to do some good for the environment?  Meanwhile, the 2009 season is winding down.  There's just four races left and everyone is chasing Jimmie Johnson as he goes for his fourth consecutive championship.  They're at Talladega this weekend, and one of the most interesting stories of the week (other than Kyle Busch's crew chief change) is the Creek medicine man they brought in to try to cleanse the track of 40 years of bad mojo.

posted at 2:59:00 AM by Duane Tate

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