The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing sought ways to lessen their environmental impact long before the economy faltered, and critics may scoff that a fuel-based spectator sport could yield benefits, but for NASCAR, the recession clouds may have many “green linings.”
Dr. Mike Lynch, the new Director of the NASCAR Green Innovation, says his goal is to work with racetracks and teams to "find environmental efficiencies to benefit the entire industry." Speaking at the recent 2009 NASCAR Media Tour, chairman Brian France commented, "fans are concerned about high fuel cost, global warming and energy independence. We recognize this must be one of our priorities moving forward."
Tracks are known for effective recycling programs, some covering everything from aluminum cans to computer monitors and even lawnmowers, and in 2008, NASCAR partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote SmartWay fuel-efficient vehicles. Another important alliance with the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) developed the "Car Care Aware" program to encourage motorists to improve mileage and reduce emissions by maintaining their vehicles.
Particularly during a faltering economy, fans and sponsors alike want evidence of prudent decisions when it comes to conservation. Automobile industry decline caused spending cutbacks, leading even healthy backers to lay off employees in the motor-sports off-season.
The multi-billion-dollar business model that was once NASCAR’s foundation is no longer infallible, as corporate sponsors streamline their budgets, and races in 2009 are predicted to have fewer cars for the first time in decades. In a downturn, new and greener values emerge in the association’s prominent projects:
- The new NASCAR plaza in Charlotte, NC and “Daytona Speedplex” will be built following the criteria for “Green building” LEED certification – an honor not easily or cheaply attained.
- The first "green car" to race at Homestead-Miami Speedway’s Ford 400, a 2010 Ford Fusion, showed off the next-generation hybrid technology, which can travel up to 700 miles per tank.
- NASCAR is working with Sunoco to develop long-term alternative fuel options.
- Safety-Keen collects, re-refines and/or manages the proper disposal of oil, brake fluid, coolant and cleaning solvents after all races.
The amount of scrap rubber being deposited in landfills is a huge environmental issue, one that inspired Cincinnati businessman Kevin Bruns, CEO of the Race Cooler Company, to create coolers and kegs made out of used racing tires.
Describe the inspiration behind your "green" NASCAR product:
“I was on Pit Row the Kentucky Motor Speedway and saw piles of tires being stacked, coming off the cars as they came in from time trials and races… and next to them were square coolers. That put the two together in my head as I thought, what happens to those tires? I thought they would make a great framework for a beverage cooler. Now, we get first crack at any clean tires that have been raced on a track. There will be paint markings from the pit crews, their notes, and so on… so each one looks unique.”
So you use all of NASCAR’s discarded tires to make your products?
“Whatever we cannot use, Goodyear shreds into things like playground mats and asphalt mixtures. Together, we are preventing massive amounts from going to landfills.”
What do you think is driving the Green trend?
“Fans and companies alike won’t stand for anything less than green efforts nowadays. People may think NASCAR just has an audience of rednecks or whatever, but that’s largely myth, and certainly doesn’t indicate ecological ignorance. Race fans come from all walks of life, and companies who are seen by consumers as wasteful or uninformed about green strategies won’t survive. It may have once been fashionable to be seen wasting money, but that doesn’t work now.”
Global carbon emissions top 25 billion metric tons, to which NASCAR contributes a fraction of a single percent, but critics insist that NASCAR has a 'negative environmental impact.'
“The carbon footprint of a whole season at a racetrack is easily overshadowed by a single airport or traffic jam. Also, NASCAR brings awareness to a lot of people, and we all seek environmental sustainability in the industry. Also, you cannot dismiss the clear benefits of the sport in terms of everyday technology. When NASA put those twelve guys on the moon, all the research and testing resulted in huge benefits on Earth as well. Some was intended, but some of it was purely accidental. Racing technology is no different. Look at any passenger vehicle on the road. Those aerodynamics didn’t come out of nowhere. Everything we’ve seen in weight reduction, fuel efficiency, safety mechanisms – that comes from developing cars to race at high speeds, not just internal testing of car companies.”
But isn’t it still energy consumed simply for enjoyment?
“Not really, because you also have to consider the economic windfalls that NASCAR brings to any region with a busy track – jobs, mechanics, vendors, all kinds of commerce, it’s huge. From February through November, normal races are two Superbowls every weekend. I just returned from the Daytona 500 and that drew half a million people. There’s your economic stimulus.”
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