BY BRUCE RITCHIE
Race tracks and gas-guzzling hot-rods may seem to be the antithesis of environmentalism, but NASCAR officials are trying to change that viewpoint.
NASCAR is big business in Florida with two of its top races being held in the state. The sport closes out its 2012 season on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the naming of a new Sprint Cup series champion.
On Thursday, NASCAR held a “Environmental Summit” in Miami to highlight its environmentally-responsible efforts. Gov. Rick Scott, who describes himself as a NASCAR fan, was there and met with NASCAR truck driver Ricky Carmichael of Tallahassee.
NASCAR officials recently have been highlighting how their race cars are using gasoline with renewable E-15 ethanol and how track owners are increasing recycling and planting trees.
NASCAR is working to be an environmental leader among sports and industries while reducing its environmental footprint, Michael Lynch, managing director of NASCAR’s Green Innovation program, told the Florida Energy Summit on Oct. 28.
Tracks in Michigan, California and Pennsylvania also have solar energy panels. There is a 3-megawatt solar array at the Pocono raceway that powers the track and another 350 homes in the surrounding community.
“What we are trying to help folks really appreciate is (NASCAR) seems to be the ultimate demonstration platform for green technology solutions,” Lynch said, “to show they really work, to show their business viability in which the fans and the public are going to have a level of acceptance.”
NASCAR fans, he said, are about 25 percent of the nation’s population — more than 60 million. And they have shown in public opinion surveys that they are 50 percent more likely than the general population to save they have a “very green” household.
Race cars get about five miles per gallon, according to a CNN report shown by Lynch at the Summit, which was hosted by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in Orlando. Two of the car models — the Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry — are available in showrooms as hybrid vehicles.
The cars use 450,000 gallons fuel per year, Lynch said. Recycling at race tracks offsets 300,000 gallons of fuel used, he said, and 2,000 trees are planted each year to offset pollution.
At the Florida Governor’s Mansion in July, former NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip told Floridaenvironments.com that the sport has created technology advancements that are used by automakers and tire manufacturers.
“The manufacturers learn a lot from what we do whether it’s emissions, fuel mileage (or) engine management,” Waltrip said.
“There are so many things that are all encompassed in that race car every Sunday afternoon,” he added. “They are not just a bunch of good ol’ boys going in a circle.”
Determining whether NASCAR’s green innovation program is more real than publicity would take some analysis, said Aliki Moncrief, state director of Environment Florida. But she said NASCAR could help reach a new audience to support national environmental efforts such as the federal vehicle fuel economy proposal announced this week.
The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U. S. Department of Transportation proposed stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions for passenger cars and light trucks, boosting average mileage up to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
The proposal along with other fuel-efficiency measures taken by the Obama administration would reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels per day by 2025 – enough to offset almost a quarter of current foreign oil imports, according to the EPA.
Moncrief said it makes sense for environmentalists who support those fuel-efficiency standards to find common ground with NASCAR fans who are interested in the environment.
“I think to the extent that NASCAR is getting out there and educating people about the importance of clean energy alternatives for cars … hopefully they would go one step further to encourage their constituents to go with clean-car options like the Ford Fusion and Camry that have a hybrid alternative,” Moncrief said.
(Photo copyrighted by Mark Wallheiser, used with permission. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)
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