It is no secret that NASCAR and other motorsports are prone to leaving massive carbon footprints. But it is also true that they have made conscious efforts to reduce or at least offset their carbon emissions. Whether NASCAR is bad for the environment or not depends on several factors.
NASCAR used to be very bad for the environment, using inefficient combustion techniques and leaded fuel. However, NASCAR started taking environmental initiatives in 2009. Since then, they have become a much cleaner organization, allowing fans to enjoy races without so much environmental harm.
Below, we will explore some of NASCAR’s initiatives to make its sport more environmentally friendly. We will also discover their true carbon footprint, plus whether NASCAR will ever decide to go either hybrid or full-on electric in the future.
NASCAR and other motorsports are among the most entertaining events out there. For some fans, nothing is more breathtaking than watching 40 cars speed down a straightaway and dive into a turn, sometimes without pushing the brakes.
Of course, it is easy to feel guilty when you watch NASCAR because you know that, with so many emissions, it could take a massive toll on the environment. And, in the 21st century, environmental awareness is higher than at any other point in history.
NASCAR burns a plethora of fuel and tires. Far more than any street legal vehicle will within a three to five-hour window. Logistically speaking, it is easy to assume NASCAR harms the environment, especially since they sanction nearly 100 events per season across the Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck and Arca Menards Series.
However, most who believe NASCAR is bad for the environment have not conducted the proper research. NASCAR, like many private companies, has taken environmentally friendly initiatives. Those initiatives became more pronounced throughout the 2010s.
While it is true NASCAR cars burn more fuel than their street-legal counterparts, some of what they burn is really ethanol. Fuel that includes ethanol, like NASCAR’s E15, is cleaner than the type of fuel some road vehicles burn. And to make things environmentally friendlier, NASCAR cars convert heat into power better than many road cars. However, NASCAR wasn’t always as environmentally friendly.
They used leaded fuel decades after most road vehicles phased out the practice. Things changed in 2007. And while most of NASCAR’s fuel blend remains gasoline, adding 15 percent ethanol to the mix allows for far cleaner fuel than you might find at your local gas station. Ethanol is derived from plants and it is a renewable resource.
NASCAR’s biggest challenge has been reducing its harmful effects on the environment since the 2010s. At one time, NASCAR’s annual carbon footprint was a gargantuan 4.3 million pounds of CO2, and this is just a conservative number. But how did NASCAR get to 4.3 million?
On average, NASCAR cars get around five miles per gallon in a race. Back in 2007, when NASCAR still used leaded fuel, they had 43 cars constantly refilling their gas tanks for races between 300 and 500 miles, plus practice laps during the week.
NASCAR, even in the 2020s, is estimated to burn over 6,000 gallons of fuel each week. For every gallon burned, the cars emit 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, which when multiplied, gives you 120,000 pounds. Multiply that by 36 regular season events, and you get 4.3 million. NASCAR and its sponsors realized something had to be done, especially with environmental awareness at an all-time high.
NASCAR’s Initial CO2 Reducing Initiatives
Was NASCAR insensitive to the environment before they ditched leaded fuel? Not necessarily. They just weren’t prioritizing it. One early initiative involved promoting the use of high-MPG vehicles, for which they partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2009, a NASCAR team called Hall of Fame Racing purchased carbon credits to offset half of its emissions per race, practice session, and even travel. In another NASCAR division, one driver even purchased and tended to an acre of rainforest to offset their own carbon emissions.
NASCAR, like all sporting organizations, is not subject to much government oversight. For example, the EPA does not regulate NASCAR engines. NASCAR’s changes came through increased awareness of just how severe of an impact their carbon footprint left on the environment.
While it is possible NASCAR changed through self-realization, the organization also has numerous sponsors who have, since the turn of the 21st century, made their own efforts in going green. It is easy to say pressure from NASCAR’s sponsors helped lead to the change.
NASCAR has also made strides to appeal to a wider fan base. So, it is possible they also knew that, by taking green initiatives, they could attract more environmentally conscious fans who otherwise would not back the sport because of their massive carbon footprint.
As shown in the above section, NASCAR started off with baby steps in reducing and offsetting its CO2 emissions. However, since they established NASCAR Green, their efforts have increased substantially.
When you log onto websites of other sports leagues, you may find a section that says Green, preceded by the sports organization. For example, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) website has a tab you can click that says NHL Green.
NASCAR Green regularly highlights the initiatives they have taken to offset carbon emissions. And they are not the only motorsports organization that has done so. Formula One and IndyCar have done the same, and the results through these three organizations have been significant.
NASCAR Green has one mission: To continue providing an entertaining product while reducing its environmental impact. For nine months of the year, NASCAR holds nearly 100 events among its Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series. They race in front of millions of fans, which gives NASCAR a perfect chance to showcase environmental awareness.
NASCAR’s mission evolved from years of collaboration with stakeholders who shared environmental concerns. Since then, they have worked with over a dozen green partners, game planning environmentally sustainable goals each year to further offset its carbon emissions.
Besides NASCAR’s venture into using more ethanol-based Sunoco Green E15 biofuel, they also expanded recycling efforts at each venue they race, which includes recycling used oil and tires.
Their track sweeper has become more energy efficient since their 2009 initiatives began, and they also made efforts to invest in solar panels and lighting fixtures at tracks. NASCAR’s green efforts even crossed into the food industry, with new menus in hospitality suites and food diversion.
NASCAR has also planted over 500,000 trees across America, placing a special emphasis on regions natural disasters have struck. Think places in California where wildfires hit, or areas leveled by hurricanes, and you know where NASCAR pinpointed their efforts. They expanded their tree-planting endeavors by becoming the first sports organization to engage in digital tree planting.
This allows fans to donate trees to areas of need through NASCAR. NASCAR Green further directed tree-planting efforts to areas affected by natural disasters via their Community Tree Recovery Program. They also engaged in reforestation and biodiversity efforts worldwide.
While it is great to make a conscious effort in going green, actions always speak louder than those efforts. And with so many initiatives taking place, how has NASCAR fared since it committed to going green?
Each season, the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, and Truck Series collectively recycle over 120,000 used tires. One of NASCAR’s green partners, Safety-Kleen, annually repurposes over 200,000 gallons of NASCAR oil and other fluids collected from NASCAR-sanctioned events.
Further recycling milestones came in collaboration with the fans. NASCAR holds Free Friday Campaigns at select tracks, allowing fans to bring empty cans to the track for recycling purposes in exchange for free track entry on the Friday before the event.
When NASCAR started taking green initiatives in 2009, they were far behind other prominent motorsport organizations like Formula One and IndyCar. However, since the advent of NASCAR Green, they played catch-up well considering the milestones mentioned above.
NASCAR realizes they need to continue to find innovative ways to further offset their carbon footprint. Especially when it comes to travel. However, as environmental awareness becomes more prominent in the 2020s and beyond, look for NASCAR to further tap into their fan base for support.
We mentioned a few demonstrations and efforts NASCAR has already taken with their fans. But you can expect NASCAR, especially as they reach a new generation of fans, to provide incentives and/or recognition to fans who join NASCAR Green’s efforts.
NASCAR, like any sports organization, realizes their true pioneers of environmental change lie in the millions of people that make up their loyal fan base. So, by getting their fans involved, NASCAR isn’t just making a concentrated effort to offset their own carbon footprints. They are making an effort to motivate millions of others to join them in their goals.
NASCAR may go hybrid or electric. With so much awareness surrounding carbon emissions, the possibility exists that NASCAR may forgo using fuel-injected cars in the future and opt for hybrid or electric vehicles. This could become a likely scenario if they face pressure from sponsors, fans, or both.
However, it would be a big move for NASCAR if they were to go hybrid or electric. Hybrid and electric vehicles use charging stations over traditional fuel injections, so NASCAR would have to factor in ways to fully charge a vehicle within a short pit stop.
Or, if charging stations were not possible, could NASCAR find ways to keep vehicles charged for an entire race? If they opted for hybrid vehicles, they would need to create guidelines as to when their gas man could climb over the wall and provide service to the car.
While it would be logistically difficult to envision NASCAR cars going beyond hybrids, they may be in luck elsewhere. Most experts who study NASCAR’s carbon emissions focus exclusively on the competing cars while failing to focus on the thousands of miles each hauler travels.
This is where NASCAR can gain the edge in going either electric or hybrid. It’s hard to gauge how many pounds of CO2 emissions NASCAR haulers release into the atmosphere, but given the thousands of miles they travel from headquarters to the next racing venue, it is a high number.
NASCAR has continued to do its part in becoming greener since 2009. With more environmentally friendly fuel and green initiatives, NASCAR has proven even motorsports can minimize environmental harm. There are lots of motorsports leagues across the globe, with Formula One and IndyCar serving as the most prominent besides NASCAR.
Like NASCAR, IndyCar was not friendly to the environment, using methanol-based fuel. While methanol was a far better choice than NASCAR’s leaded fuel, it was not easily renewable.
As far as fuel goes, Formula One remains a step behind, using gasoline that contains 10 percent bio-components. However, Formula One is systemically phasing out its high-octane pump gas, with a goal of 100 percent renewable fuel in the near future. IndyCar is ahead of both NASCAR and Formula One in the fuel arena. Their fuel contains 85 percent ethanol and 5 percent gasoline.
Earlier, we explained how NASCAR has engaged in reforestation efforts through NASCAR Green. They undertook these efforts to offset their carbon footprint via air and hauler travel, something that occurs nearly 40 times throughout the nine-month season.
NASCAR cars, IndyCars, and Formula One cars must be hauled across the land (and sea in F1’s case) in semi-trucks. These trucks emit millions of pounds of emissions into the atmosphere. Knowing this, NASCAR, Formula 1, and IndyCar are continually making efforts to address emissions released via travel.
Even if it only means off-setting the emissions, credit is due to the three organizations for at least engaging in a concentrated effort.
Historically, NASCAR was not good for the environment, using leaded fuel until 2007 and not taking green initiatives until 2009. However, they have made efforts to offset their carbon footprint, going as far as to use cleaner fuel and engaging in reforestation, recycling, and biodiversity efforts.
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