If someone were to tell you that the #2 most popular sport in America is NASCAR, would you believe them? Well, you should, because it’s true. NASCAR comes in right behind the NFL with a whopping 75 million viewers each weekend. What’s the difference between watching cars race endlessly around a track versus watching men in spandex and helmets? The environmental impact.
NASCAR, for obvious reasons, is not the greenest sport in the world. First and foremost, it’s centered around driving cars at high speeds instead of around pure human physical strength or endurance. That fact alone bumps NASCAR into the “dirty sport” category, although I’m sure die-hard NASCAR fans aren’t too concerned. After all, while NASCAR race cars get between 2 and 5 miles per gallon, historically on high leaded gas, a typical fan has probably tuned out any thought of the environment or climate change.
To make matters worse, NASCAR race cars are exempt from EPA regulations that govern all other vehicles. For example, NASCAR does not install catalytic converters into their race fleet, a basic emissions requirement for all other cars on the road. The cars also go through tires like tissues. In fact, each team uses approximately 8-10 sets of tires on an average weekend. Given it takes about 7 gallons of oil to make a single tire, the numbers quickly add up.
In an effort to “green” its image, the NASCAR fleet in 2011 introduced E15, an ethanol based additive into its racing fuel. E15 increases fuel power yet reduces efficiency, which unfortunately defeats the purpose of going green, even though “ethanol” sounds warm and fuzzy from a biofuels standpoint. Also, keep in mind that we’re only talking about the race cars themselves here, not the support vehicles or the energy used by the stadiums, which quickly raise overall CO2 emissions, among other noxious pollutants.
Since it doesn’t appear that NASCAR is going anywhere anytime soon, perhaps it’s instead time to consider how to make this gas-guzzling and environmentally damaging sport less destructive. But is that even possible, given the sport is intrinsically flawed environmentally? The race cars themselves are extremely inefficient and wasteful and the accompanying stadium, supplies and equipment only add to this challenge. Maybe NASCAR could invest in electric or solar-powered cars? Sure, those cars are not market competitive and can’t typically go 200 mph, but with all the money NASCAR brings in annually, one would think the chief executives could begin to invest in progressive, cleaner fuel technologies for their fleets. It’s something to think about. Enjoying sports is a wonderful pastime, but enjoying a sport that’s so blatantly damaging to our planet deserves another hard look.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force Airman or employee