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NASCAR Goes Green: Gas-Guzzling Sport Works To Reduce Carbon Footprint

Jun 12, 2015
Originally published on June 14, 2015 2:21 pm
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Environmentally-friendly and NASCAR - maybe that sounds like a non sequitur to you. Burning fuel is a fundamental part of stock car racing, but NASCAR, like other pro sports, is trying to decrease its carbon footprint. From member station WFAE, Michael Tomsic reports.

MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: The same sport that roars to life with this...

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Drivers, start your engines.

TOMSIC: ...Also has executives pushing this message.

BRENT DEWAR: The more that we can demonstrate the impacts that we can have to improve and reduce our carbon emissions, any part we can do, we think that's important.

TOMSIC: That's NASCAR chief operating officer, Brent Dewar. NASCAR's green initiatives include installing tens of thousands of solar panels at several tracks and planting more than 370,000 trees across the country. During races, even pit stops now have a green touch.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE REVVING)

TOMSIC: Ok, that may not have sounded environmentally-friendly, but it included refueling with a 15 percent ethanol blend. That's 5 percent more ethanol than what you probably put in your car. When NASCAR started using ethanol in 2011, it worried some fans and drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But now Earnhardt says...

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: It feels like home. I mean, it just seems like we've been using it for years and years and years. I don't even - you know, we used to have concerns about how it would perform and it's an afterthought at this point as to how it affects performance.

TOMSIC: And its reduced emissions by 20 percent, according to NASCAR. The NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL all tout green initiatives at their events too. Darby Hoover is a senior resource specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

DARBY HOOVER: These initiatives are tremendously powerful and I think make quite a bit of difference.

TOMSIC: Hoover points out it's small-scale stuff compared to pollution at, say, coal plants, but she says league investments in renewable energy, water conservation and recycling add up, especially if fans buy in. Jeremy Kranowitz is the director of another environmental group, Sustainable America. He says, think about it this way.

JEREMY KRANOWITZ: When you have 70, 80, 90,000 fans in attendance, that is essentially the same as a mid-size city, and so sports are a very important place to focus on environmental issues.

TOMSIC: At NASCAR races, thousands of people drive to the track in gas-guzzling RVs or...

BRIAN FREESE: Giant diesel truck (laughter).

TOMSIC: Brian Freese attended last month's all-star race in Charlotte with a friend and his father. Two of the three are skeptical that climate change is because of human activity, but they do approve of NASCAR's green initiatives. Here's Tommy Raymer.

TOMMY RAYMER: We only have one planet, so try to take care of it, you know, as best we can. And if it's good for the environment, I'm all for it.

TOMSIC: His dad, Tom.

TOM RAYMER: I'm definitely all for it.

TOMSIC: And Freese again.

FREESE: I think it's important that NASCAR tries to stay up with the times, and emissions in your race car is an important aspect of that.

TOMSIC: Those of the kinds of reactions that Catherine Kummer likes to hear. She's NASCAR's director of green innovation.

CATHERINE KUMMER: We certainly won't claim to be a carbon-neutral sport at the end of the day. We race race cars every weekend. We have, you know, thousands of people coming and traveling to our events every single weekend, so we're doing all that we can to offset that.

TOMSIC: And teach all those fans how to do their part. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.