Has The Checkered Flag Gone Green?

by Dennis Machicao

Now, this might sound like a bit of a paradox, but there has been a growing green awareness in auto racing. Granted, it might not be the greenest of sports when the objective is to go as fast as possible while burning up copious amounts of fossil fuel, but the green mindset has started to take hold in this sport. No, they are not racing supped up Prius racecars or all electric cars (yet), but they have started to use alternative fuels to get to that checkered flag.

With today’s automobile technology, the engineers who build these powerful, high-tech machines have been able to get the acceptable horsepower to rocket these cars to the finish line. Back in 2007, for the first time in automobile racing history, a renewable fuel–100% ethanol–was used in the IndyCar Series at the Milwaukee Mile Speedway, the world’s oldest active speedway. And it was used in Indy-type cars, the most complex, powerful and temperamental machines in racing. These 700 horsepower cars that can run over 200 mph were able to meet the strategic demands of performance, aerodynamics and fuel consumption to compete in this exciting sport while using 100% ethanol fuel. It was reported that by the end of the 2009 season, switching to ethanol saved about 60,000 gallons of fossil fuel.

But the greening of the sport does not stop at Indy-type cars. It has also influenced NASCAR. In 2010, NASCAR was involved in installing 40,000 solar panes at the Pocono raceway and has a policy to plant 10 mature trees after every race. At a track in Sonoma, CA, (don’t laugh) they have a small herd of sheep trim the grass. Racing teams recycle 96% of each car they build, venues have banned the use of styrofoam cups, track workers ride bicycles and they recycle oily rags, lubricants, oil filters and used fuels, according to a New York Times article. And the pace car of choice is a Hybrid Toyota Camry. They do have a long way to go, but it’s a start.

In the world of land speed records, they have been experimenting with alternative fuels to reach their statistics. In 1994, a modified GM EV1 set a new record at 183 mph. In 2007, a hydrogen-powered fuel cell Ford Fusion reached 207 mph at the Bonneville Flats. These cars were pure electric cars driven by electric motors. Motorcycle racing also came into the eco-picture when, in 2008, an electrically powered motorcycle achieved a world record of 168 mph.

Those of you that are environmental purists might say that these changes are a drop in the environmental bucket, but you have to admit that this sport, that has not been very eco-friendly in the past, is thinking in the right direction. They are aware of the environmental impact that racing has had and are experimenting with alternative sources of fuels, whether ethanol, electric power or something yet to be discovered that can power these thoroughbred machines and still give the thrill of racing to its many fans worldwide.

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