Could the future of NASCAR look a little greener?

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

NASCAR Being Green

Even NASCAR realizes it's an atmospheric burden. The big news is, the organization (or at least its sponsors) are starting to care.

Contrary to popular belief, car racing as a whole is not insensitive to environmental concerns. Other racing associations, such as Formula One and Indy, have already taken some pretty giant steps toward reducing their effects on the environment. Formula One is in the midst of a 10-year ban on engine development instituted to push teams into developing green racing technology instead [source: Eaton]. And Indy race cars now run on 100 percent ethanol fuel [source: Fulton], a corn-based, renewable energy. Sure, those cars get about 2 mpg, but it's a lower-emitting 2 mpg.

NASCAR has been behind the curve for years in this regard. In fact, until 2007, NASCAR cars were running on leaded gas, which emits toxic lead into the air and has been out of most people's gas tanks since the '80s [source: Fulton]. The organization has simply left environmental issues off its agenda -- until now.

Perhaps in response to genuine concern over its status as a major emitter, or perhaps because public opinion has begun to take issue with such rampant gas guzzling when global warming is a looming threat, NASCAR is trying to green up its image. It recently partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a program to promote high-MPG vehicles at NASCAR races. Not on the track -- the eco-friendly production cars are displayed at the fairgrounds to attract NASCAR fans to the idea of lowering fuel consumption in their daily lives. But still, it's a start.

NASCAR teams themselves are making the bigger (if mostly symbolic contribution). The Hall of Fame racing team has committed to purchase carbon credits to offset all of the carbon it emits for 18 races of the 2009 season. That includes travel, practice and racing emissions. And NASCAR driver Leilani Munter buys an acre of rainforest to offset each of her races.

As is the case when anyone buys carbon credits to offset nonrenewable energy use, whether this NASCAR trend actually decreases environmental impact is up for debate. But at least as far as raising awareness goes, it's a promising first step toward making NASCAR a slightly less destructive force. If actual technology changes follow, NASCAR might very well get pushed back on the list of environmentally nightmarish sports.

For more information on NASCAR, global warming and related topics, look over the links on the next page.