NASCAR, if you think about it, represents all that's environmentally nasty about gasoline vehicles--fuel-guzzling cars muscling their way around a track at as high a speed as possible for entertainment. Sprint Cup team Hall of Fame is, however, trying to do a little something about the eco-footprint of the sport...but is the move enough?
The team is forming a partnership with one of the Sprint Cup's sponsors--Juicedhybrid--and the Number 96 car's main sponsor, Ask.com, to offset its carbon emissions for the first 18 races of the 2009 season.
The program will involve measuring the CO2 emissions for Number 96 Ford Fusion at each practice session, qualifying session and race. The carbon impact of the transporter vehicle and driver Bobby Labonte to and from each race will also be taken into account. After the fact, for each ton of CO2 produced by the vehicles, Ask and Juicedhybrid will invest in "clean energy projects such as solar energy and wind farms by purchasing credits though TerraPass. These projects result in verified reductions in greenhouse gas emissions."
In other words, the team is literally attempting to compensate for some of the environmental impact of its racing. Juiced's CEO Paul Goldman puts it like this: "Not only does this initiative allow us to offset the carbon emissions of the No. 96 team, but it provides us a platform to bring this vital message to the attention of NASCAR’s 75 million fans." This echoes race driver Leilani Munter's eco-compensation scheme: for every race she drives, she buys an acre of rainforest to offset the carbon footprint of her race. She's also pushing her "Eco Dream Team" program to increase the eco-awareness of NASCAR fans.
And while these moves are all very laudable, are they anything more than symbolic? Though NASCAR is a different beast than Formula 1, that racing sport is taking an increasingly stern line on environmental issues. Late in 2007 the FIA, the sport's governing body, issued a ten year ban on further F1 engine development. It's calculated to drive the teams into investing in hybrid systems and other eco-friendly methods of generating power for the vehicles, and a move away from the multi-million dollar "engine tech for the sake of engine tech" development. In the 2008 season 5.75% of racing fuel also had to come from renewable resources. And this season "kinetic energy recovery systems" are debuting in the vehicles--these systems recover some of the kinetic energy of a speeding vehicle that's otherwise "wasted" as heat during breaking maneuvers. It's stored, electrically or mechanically, and can be used later to boost the car's speed for short periods. There's even a push for the sport to move from gasoline to ethanol-powered engines, copying the Indy Racing League's move.
By 2011 the FIA expects exhaust gases and heat to be harvested for propulsion purposes. These are all techniques intended to enhance eco-technology in a way that can be communicated to ordinary road vehicles. Ferrari's driver Felipe Massa spins it as: "Green technology is the future of Formula One and we can help ensure it will be the future on our roads as well."
These increasingly aggressive moves may actually push eco-friendly vehicle technology onward, and that's different from the Hall of Fame's "excusing" the environmental impact of the sport, which is what the carbon offset technique does in a way. Perhaps in the future we can even look forward to race cars that ditch the internal combustion engine altogether, and go all-electric: with the high torque electric motors put out, that'd make for some exciting racing indeed.