The Dirtiest Sport

The recession affected every sector and industry of the economy. Amongst those hardest hit was the sport that some feel rivals baseball as America's pastime: NASCAR. With less spending money in the average American's pocket, all professional sports leagues suffered -- but NASCAR, which experienced tremendous growth in the early 2000s, saw reduced attendance at every race this past year. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that NASCAR added new elements to its races to lure fans into spending huge sums of money once again. The league's executives have cut ticket prices, worked with hotels to waive minimum-stay requirements, and encouraged drivers to be more vocal in criticism of their competition. But as the consequences of the BP oil spill are just beginning to be felt, it is an opportune time to take a closer look at professional stock car racing, the most polluting sport in America by far. Perhaps something should be done to ensure it does not make a return to its glory days.

Massive Numbers

A NASCAR race consists of 43 cars circling a track for between 250 to 500 miles. The NASCAR season consists of 36 "point races," which count towards the Nextel Cup, and "non-point races" for up-and-coming drivers who have not qualified to compete for the cup. In addition, there are practice-races before each official race. These numbers may not seem to shocking on their own, but when one considers that each stock car in the race gets only five miles per gallon, the harm done to the environment by this sport becomes more apparent. Most street cars operate at about 20 miles per gallon and some hybrid cars top out at 60 miles per gallon. But it just wouldn't be fun unless NASCAR can burn off 2 million gallons of gasoline per year at this ridiculous mileage rate. The carbon footprint of NASCAR is equally amazing. In one weekend, 120,000 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted. That number is equivalent to the yearly footprint of three average houses. The gasoline burned also contains particulate matter, sulfur oxides and a host of other pollutants that destroy air quality.

A Free Ride

Since its inception, NASCAR has not received adequate scrutiny for the environmental impact it causes. There seem to be more positive references to NASCAR (including conservative romanticizing of NASCAR dads) than there are serious investigations into the problems associated with the sport. What is most striking is that NASCAR stock cars are unregulated by Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA mandates certain levels of of cleanliness from everyday passenger cars, but NASCAR cars have been granted a loophole and can spew toxins in the air without using mufflers, catalytic converters or any sort of emissions control devices. All that matters to NASCAR and its fans is speed, and the government has turned a blind eye to the amount of pollutants these cars are allowed to generate. Maybe NASCAR will never recover from the recession and become a relic of the ancient past, like Roman Gladiators. If this destructive sport does rebound, the very least we should ask is for a sensible set of regulations that will bring these toxic machines under the control of technology that can make a big difference to the well-being of the planet, and our lungs.


this article is not relevant to media and democracy. environmental considerations are not an appropriate focus of questions regarding questionable media and pr practice. In this weekend's USA Today, the front page was gifted to "tea party" members without any challenge to their claims, positions, accusations, assumptions, misdirections, and just plain blathering. Allowing mistatements of fact to appear unchallenged and allowing any individual posture to be presented unilaterally is a diservice to the USA Todays readers, its purpose and the basis for its 1st Amendment protection. NASCAR, schmascar, the Media is screwed and without the Media there is no hope of divining fact from fiction. Please get back on task. If you were to swing a cat in a cornfield you could hit a dozen examples of Media misconduct. Please write about that. Thank you

Thank you for writing in. I really appreciate your note. We've been working on spotlighting the Tea Party claims and funding. Our Managing Editor, Anne Landman, has also been documenting their funding and relationships in our SourceWatch articles. And, I've also been speaking out at meetings about the disproportionate coverage and lack of sufficient critiques in the media about their claims. We did not see the USAToday special coverage, but we will track it down and help respond to it. We do cover environmental issues and the NASCAR piece is part of that work, but I appreciate your frustration!! We have more coverage in the works on media coverage of Tea Party spin and propaganda. Thank you again for sticking with us! Lisa

I disagree with the comment about this not being a relevant blog as there are other similar blogs posted under the "environment" category. Environmental related topics and discussions tend to generate polarized viewpoints and are thus worthy of discussion in a forum such as this one. However, regarding this blog: "The Dirtiest Sport," I think a mountain is being made out of a molehill. According to the state highway commission, there are over 135 million registered autos in the US. So, NASCAR race cars contribute roughly 0.00003% of the annual US automobile induced air pollution. I am not sure how the 2 million gallons number was derived. I get about 160,000 gallons used per season. If you assume 195 million cars on the road all drive 10,000 miles per year and get 60 mph, that equates to 22.5 trillion gallons of gas. I think I see why the EPA isn't bothering with NASCAR.

An excellent article - keep going. Apologists for Nascar are technically correct in pointing out that the environmental impact is small compared to other things, but they miss the point .The real impact is psychological. Pollution and driving at excessive speed are social ills, motor racing pretends to reverse that , by glamourising these things and suggesting they are "sports". Here in Europe we prefer Formula One, which is massively sponsored by the automobile and oil industry . The big picture is that motor racing (whether it's F1 or Nascar) may like to project the image of being run by enthusiasts but it's really big business in the driving seat, promoting conspicuous consumption .

While many commuters grumble if their car gets less than 20 miles per gallon fuel efficiency, and some cars out there get 50 mpg, 5 miles per gallon is standard for a NASCAR car. Also, the devices that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated on normal cars to keep emissions to a safe level, like catalytic converters, are not built into race cars. NASCAR race cars are only regulated by NASCAR. This all adds up to some serious fuel consumption. In a single typical NASCAR race weekend, with more than 40 cars at high speeds for 500 miles (804 kilometers) -- plus practice laps -- at 5 mpg of gas, you're looking at, conservatively, about 6,000 gallons (22,712 liters) of fuel [source: Finney]. Each gallon burned emits about 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of carbon dioxide, so that's about 120,000 pounds (54,431 kilograms) of CO2 for a race weekend [source: FuelEconomy]. Multiply that by roughly 35 races per year, and NASCAR's annual carbon footprint is in the area of 4 million pounds (1.8 million kilograms). This is huge there is no doubt about it. But there are many things we do as humans that have an impact on the environment. The question always comes down to - Is it worth it? The second question is - Who decides?............