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.
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.