NASCAR a small part of gas dilemma

NASCAR’s on-track fuel consumption does not amount to significant portion of America’s fuel problems.

In its June 4 editorial, the Minnesota Daily claimed that NASCAR “flies in the face of rationality.” Labeling its 600-mile-long races “a waste of resources” that “consumes gasoline by the ton,” the Daily called for it to be “rightly scrutinized.” However, the truth is that the amount of fuel the cars expend on the track is much less than that which any professional sport consumes in transporting their teams and equipment by air, and is a mere drop in the ocean of fuel that America consumes on a daily basis.

On a typical race weekend featuring two support races and the elite Sprint Cup series, NASCAR teams use about 8,000 gallons of high octane, unleaded gasoline (according to Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2005). That includes practice and qualifying sessions. Multiply by 36 races, add a fudge factor for the Sprint Cup-only Bud Shootout and All-Star races, and we get about 300,000 gallons for a season of racing. Factor in the gasoline burned at the numerous test sessions the teams run throughout the year, and let’s say NASCAR’s total on-track yearly fuel consumption over its three top series is about 500,000 gallons. Put another way, 500,000 gallons of gasoline is less than one-third of the 1.7 million gallons of fuel used every day by the US military in Iraq (according to The Atlantic Monthly in May, 2005).

According to the NFL, in 2006 its 32 teams combined flew 541,780 miles over the preseason and regular season, either on a team plane or a chartered airliner. A Boeing 757, one of the most fuel efficient airliners in its class, burns about 2.5 gallons per mile (derived from Boeing’s maximum range and fuel load figures). Making the generous assumption that every team happened to fly a 757, it stands that yearly game-related travel for the NFL devours well in excess of 1.3 million gallons of Jet-A fuel (a civilian mixture similar to JP-8) – more than twice the fuel of the cars of NASCAR. Of course, NASCAR requires air travel and transportation for its teams as well. The point is that to single out NASCAR just because the cars are inefficient reveals a gross misunderstanding of the relative scale of the sources of petroleum demand, or worse, the will to ignore it.

In a moment of rare clarity, the Daily did manage to identify a necessary component of the solution to our problem: “Americans need to change their driving habits.” But no matter how much the Daily wishes otherwise, NASCAR does not have the power to do so in any meaningful way. It is indefensible to pretend that NASCAR’s on-track fuel consumption actually amounts to any significant portion of America’s overall consumption, that it is to blame for high gas prices, or that it makes NASCAR singularly morally culpable with respect to any other sport or form of popular entertainment.

Mark Zastrow is a University undergraduate student. Comments are welcome at [email protected]