Even if you think Al Gore is a goof, I’m safe in saying that we’d all rather be energy independent rather than ship crates of cash to the Arabian Peninsula, or even break the money-leaching grip of local and regional power suppliers. On the other hand, we really like gasoline-spitting, fire-belching race cars.
This past weekend, the Green Grand Prix was held at Watkins Glen International, and, of course, Sunday was as Earth Day.
This was a tough spot for a lot of race fans – a desire to push how we use and where we obtain energy from into a technological construct that, on the surface, seems easy enough to implement. Even if you think Al Gore is a goof, I’m safe in saying that we’d all rather be energy independent rather than ship crates of cash to the Arabian Peninsula, or even break the money-leaching grip of local and regional power suppliers.
On the other hand, we really like gasoline-spitting, fire-belching race cars.
NASCAR found itself in an awkward position, since the STP 400 was held at Kansas Speedway. Activist groups love crucifying NASCAR as one of the worst sports on the planet, environmentally, not only because of more than 80 race cars will be running high octane gasoline, using petroleum-based lubricants and sometimes literally burning rubber – which is kind of why race fans love the sport – but because of the traffic produced by the events. Thousands of cars, trucks, vans and rigs all arriving at one point makes an environmentalist’s skin crawl.
The people at NASCAR are smart, they saw this coming when the schedule was drawn up, and the public relations machine has been churning out a preemptive campaign. Working with partners (real world application translator: sponsors) to drive recycling programs for everything from cell phones to bottles and cans; the governor of Kansas has pledged to plant 10 trees for every green flag waved this weekend; a Camry Hybrid will pace the field; and the cars are running an ethanol blend fuel.
All the above measures aren’t aberrations, they’re done throughout the season so that should be enough to quell the intense dreadlocked rage of the treehuggers, right?
If not, throw in empty gestures like painting part of the track green; providing a green firesuit for Miss Sprint Cup (this is 2012, why aren’t we beyond this?); and even a “NASCAR Green” logo will adorn the infield grass, because nothing conveys a love for Mother Earth more than drowning her children in paint.
The point is: NASCAR doesn’t need to apologize to anyone.
Could the sanctioning body do more to love the planet? Of course, so could you, Mr. Leave The TV On When You Drive To The Store Really Quick To Grab A Caramel Latte And Issue Of People Magazine, But Seriously Not For Me, For My Wife. NASCAR is exactly what it appears on the surface – more horsepower than God ever intended in one place creating a tantalizing blur of Technicolor chaos.
And we love it.
The reason people at NASCAR even care that Sunday was Earth Day is because they catch grief from environmentally righteous groups all year about how awful what they do is. Because NASCAR is completely dependent on partners (i.e. sponsors, remember), the group is a little PR conscious – OK, overly PR conscious – ergo, they feel compelled to address the more vocal detractors with “green initiatives” and what-not.
The real purveyors of our impending environmental apocalypse aren’t located in Daytona Beach, Fla., they work in Washington, D.C. – and easily spotted by the oil-smeared hands and wallets from all that sweet campaign cash Big Oil throws around like candy at a parade. If NASCAR’s green critics, and this goes for all of us, focused more of our energies voting for alternative candidates, or campaigning for office, then we might see initiatives with profoundly more impact than a comely female 20-something parading around in a green firesuit. A real change in what kind of energy we use would make what NASCAR does more tolerable to the masses. In theory.
In the meantime, we’ll be sure to put empty PBR cans in the proper bin during the races.
Just sayin’: Formula One was met in Bahrain by thousands of protesters choking off highways leading to the site of this weekend’s race, and a couple F1 sites were shut down by hacker group extraordinaire, Anonymous. Force India didn’t even take part in practice on Friday after a Molotov Cocktail landed next to the team. But hey, everything’s fine. You got this, right Bernie? ... ESPN dedicated three prime time hours to (drum roll) the announcement of the 2012 NFL schedule – something easily digested on the toilet in two minutes.
Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader (N.Y.), can be reached at email@example.com.