Automakers Urge Nascar to Switch to Renewable Fuels

By: Lauren Woods

Brent Dewar, General Motors' vice president of field sales, along with other automakers, is urging the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) to switch from gasoline to ethanol and other renewable fuels.

Dewar, while working for GM in Brazil in the 1990s, has witnessed a successful transformation of an oil-reliant economy to ethanol. As such, he intends to see the same transformation happen in the United States. With that in mind, Dewar thinks that NASCAR can give a big hand hence he is lobbying the officials of the racing giant to shift from gasoline to ethanol.

"We would embrace it," said Dewar, GM's vice president of field sales, service and parts. "We think it would be great on a lot of fronts, because obviously it would send a signal to the public. A lot of people don't understand the benefits of ethanol." Dewar added, "Some research indicates certain kinds of grass and even wood chips might be better suited to making ethanol. Researchers also are working to develop enzymes that break down waste products into ethanol."

A number of racing series have already shifted to renewable fuels. As a fact, the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series will race on 100 percent ethanol starting this season. Also, the LeMans Series confirmed that it will race on a 10 percent ethanol blend. Now, Dewar and other environmentalists in the industry believe that the NASCAR should also shift to alternative fuels to make the commitment more forceful.

Gasoline is about 20 percent more proficient than ethanol. Hence, if ethanol is more than 20 percent cheaper than gasoline, ethanol could be a good alternative, environment and economic-wise. Dewar was in Brazil in December and said that ethanol was 50 percent cheaper than gasoline in the said territory. In five years time, Dewar expects cars to literally run on renewable fuels. As auto parts like the become more advanced, they should also not compromise environmental concerns.

"Without a doubt, I think we should look into it," driver Jeff Burton said. "Although our impact on environmental issues is probably very, very small from an actual use standpoint, from a marketing standpoint, we could have a major impact."

Driver Kyle Petty said NASCAR's marketing horsepower might drive alternative fuels into the mainstream for it is also helping consumers get over the image of hippies tinkering with their 1980s Mercedes to make them run on vegetable oil. "I think once you start seeing alternative fuels show up in places like racing and places where you least expect them, then you don't think about that guy with the Volkswagen van that runs off of whatever," Petty said.

NASCAR is taking one step in the direction of environmental responsibility by getting the lead out and catching up with a change most consumers made in the 1980s by switching from leaded to unleaded fuel. Ramsey Poston, the spokesman of the racing giant, said their officials are willing to consider renewable fuels, too. "In terms of looking at the next step, obviously we're open to options," Poston said.

NASCAR teams also would have to adjust their cars to run on ethanol, but Dewar said the switch would not be a "major investment." Dewar added it ultimately would be worth the hassle.

Petty believes the whole country will switch to renewable fuels at some point, so it makes sense for NASCAR and Sunoco, its official fuel supplier, to lead the way. "You would like to think that they would take a leading role in it, especially through Sunoco's involvement," Petty added. "Because I know Sunoco's taken a huge step in that direction."

Critics and enthusiasts alike believe that it is high time for NASCAR to think about going green. "I think the global-warming thing, and all the things that are written about that, a lot more people are aware of the fact that we do need to do something," Petty concluded.

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