5 miles per gallon is standard for a NASCAR car, and 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. 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. 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. 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). Whether NASCAR is bad for the environment depends on how you look at it. That 6,000 gallons (22,712 liters) of gas over two days starts to look somewhat reasonable when you consider that the United States eats up about 400 million gallons (1.5 billion liters) per day, any old day of the year. And 4 million pounds a year doesn’t seem like much compared to the world’s 6 billion tons (5.4 billion metric tons) of CO2 emissions every year, or the 1 million tons (907,184 metric tons) emitted for the one day of the 2005 Super Bowl. But it’s an extravagantly high number next to the 45,000 pounds (20,411 kilograms) of CO2 the average American life emits in a whole year.
Contrary to popular belief, car racing as a whole is not insensitive to environmental concerns. Other racing associations, such as Formula One and Indy, have already taken some pretty giant steps toward reducing their effects on the environment. Formula One is in the midst of a 10-year ban on engine development instituted to push teams into developing green racing technology instead. And Indy race cars now run on 100 percent ethanol fuel, a corn-based, renewable energy.
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