Is NASCAR Racing Bad For The Environment?

The case for removing regular internal combustion engine (ICE) cars from sale and replacing them with hybrid and full-electric cars is growing around the world. Some countries are even ready to put full bans in place as soon as 2030 that will ban the sale of new ICE cars. All of this is in an effort to cut our emissions and make our societies carbon neutral by the middle of this century.

NASCAR races will consume about 6,000 gallons of fuel over a race weekend, emitting up to 120,000-lbs of CO2, or 4 million lbs. of CO2 during a season. NASCAR is not good for the environment; however, it is comparable to other forms of motorsport, and is looking to the use of Hybrid engines in the future.

As this attitude begins to prevail on us all, it starts to raise questions about motorsports. Sure, these vehicles like Formula One cars and NASCAR vehicles aren’t on the road every single day like most cars, but what’s their “footprint” on the world? Many accuse NASCAR of being among the dirtiest sports in the world, but is that fair? We’re going to take a closer look at NASCAR and its impact on the environment in today’s blog.

What are NASCAR’s Carbon Emissions Like?

First of all, it’s important we put into context just how big a sport NASCAR really is. Believe it or not, NASCAR has more fans than pro baseball, with 75 million followers either watching or showing up to the raceways in person. A big sport means a lot of events, and there are dozens of cars taking part in each event.

The next thing to consider is that NASCAR vehicles are not regulated by the EPA, or at least their engines are not. It’s all part of generating those break-neck speeds that are just so much fun for the tens of millions of fans to watch. It also means that they’re real gas guzzlers and far from eco-friendly.

The US government has already described NASCAR as “a waste of gas” during the 1970s, but to be fair there was a global fuel and energy crisis going on at that time. It’s true that they get through gas fast, however, managing at best about 5 miles per gallon for fuel efficiency. They’re also pretty hard on the world when it comes to emissions.

During a NASCAR race weekend, there’ll be more than 40 of these stock cars doing 500 miles or so at super high speeds, and that doesn’t even factor in the practice laps. In all, that weekend will consume about 6,000 gallons of fuel, and emit up to 120,000-lbs of CO2. That’s on a single race weekend. Take a 35-race calendar year and you end up with 4 million pounds of CO2 being emitted every single year.

But is that really a lot? The US uses 400 million gallons of fuel every single day, and is among the largest contributors to the 6 billion tons of global CO2 emissions every year. The Super Bowl alone generates up to 1 million tons of CO2 and that’s all one one day.

The numbers above for NASCAR are on 2-day race weekends and over a whole year. However, NASCAR is way above average for the average American who emits something like 45,000-lbs of CO2 annually.

Do NASCAR Vehicles Use Catalytic Converters?

As we touched on above, NASCAR vehicles are not governed by the EPA, and thus do not contain any of the mandated equipment that is typically used to manage emissions on regular street cars. That includes mufflers, catalytic converters and all others. These cars are raw, powerful emissions machines.

The reason for not having catalytic converters isn’t just because the EPA doesn’t demand them, but because not having them allows for the exhaust systems to be programmed to deliver high-intensity ignitions with optimum spark timing. The result is the kind of power that can attract 75 million fans to watch races week-in, week-out through the season.

Can NASCAR Vehicles Take Advantage of Green Fuels?

Other motorsports have been taking active steps to try and curb their carbon footprint on the world. For instance, Formula One put a 10-year ban in place that stops development of combustion engines. The idea was to spur along innovations with greener technology.

IndyCar is another sport that is trying to be greener, with IndyCar vehicles now running on pure ethanol, which is renewable. They’re not more efficient — in fact they’re less efficient — but the fuel is sustainable and corn-based, meaning there are far fewer emissions.

NASCAR has made some steps, too, but much more limited. It took NASCAR until 2007 to even move away from leaded gasoline. Most of the country got away from leaded gas as early as the 1980s, with only some lingering into the 1990s. NASCAR is way behind in that sense. They are as of yet unable to take advantage of the pure ethanol fuels that IndyCars are using.

For now, NASCAR has taken other steps to promote the idea of more fuel-efficient vehicles for its fans to use as their everyday street cars. Partnering with the EPA, NASCAR has created displays of more fuel-efficient cars at the fairgrounds that surround their race events.

The idea is to get more of that 75-million-strong fanbase interested in fuel-efficient cars. Out of a total population of 300+ million, appealing to so many within their own community is a decent contribution to start with.

What is “NASCAR Green”?

You can learn more about newer efforts from NASCAR to make the sport more eco-friendly and sustainable. “NASCAR Green” details efforts on energy conservation, recycling, using renewable energy at the tracks, using local organic food in the hospitality suites, purchasing carbon credits and more.

There’s also details on how every NASCAR track is trying to contribute to the group effort. For instance, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there’s the IMS Solar Farm that was built in 2014 covering 68 acres trying to provide green electricity to thousands of nearby homes. Thus far, it’s offsetting up to 10,288 tons of CO2 each year.

Will NASCAR Go Hybrid or Electric?

The first steps to making NASCAR vehicles more environmentally sound are certainly coming soon. For the 2022 and 2023 season, NASCAR cars will continue to use naturally aspirated V8 engines, but for the 2024 season, the plan announced by NASCAR President Steve Phelps says that the new generation of cars will be hybrid models.

This will allow OEMs to advertise their hybrid powertrains, but also make the sport much more efficient with fuel. That’s the hope of NASCAR leaders, anyway. Hybrid is as far as they have gone in their ambitions so far.

There is currently no talk of using electric cars for NASCAR races. EV tech isn’t quite there to operate at the 200-mph speeds and long distances needed to complete races yet, but the technology is developing


Al lifelong Motor Racing Fan, with a particular love of NASCAR and IndyCar racing. Been in and out of cars of varying speeds since i was a child and sharing what i have learnt here.

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