Does NASCAR Have An Electric Future?

In an article published more than a decade ago, an op-ed was published  by Herald Scotland calling motorsports the most dangerous sports in the world – and calling for them to be banned. And not because of the injuries – soccer players, it read, are at a higher risk of being injured than competitive drivers. It considered motorsports the most dangerous sport to the environment, citing the high carbon dioxide emissions of race cars. Truth to be told, while racing cars are among the most reliable cars in the world they are not built with environmental friendliness in mind. For one, they consume an insane quantity of fuel – around 5 mpg in some cases – which means that NASCAR’s annual carbon footprint is around 4 million pounds a year. His reasoning was flawed – the carbon footprint of motor racing, in general, is minuscule compared to, say, air travel, not to mention all the fumed emitted by all the cars on all the roads around the world. Still, we live in a world that’s increasingly against fossil fuels, and this puts into question the future of motorsports as we know them.

NASCAR is doing its part when it comes to environmental friendliness. On one hand, it uses fuel that has 15% ethanol in it, which reduces its overall carbon footprint – and reportedly also increases the power output of the cars. By last summer, NASCAR cars have run over 10 million competition miles on this fuel mixture. Plus, it recycles the tires and the oil used in its national series. Plus, some of the raceways have turned to energy efficient lighting and alternative energy. For many, though, this is not enough – there are people out there calling for phasing out fossil fuels entire from it – from motorsports, in general – and going electric, just like Formula E. At the same time, there are enough voices that wouldn’t want to hear of this at all.

To be honest, the public’s opinion on electric cars was flawed from the start. Electric vehicles were first presented to the public as energy-efficient cars that will reduce their owners’ spending on fuel significantly. The early models probably failed to take off because they simply weren’t exciting enough. It was Tesla’s Roadster that ultimately showed the world that electric cars can be cool – and the manufacturer continues to do so by routinely pitting its models against supercars and proving that they can be just as “cool” and exciting as their gas-fueled counterparts.

If NASCAR eventually embraces electric engines, it will do wonders for electric cars, in general. Right now, it embraces what Bill Nye called “old tech”, “gasoline-burning instead of electron-flowing”. Reducing the use of fossil fuels is one of the things humanity should do to tackle the increasingly evident effects of climate change. And, to quote Nye, “in the short term, NASCAR could help get us there. We could convert all of our racecars to electricity – right now – and show the public exactly what electrons can do”.

Greg Engle