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Published on June 1st, 2010 | by Michael J Smith


Columnist’s Call To End NASCAR Not Rooted In Fact

Washington Post columnist Norman Chad wrote a column recently in which he claims:

NASCAR is so last century. Ten years into a new millennium, it’s time to put the exhaust pipes into an antique shop. It’s time we engage in a new age of enlightenment, recognize auto racing as obsolete and end the around-the-oval madness.

He continues:

This whole business of maintaining an industry on wasteful, reckless behavior — we’re talking technology not to build a better mousetrap but to simply create a faster racecar — should be tossed into the junkyard.

Chad’s argument is that NASCAR leaves such a horrible carbon footprint that it is an environmental “serial killer.”

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, so Chad does have every right to write what he believes. I’m not going to call him an idiot for sharing his opinion, or even make disparaging remarks about the man. I don’t know him.

What I do know, however, is that Chad is grossly misinformed. He writes:

Auto racing wastes hundreds of thousands of gallons of precious fossil fuel and adds tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

According to a 2008 ESPN article by Marty Smith:

On average, Americans use 366 million gallons of gas per day, compared to roughly 135,000 gallons per year for the Sprint Cup Series.

And, Jeff Gluck (who deserves credit for alerting me to Chad’s column via his column), in a response to Chad’s column, wrote:

According to NASCAR’s numbers, the entire Sprint Cup Series uses roughly 135,000 gallons of fuel per year while the U.S. Energy Information Administration says Americans burn 362 million gallons of fuel per day.

That means Americans burn roughly 132 – 133 billion gallons of fuel per year. If the 134,000 – 135,000 gallons only includes race day consumption, even if we include practice, transportation to and from the track for all three series, AND consumption by fans going to see the races, it’s likely that it will still be less than 1 million gallons of fuel per year.

To put things in perspective, one percent of America’s consumption per year is 1.3 billion (with a b) gallons, and that is much larger than 1 million gallons, which is probably larger than NASCAR’s annual consumption even if you include fans and non-race consumption.

From my research, most websites seem to agree that one gallon of gas produces nearly 20 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2). So that would mean that NASCAR produces about 20 million lbs of CO2 per year, if we assume 1 million gallons of consumption.

To convert that to metric tons, we divide by 2,205 (lbs in a metric ton) to come up with 9,070 metric tons produced by NASCAR and its fans. Estimates peg the average American’s CO2 emissions around 20 tons per year. That means that NASCAR produces less CO2 than 500 people per year. That’s pretty small when you consider that America has roughly 307 million people.

Again, assuming the averages, that means that America produces roughly 2.7 million metric tons of CO2 per year. That means NASCAR produces roughly one third of one percent of America’s CO2 per year from people. I assume this does not include businesses. And again, that’s assuming that NASCAR consumes 1 million gallons per year, much higher than the 134,000 – 135,000 gallons they claim to consume.

According to an article in the Guardian, 14,000 people flying from London to New York produce roughly 22,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. How many people do you think actually fly from London to New York in a given year?

Well, in an airline forum (which is not very accurate), people said that there are roughly 19 – 39 flights per day from London to New York, though most agree it’s closer to 39. A week from today, British Airways has 10 flights from London to New York. The number of seats on those flights range from 100 to over 400. The planes on average have about 300 seats per flight, based on what I’ve seen.

That’s 3,000 people flying next Tuesday on just one airline. That means that in five days, BA passengers will produce more than double (22,000 metric tons vs. 9,070 metric tons) the CO2 than NASCAR produces all year, assuming the Guardian’s estimate is accurate. Again, makes NASCAR’s consumption seem small, doesn’t it?

Notably absent from Chad’s column are NASCAR’s green initiatives. NASCAR is working to change from its current fuel blend to E15 by 2011. That would cut emissions by as much as 60%, according to Growth Energy, a green energy group.

Chad also didn’t mention that some of NASCAR’s buildings are green buildings, in that they qualify for LEED certification; tracks have increased recycling efforts; that NASCAR is planting a tree for every green flag that drops at all tracks this year; or that Goodyear has a tire-recycling program for used race tires.

In addition to all of that, NASCAR is also using more and more hybrid cars to pace the field. Again, no mention of this in Chad’s article. My guess is that he either doesn’t know about it, or left it out because it is not convenient to his argument.

Chad also writes:

Surely, the unruly behavior on the track translates to more aggressive driving on the roads.

I highly doubt that’s true. For every NASCAR fan who drives aggressively, I’m sure there are more than two non-NASCAR fans who drive just as, if not more, aggressively. Also, it should be noted that most people who participate in illegal street racing, do so in a drag racing format, not an oval format.

Also, I’m sure NASCAR doesn’t contribute as much to aggressive driving as video games like Grand Theft Auto and Need for Speed, or movies like the Fast and Furious and Transporter franchises. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these games or movies, but they certainly contribute more to aggressive behavior than NASCAR.

At the end of the day, we should take Chad’s column with a grain of salt because it’s based on his opinion, not fact.

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About the Author

Michael J. Smith is a NASCAR enthusiast and blogger. In addition to founding this website, Michael is a journalist with over a decade of experience writing for prestigious media organizations.

8 Responses to Columnist’s Call To End NASCAR Not Rooted In Fact

  1. Richard Sachlis says:

    Norman Chad is a humor columnist. I have read him for years in the Washington Post.

    He very seldom writes anything serious.

  2. Michael J Smith says:

    A poor attempt at humor, I suppose.

  3. The Washington Post columnist said, “Auto racing wastes hundreds of thousands of gallons” not NASCAR so the use of the NASCAR math was not relevant.

    But the rest of the article is just the latest left leaning tree-hugging liberal bashing something that he doesn’t understand. Since he doesn’t enjoy it there is no need for anyone to enjoy it. Crazy thing is that on other subjects the Democrats in power in Congress use that same argument every day!

  4. Michael J Smith says:

    While he did say that, he still chose to focus his article on only NASCAR. Other than the quote about Danica applying makeup, there is no other mention of any other form of auto racing.

  5. Justin Long says:


    Chad writes in his column, “NASCAR has the carbon footprint of a brontosaurus.”

    But, if you look at the comparison in the Lead Lap’s article, you’ll notice that it in fact doesn’t.

    If you checked out the Guardian article, you’ll also notice that NASCAR leaves a smaller carbon footprint than the Palace of Westminster and the Bank of England. That’s just two buildings.

    So I disagree with your assessment that the comparison is irrelevant. Perhaps you may have missed the point a little.

  6. Michael J Smith says:


    I agree that Chad’s column, whether real or just a joke, focused its attention on NASCAR. No other forms of racing were mentioned.

    Thanks to everyone for reading and sharing their comments.

  7. Steve says:

    So according to Norman, the MLB, NFL, NHL and the NBA should all fold as well since they use just as much if not more in fuel flying their teams and game officials from city to city all season long?

    Sounds like he is just picking on Nascar because he doesn’t like it. And if its all supposed to be humor, according to the previous poster, I don’t get the humor in his article.

  8. Michael J Smith says:

    Thanks for reading and for commenting.

    I agree with everything you said.

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