By: Jay Pennell
Over the course of a NASCAR race weekend, each team will change the oil and fluids in the vehicle multiple times after practice and qualifying sessions. With NASCAR race vehicles holding up to 16 quarts of oil, all of that fluid coming out has to be handled and dealt with in a responsible manner.
Enter the Official Environmental Services Partner of NASCAR, Safety-Kleen.
“With that much oil, there needs to be a place for it,” points out Andrew Patey, director of motorsports for Safety-Kleen.
Since the late 1980s, Safety-Kleen has been a crucial partner at the track, collecting, disposing and recycling the waste associated with racing, and becoming the only official environmental service in all of racing.
Starting in 1987, Safety-Kleen worked with Charlotte Motor Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway to put oil cans at the facilities for their respective NASCAR race weekends. The idea was to provide teams a safe and responsible means for disposing of their oil and fluids.
In the early 1990s, Safety-Kleen’s program was expanded beyond CMS and Rockingham, growing to include every track on the NASCAR schedule, and the majority of racing facilities in America.
Each weekend, Safety-Kleen sets up shop at the racetrack and collects any used oil, rear end grease, brake fluid, oil filters, oily rags and speedy-dry that was used on the track. When teams change the fluids on their race car – often two or three times a weekend – the crew members bring the used fluids to the Safety-Kleen station. Everything is collected in a safe and responsible manner throughout the entire weekend.
“It’s come a long way,” Tony Gibson, crew chief for Kurt Busch at Stewart-Haas Racing, said of Safety-Kleen’s contributions to the sport. “Not just in being safe for the environment, but also by providing our guys cleaning stations. Before, we were cleaning brakes over trash cans, changing axles on the ground, stuff like that. Now, we have stations for all of that work at the racetracks so the guys can go work in a cleaner environment and are safer themselves as well. They have gloves and aprons and stuff they can wear. That’s a big help for us.”
Another added benefit of having Safety-Kleen involved in the sport is the fact they provide many of the chemicals used to clean many of the race car parts. This cuts down on the overall costs the teams have to incur throughout the year.
“For years we would dump oils and all kinds of chemicals in the ground. We know that hurt us all on the long run,” said Gibson. “When they first got into the sport, we were all like, ‘What is all that Safety-Kleen stuff?’ Then they started not only helping us, but the companies that made our brake cleaners, the companies that made our degreasers, they got involved with those companies to help make those products that we use every day at the track and at the race shop more environmentally safe. So, it’s not just here at the racetrack that they’re helping us.”
“If we did not have Safety-Kleen at the racetrack, I don’t know what we’d do with all of this oil coming out of the cars,” said Richard Petty Motorsports crew chief Trent Owens. “Back at our race shop, Safety-Kleen provides all the parts washing machines. When we get home after a race, pretty much every component of this race car needs to be cleaned and inspected. They also provide our recycling bins at the shop.
“Without them in the sport, I really couldn’t tell you where I’d start to try and find a place to get rid of all our waste,” he said.
Once the race weekend ends, the local Safety-Kleen shop goes to the racetrack on Monday to collect all of the fluids accumulated throughout the weekend. The oil collected throughout a typical NASCAR race weekend – with Camping World Truck, XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series events – is roughly 1,500 gallons.
The local team pumps the oil from the containers at track into a bigger oil truck, which is then transported away from the track to the local oil terminal, then transported to one of four Safety-Kleen oil refineries via rail cars. The used oil is then processed at the refinery and goes from ‘dirty’ oil to ‘clean’ oil once again.
“Over the course of a year in NASCAR, we’ll collect approximately 175,000-180,000 gallons of oil,” Patey explained.
“Safety-Kleen is a staple in our comprehensive recycling program and their tireless work at the track each weekend has greatly contributed to reducing our sports environmental impact,” said Dr. Mike Lynch, vice president green innovation and STEM platforms, NASCAR. “As a founding partner of NASCAR Green, Safety-Kleen has been a staple within our sport for years, and its recycling process of all race used fluids at the track and across team facilities is by far the most environmentally responsible approach.”
Safety-Kleen’s practices are not just limited to NASCAR, however. They also responsibly collect used fluids from IMSA, IndyCar, NHRA, SuperCross and Monster Truck races.
“All together, the program will collect in excess of 300,000 gallons of motor oil and automotive fluids,” said Patey. “None of it goes to the landfill. None of it is discarded. All of it is put back into usable products.”
While Safety-Kleen’s environmentally friendly practices are making a large impact in motorsports, the scope of work goes well beyond the racetrack.
Company-wide, Safety-Kleen recycles more than 230 million gallons of oil over the course of a year. All of that oil is cleaned and recycled back into production, servicing many government, commercial and motorsports customers.
The main Safety-Kleen customers maintain large fleet operations, including all U.S. Military vehicles and the U.S. Postal Service. In addition, National, Enterprise and Dollar rental cars also use recycled Safety-Kleen oil.
Gibson hopes the actions taken by Safety-Kleen at the racetrack will been seen by everyday mechanics around the country and they, in turn, learn to be more responsible as well.
“At the end of the day, it’s how we dispose of our fluids and chemicals. That’s the biggest thing. I’m sure there are some mechanics out there that are still pouring stuff in the ground and doing it that way,” he said. “You can pour that stuff in a drum and when the drum is full, Safety-Kleen will come and dispose of it for free. How hard is it to do it the right way? It doesn’t cost you any extra money and it’s helping our environment. Or you could do it the wrong way, knowing you’re hurting the water kids are drinking. It needs to be brought to everyone’s attention, every shade tree mechanic, no matter who you are, you can handle things the right way.”
“Not only are you helping yourself and helping the environment, but you’re helping our military and other folks be more productive by using things over again.”
However, the racetrack is where Safety-Kleen and its brand of recycled motor oil truly get to show off. Working with the tracks, Safety-Kleen entertained over 10,000 customers last season at NASCAR events, showing off their product and services.
Working with Doug Yates, Roush-Yates Engines and Afton Chemical, Safety-Kleen developed the recycled oil that goes back into the commercial and motorsports fleets. This oil will soon be launched in the retail markets as Performance Plus.
With the exception of Team Penske due to their partnership with Pennzoil, all of the Ford teams use the Safety-Kleen recycled product in their race cars.
“Over the course of the last three years, we’ve really come up with a product that is quite good,” Patey said of the recycled oil. “We won the 24 Hours of Daytona last year with the oil in the car. We also won the XFINITY championship with Chris Buescher last year. This oil will be run at LeMans 24-hour race, and is run in all of the engines coming out of Roush-Yates. We’ve had no failures because of the oil, and we gain a lot of horsepower by using this blend, which is pretty unique. We’re pretty proud of that.”
The company is also featured on Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford for seven races during the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season. According to Patey, this relationship allows Safety-Kleen to showcase their partnership with Ford Motor Company, as well as spread the message of the organization’s products and services.
In turn, Biffle has seen the company in action throughout his career and understands the positive impact they are making through their recycling processes.
“It wasn’t an industry that was organized,” said Biffle, who emphasized that handling used oil in a responsible manner is essential. “It’s a huge contaminant. Safety-Kleen has revolutionized the industry, literally. Recycled oil is like going to Starbucks now. That’s a huge initiative that they took on themselves. No one forced them to do it. No one was kicking and screaming. They recognized the problem and now they’re the largest recycler of used oil in North America.”
Biffle has no concerns about using recycled oil in his race cars each and every week.
“When you think about going and getting something recycled and putting it into your car, or if you buy something recycled – no matter what it is – you instantly think, ‘Well, that’s great for the environment, but it’s not as good as new.’ It’s the first thing your brain tells you. Well, that’s completely untrue. If everyone knew the story of used recycled oil, everyone would buy it instead of new oil.”
After a lesson from Safety-Kleen, Biffle learned the process of refining crude oil into new motor oil is a long and arduous task. However, the refinement process of used oil is much easier and quicker. In essence, the used motor oil is ‘crude’ oil then being refined into the recycled oil.
“It’s virtually new oil that has as good of or better properties than new oil,” Biffle argued. “We don’t have to pump it out of the ground, we don’t have to refine it nearly as much, and it’s not being thrown away. A lot of people would burn it, well that’s creating a ton of emissions and polluting the air.”
While the success on the racetrack is a nice talking point, the true sense of pride for Safety-Kleen comes across when looking at how long they have been making strides in being environmentally responsible.
“We’ve been green long before green was even cool,” said Patey. “We’ve been doing this for a long, long time. The future for us lies in getting our message out to the NASCAR fans. We want to reinforce the fact we are at the track.”
Patey also pointed out that as NASCAR strives to attract more millennial fans and younger fans, reinforcing the message of being environmentally responsible is a big selling point for the sport.
“The millennials are going to grow up and they are going to own businesses,” he said. “They are going to see companies like Safety-Kleen that have been involved in the sport for years and years, and are going to go, ‘Hey man, that’s cool. We’ll carry Safety-Kleen because they’re involved in this and involved in racing for a long time and we need to support them.’ That’s the future. Our goal and our future is to simply let everyone know we’re involved.”