By: Jay Pennell
NASCAR’s Race To Green is not simply a slogan or an awareness campaign, it is something that takes place each and every weekend on the racetrack. Only a few years ago, NASCAR used leaded fuel in the cars that circled the racetrack each weekend. However, in 2011 the sport made a significant change to the fuel used in its race cars, moving away from leaded fuel and turning to a greener, higher-performance option: Sunoco Green E15 blended with American Ethanol.
Before making its way into the vehicles competing across NASCAR’s three national series, the process begins with American corn growers harvesting the crop. The corn is made into a biofuel, refined with enzymes and blended with Sunoco Racing fuel at a Sunoco manufacturing facility in Marcus Hook, Pa. The high performance fuel is then used to power more than 100 NASCAR race events.
The process from farm-to-track comes together under the American Ethanol banner. The National Corn Growers Association, New Holland, POET, Novozymes and Growth Energy have come together to create American Ethanol to help promote the use of ethanol both on and off the track in the United States, with NASCAR as its most visible proving ground.
"NASCAR has given our industry a respected and trusted platform to show that ethanol can perform flawlessly under the harshest conditions," said Ryan Welsh, director of sales and marketing at Growth Energy. "Because of NASCAR’s reputation and over 75 million loyal fans, it has given us great credibility when meeting with decision makers at the state and federal level. Elected officials know first-hand how big of a stage of NASCAR competes on".
"Promoting ethanol is incredibly important from an environmental standpoint," Welsh stated. He added, "Ethanol is a clean-burning, earth-friendly alternative to fossil fuels and it cuts carbon emissions by 34 percent, which is the equivalent of taking 124 million cars off the road. NASCAR lowered their emissions by 20 percent by changing to a fuel with a 15 percent ethanol blend. Fewer emissions equals cleaner air for us to breathe."
During the 2016 season, NASCAR will hit the 10 million mile mark on Sunoco Green E15, and the success of the product can be seen on the track.
"Our partnership with NASCAR came at a time when we were looking to validate biofuels as a high-performing, viable option for consumers. Since branding ourselves as American Ethanol, we’ve incorporated the entire industry, involving everyone from farmers and ethanol plants to consumers and everyone in between," said Welsh. "We employ the engine experts within the NASCAR community who test, explain and demonstrate that biofuels are the superior option. Hitting the 10 millionth flawless mile this year is an incredible testament to how well this biofuel performs."
For the drivers, the most important aspect of using Sunoco Green E15 is the improved performance and absence of issues using the fuel.
I don’t know of one engine failure or system failure attributed to the fuel from its inception. I would say that’s pretty remarkable. That’s saying something," said Roush Fenway Racing Sprint Cup Series driver Greg Biffle
Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon not only uses Sunoco Green E15 in his No. 3 Chevrolet, but also carries the American Ethanol brand on the hood of his car. Much like Biffle, Dillon believes the value of the product is seen each and every NASCAR weekend.
"I think the best thing about American Ethanol is we can prove the performance on the track," said Dillon. "That’s why it relates so well to what we’re doing here in NASCAR. We’re putting a lot of miles on it. Hard miles. Durable miles. When you can go out and run in a race car, there’s no doubt it will be a proven product in a street car."
The switch to Sunoco Green E15 in a finely tuned sport like NASCAR required some technical adjustments to make things run smoothly, such as moving from carbureted engines to fuel injection systems. Veteran Crew Chief, Tony Gibson, pointed out the move from carburetors to fuel injection helped the teams become more efficient and save more fuel. "All the unburned fuel and black smoke and flames that are in the pipes, that’s gone. So, we’re more efficient on the fuel that we’re burning and using in the cars," Gibson said. He added, "That was just the next step of cleaning up everything. It’s really cool to use a cleaner product and a better product and still have the performance, if not better performance than we used to have."
For Growth Energy and American Ethanol, the key is taking those flawless miles and the increased performance and showcasing that to the race fans at the track every weekend. At each race, American Ethanol has agricultural experts manning information centers, talking to fans about the process of taking corn from a farm and turning it into fuel at the racetrack.
As a brand ambassador, Dillon believes the use of American Ethanol across all three NASCAR series allows others to see that the product is not only working on a highly competitive level, but is also good for the environment and the country. He hopes everyone from lifelong fans to young millennials will recognize the positive impact ethanol has on the sport.
"Our sport is one of the first that can really show a big push to green. Ethanol, for a young guy like myself that also wants to promote America, helps us not rely on foreign fuel, brings jobs to America and is a cleaner-burning fuel," Dillon said. He added, "There are so many positives to it. I think if you can show that to millennials and college students, it will really make our country a better place and help our economy, too. It’s a great product for a number of reasons."
Dillon concluded, "NASCAR is an American pastime that is proving you can make anything green. We’re headed in that direction and we’re showing our fans that we need to take care of the Earth in order to keep racing for a long time. NASCAR is a great place to prove to people that anyone can make an effort to be green, and that when it comes to auto performance, you don’t have to sacrifice anything to help improve the environment. If we keep raising the percentage of Ethanol in the fuel I think it’d be really cool."