NASCAR Goes Green? New Tracks Touted as Good for the Planet

By Servino, Natale | Earth Island Journal, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

NASCAR Goes Green? New Tracks Touted as Good for the Planet


Servino, Natale, Earth Island Journal


An endless stream of RVs is at a standstill, waiting to fill dirt parking lots. People congregate around barbecue grills, drink a few cold ones, and talk strategy. Fans adorned with drivers' portraits or sponsors' logos walk around the giant stadium shopping for NASCAR-branded goods to show support for their favorite teams. Soon the doors will open; 100,000 screaming fans will salute and root for the boys pushing Dee-troit's finest steel 200 miles per hour around the oval track, fueled by 112-level octane leaded gasoline.

This scene can only mean one thing. It's NASCAR season, and the great American races have begun. But if you think these events are confined to the Deep South, you're wrong. If the executives at NASCAR and its subsidiary company, the International Speedway Corporation (ISC), have their way, their races will happen right in your backyard, no matter what corner of the US you inhabit. To get there, they've developed one great sales pitch: Not only is a NASCAR track in your area good for the local community, it's good for the environment.

NASCAR popularity has risen sharply since the late 1990s. Now the fastest-growing sport in America, NASCAR can lay claim to over 75 million fans in the US alone--more than a quarter of the country's population. NASCAR expects to increase the number of annual race attendees--3.5 million in 2004--especially as it tries to break into untapped markets. New tracks outside Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Dallas have helped shed the old NASCAR stereotype that it was just a sport for Southerners, moonshiners driving around in circles. The conglomerate is now looking across the US border with the formation of NASCAR Canada and NASCAR Mexico. The first NASCAR race outside the US was held in Mexico City in March.

"In many ways, NASCAR is the epitome of the American psyche: fast, competitive and dangerous. It represents our love of cars, our dependence on the automobile industry (and our dependence on oil)," writes Andrew Canon in The Daily Utah Chronicle. "Auto racing perfectly characterizes the divide in America. Either you love NASCAR or you hate it. The branding of NASCAR autos with corporate loges is either a symbol of overcommercialization or of American ingenuity. Carbon dioxide and other auto emissions are either relatively harmless by-products or they're contributing to the global warming phenomenon."

It's well known in the auto racing industry that the executives at NASCAR have made a concerted effort to move their sport out of the South and onto the national stage, where mammoth sponsorship deals and lucrative TV contacts are to be made. According to Racer magazine's senior editor Ben Blake, quoted in the Snohomish County Business Journal, "With seven tracks within a 200-mile radius in North Carolina, NASCAR/ISC set about thinning the herd with the goal of reducing the perception that NASCAR was a Southeastern concept and establishing it as a national sport."

To that end, NASCAR and the ISC have had their eyes on two major projects: a new track in the Northwest and another in New York City. In April 2004 the ISC announced its plans for a track in Marysville, Snohomish County, just 30 miles outside Seattle. Economic forecasts initially looked bright. ISC executive and local political leaders reported a new track and entertainment facility could generate $87 million in annual tourism revenue and $58 million a year in state and local taxes, as well as 160 full-time and more than 2,000 seasonal jobs. The 80,000-seat track, with amenities including retail centers, a family recreation area, and hiking and biking trails, would be used for NASCAR events on just two or three weekends a year, leaving much of the facility open to the public the rest of the year. The ISC cites similar tracks such as the Daytona International Speedway, used by charitable organizations such as the American Red Cross, Special Olympics, and the American Lung Association, at no cost to those organizations. …

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