On any given Sunday from early spring to late fall you can find an auto race somewhere across the United States. The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR, sanctions many of the races from Daytona to Phoenix. Last weekend, 37,000 NASCAR Nationwide series fans turned out to watch the John Deere 250 at the Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.
While most fans can only dream about travelling at speeds over 150 miles per hour and jockeying for position on a 7/8ths mile track, they CAN share something with their favorite driver: the fuel mixture. This racing season, ALL of the cars running in NASCAR races from the Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup will be powered by a specialty blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent unleaded fuel. And NASCAR officials are quick to point this specialty blend, called Sunoco Green 15, uses U.S. ethanol made from corn grown by American farmers.
The new blend was heavily tested by NASCAR crews before it was approved for use late last year. For drivers and crew chiefs alike, one of the many benefits ethanol brings is an additional 8 horsepower.
Rusty Wallace, racing commentator, racing team owner, track designer and co-owner of the Iowa Speedway, tested the corn-based fuel in ratios up to E-30.
Rusty Wallace, Iowa Speedway: "Ethanol is great for NASCAR. I'm excited about it."
And drivers agree that E15 is good for the sport.
Michael Annett, Pilot Flying J Toyota (62): "I tell you what. Whatever's better for the environment and gives us more horsepower, we're good."
And with E15 recently approved for use in all street vehicles model year 2001 and newer, team co-owner and NASCAR legend, Jack Roush likes how ethanol helps auto racing and the daily driver.
Jack Roush, Co-Owner #6 Fastenal Ford: "Ethanol is a good addition to the national program in terms of affiliations with things that are good for our economy and good for our environment."
While the ethanol industry is receiving a big public relations bump from Green 15, the 13 billion gallons of ethanol made annually by U.S. producers are surrounded by controversy. Critics blame ethanol for everything from depleting the water supply to the destruction of sensitive rain forest land. Though most of the criticism has been debunked by third party groups and federal agencies, ethanol continues to be targeted as the leading cause of higher food prices. While nearly 1/3 of the corn crop is used for ethanol production, more than 70 percent of the protein contained in the corn is still available as feed. The supplement, more commonly known as distiller's grains, or DGs, is a byproduct of the fermentation process. The DGs are fed to cattle and hogs which, in turn, end up in America's grocery stores and on dinner tables across the country.
Growth Energy, an ethanol trade advocacy group, has been working to end what has become known as the "food versus fuel" debate.
Tom Buis, CEO, Growth Energy: "While ethanol plays a part in increased food prices the main reason for the increase has been higher oil prices and associated transportation costs."
While the debate continues, Buis is excited about what he thinks ethanol has done for the environment and fuel prices. And the public relations bonus of NASCAR using E15 helps with what he believes is some positive buzz for higher ethanol ratios that can now be used in American light trucks and automobiles.
Tom Buis, CEO, Growth Energy: "I love that NASCAR is using the fuel. People can see if NASCAR is using it then it will work in their cars."
And it worked well enough for Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, that it powered the number 6 Fastenal Ford into the Winner's Circle.
Ricky Stenhouse, Driver, #6 Fastenal Ford: "You know, it's cool. Especially being here in Iowa where the corn is grown. It's just great that NASCAR is working with the sport and working to make the environment cleaner."