NASCAR, IndyCar travel different paths to going green

It’s ironic that NASCAR CEO Brian France was in Indianapolis—the home of the IndyCar Series—on Tuesday cheering the merits of American-made ethanol.

While NASCAR signed a six-year deal to use American-made ethanol starting this year, the IndyCar Series in 2008 signed a multi-year sponsorship and ethanol fuel deal with Brazil-based Apex.

IndyCar’s agreement with Apex is a multifaceted deal that goes beyond fuel, and could lead to even bigger sponsorship deals down the road. A portion of IndyCar’s ethanol does come from a Sunoco plant in upstate New York.

Still, NASCAR and the IndyCar Series are traveling different paths to using a greener fuel. Much of IndyCar’s ethanol comes from Brazilian sugar cane, while NASCAR’s comes from American corn. And in the early days of the IndyCar-Apex deal, American farmers let the open-wheel series hear their displeasure.

France was at the Indiana Convention Center Tuesday to address a crowd at the 27th annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo.

“We want you to know we are right in your corner," France told a group consisting of members of the National Corn Growers Association and American Ethanol among others.

While France said it was important for NASCAR officials to choose an American-made fuel with lower emissions than standard petro, he added that the main criteria in the selection process was performance.

NASCAR race teams, France said, had to be assured the ethanol E15 the series chose has the ability to power stock cars at high speeds over long distances.

NASCAR officials in Indianapolis Tuesday admitted there was a strong bias against ethanol among NASCAR team owners, racers and series officials, and myths about the corn-based fuel’s performance had to be dispelled before they could gain the support needed to craft a deal.

E15 hasn’t caused any problems for NASCAR, France said, adding that it’s a higher combustion fuel that provides more horsepower and only a slight decrease in fuel mileage.

“This fuel has been a great fuel for NASCAR, and we’re happy to be your partner," he said.

Rick Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, said the deal with NASCAR will be a powerful endorsement for his group and open up many new doors for business partnerships.

NASCAR’s deal with American Ethanol, a U.S. consortium including farmers and ethanol producers, includes several first-of-its kind elements, including sponsor logos on the green flags waved to start every NASCAR race and green logos around gas tank covers on every NACAR race car.

While terms of the deal were not disclosed, Tolman called the investment “substantial." Motorsports business experts said it was a low eight-figure deal.

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