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Random Lugnuts: Carbon Footprints Can Take a Hike

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing What is Random Lugnuts?  It's random bits of stock car racing commentary written on an irregular basis by an irregular racing fan.  The name is a reference to the lugnuts that go flying off a car during a pit stop:  you never know where they are going to go, what they're going to do when they get there, they can be annoying, they're often useless after a race, and every once in a while someone gets hit and they don't know exactly where it came from.
Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Random Lugnuts: Carbon Footprints Can Take a Hike

Bill Crittenden
March 17, 2008

I remember in a law class hearing that habitual drinkers would carry cards from their lawyers denying a sobriety test to pass to a police officer who pulled them over.  This gave me an idea:  a standard answer to pass off on anyone who questions your participation in motorsports (or the watching of the events) as being bad for the environment.  Now, instead of wasting your time having to respond to every friend or classmate or colleague who sneers in your general direction because they believe that your watching NASCAR is going to melt the polar ice caps and drown their grandchildren, just copy the link to this page and forward it along.  Or print it out and hand it to them, in case they're not bright enough to use the internet.  If they reference The Day After Tomorrow, that's entirely likely.

It's written from a NASCAR fan's perspective, but the general principles can apply to any form of motorsport, on land, water or air.

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Basically, while the rest of the world is puttering about in "ethnic peace bicycles and fair-trade gee-whizzes" (Jeremy Clarkson's words), Americans are resurrecting the Dodge Challenger in all its tire-smoking glory while making gas-chugging carburetor-powered NASCAR one of our most popular sports.  And I'm happy with that.

The problem with the environmental movement is that it has moved down the wrong path, and pulling the rest of the world along this miserable road packed 8 to a Prius in the High Occupancy Vehicle Lane.  We're told that carbon dioxide is the enemy, and that if we can only reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, the world will be saved from doom and gloom and death and destruction the likes of which Hollywood can't even imagine.  And to save the world from ourselves, we must all drive electric cars made from recycled milk jugs.

No, the problem is much deeper than that.  Right now, despite not driving anywhere and not really doing much moving at all, I'm adding to "the carbon dioxide crisis" with every breath.  In 1900, at the dawn of the automotive age (and 48 years before the founding of NASCAR), world population was estimated at 1.65 billion.  Now there are over 6 billion people on this earth, and estimates have us around 9 billion by the year 2050.  With over 6 billion people on this earth, many of them with cars of their own, changing (or banning) NASCAR would be nothing more than a symbolic gesture.  It would make a few die hard tree humpers feel good about themselves, but it wouldn't make a real impact on the environment.

Motorsports, by their very nature, are not environmentally friendly.  They shouldn't go around pretending to be.  Changing racing to try and be more "green," as the IRL and now ALMS have done with their ethanol initiatives, is the equivalent of the Hollywood actor who makes a big special effects blockbuster that uses obscene amounts of resources to film, lives alone in a ridiculously large house in Beverly Hills, then drives a Prius to the Academy Awards and says, "look at me, I care about the environment!"

Sure, NASCAR could be used to advertise and promote something environmentally friendly, such as the ethanol that the other American racing series are using, and NASCAR is one of the most effective methods of advertising in America right now, so ethanol in Dale Jr.'s Chevrolet would be a great way to draw attention to an alternative fuel.  But how effective is that advertisement, when the fans leave the track and most pile into their RVs and gasoline-only SUVs, unable to use corn fuel even if they wanted to?  I own a Pontiac and a Chevrolet, and neither will run on E-85.  General Motors tried to get NASCAR to switch to ethanol in 2006, but if they really wanted to promote an alternative fuel, they'd make every car they build run on it, and then consider advertising.

But GM exposes the real key to why racing should be left alone:  if you give people the illusion of action, they will assume action is being taken and will no longer fight for change.  If someone were to ban NASCAR or impose environmental restrictions on it, it would be huge news in the United States.  It wouldn't stay confined to the sports pages and NASCAR news sites, it would make it into the general news and commentary, and people who see this may get wrapped up in some happy-happy dreamworld and think that the fight for the environment is being won and will not demand the drastic changes that are really needed.

Consider the hatred of the SUV.  Rapid deforestation does far more damage to the environment than if everybody in California drove a Hummer.  But as long as people can spit out their windows at SUVs from the relative safety of their puny plastic Plonkermobiles, they think that they're making a stand for the environment, that real change is occurring and won't ask the important question of what really needs to be done.  And since a NASCAR fan is usually as close to most Americans' spitting distance as the SUV in the next lane (often, NASCAR fans are driving those SUVs), it makes a convenient target.

Basically, what I want to say to environmental critics of NASCAR is this:  everybody's guilty of environmental harm.  I'll bet your're not as critical of your own (much more enlightened, of course) favorite form of entertainment, so why ask others to sacrifice what you are not willing to sacrifice yourself?  If you really care about the environment you're wasting time that could be better spent advocating real action.  And if not, if the world truly is doomed, at least leave me alone and let me watch some good racing before we all perish.



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