Americans have become very self-conscious about their gasoline consumption lately. We purchase more efficient cars, increasingly use public transportation and generally try to use as little gas as possible. This self-consciousness, however, has apparently not reached NASCAR. On a Memorial Day weekend that saw a decline in holiday travel because of prohibitive gas prices, NASCAR held the Coca-Cola 600 - the longest race on their schedule.
Looking to this month, NASCAR will be holding five events, with a total track length of 1,820 miles. Each of the five events will have 43 cars competing, and each car can drive about 5 miles per gallon. When you do the math, this equates to a road race from Minneapolis to Miami with 43 cars that are one-third as efficient as the Hummer H3. In the course of the race, they will use about 16,000 gallons of gas and emit 155 tons of carbon dioxide. This does not include qualifying races or practice rounds, the latter of which can be 90 minutes long (by comparison, the actual races take about 2-4 hours). Nor does it account for the movement of material and personnel, or the 442,000 fans who drove to attend NASCAR events in June 2007.
The misuse of a dwindling resource for popular entertainment is confounding. With the cost of a tank of gas currently costing upwards of $80 in some cases, it is no surprise that many consider the purchase of inefficient cars ludicrous, if not outright wasteful. Yet even as the threat of $5 gas looms over the average American, we enthusiastically support a sport that consumes gasoline by the ton. It's no secret that Americans need to change their driving habits. According to the Department of Energy, the average American driver consumes approximately 500 gallons of gas per year. But as we turn away from trucks and SUVs to conserve gas, entertainment like NASCAR and Monster Truck racing flies in the face of rationality and should be rightly scrutinized.