NASCAR's Big Rigs: certainly make a statement (Photo: Autostock)
By Mike Mulhern
For one thing, natural gas at the moment costs maybe only half as much as diesel or gasoline.
Ford's Jack Roush has been looking at this whole issue, as a potentially valuable business venture, as much as for the positive PR.
Of course Roush, a big businessman in the auto industry and other ventures, as well as one of stock car racing's top team owners, isn't alone in this.
T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oil man, says it's good play too, converting the nation's long-haul 18-wheelers.
Why shouldn't NASCAR be on the leading edge of this thing?
Think 26,480 miles.
And that's just the first half of the Sprint Cup season, Charlotte to Daytona and Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and on and on.
Add another 22,025 miles for the second half.
That's 48,505 miles a season.
For just one hauler.
Not counting testing. Runs to Nashville or wherever.
Not counting the extra runs to swap-out race cars.
Figure about 6 miles per gallon of diesel for these 80,000-pound rigs.
That would be about 8,085 gallons of diesel each season, per hauler.
Then use the national average cost (late March 2012) for a gallon of diesel fuel: $4.15 per gallon. (That cost has been steadily increasing, and it's about 22 cents a gallon higher than a year ago.)
That's about $33,552 per truck per year for diesel. Times 43 team haulers = $1.4 million.
NASCAR's 18-wheelers make a statement wherever they go. Why not let them make a statement on NASCAR Green too? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
In Congressional testimony last fall on this issue ( http://bit.ly/HH3W03 ), it was suggested that using natural gas instead of diesel could result in a fuel cost savings of an astounding 80 percent. If correct, that would cut a NASCAR trucker's annual fuel bill to about $5,000.
More conservatively, natural gas or propane should cost about half diesel or gasoline, which would still be a sizeable savings.
Of course converting these big rigs to natural gas would be a significant cost.
And there is the obvious issue of finding gas stations that would offer natural gas fill-ups.
Still, as fuel prices rise, it does seem like an issue worth studying and debating.
Roush thinks so.
And there is the Detroit angle too. Chrysler plans to start selling Ram pickups that run on natural gas as well as gasoline this summer. General Motors too is pushing natural gas/gasoline pickups for sale later this year. Ford offers options, but seems reluctant to get too far out front because of the dearth of refueling stations. Toyota, when asked about natural gas options, points to its hydrogen cell technology. Honda already sells a passenger car Civic which runs on natural gas (though not many American buyers yet).
And there are a number of companies working in the conversion business ( http://bit.ly/H4ubLD ).
The haulers: more than just a home-away-from-home. Coast-to-coast rolling billboards for NASCAR racing and its sponsors (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Here's what the Wall Street Journal has to say about the issue: http://on.wsj.com/it9fMc
Now maybe this is all just fuzzy math. But it sure looks like there's a case to be made for some good, positive PR here for the sport of NASCAR racing, at relatively little cost.
In fact, maybe it's a marketing opening for a potential NASCAR Sprint Cup sponsor....
Roush sees the potential:
"We do have an interest in natural gas; we see it as one of the alternatives.
"But I'm mostly excited in the short term about propane...because I think propane is easier to adapt than natural gas.
"Natural gas takes 2500 pounds (psi) to liquefy, or so, and propane takes about 200 pounds.
"But there is an opportunity to decrease our dependence on foreign oil by using some of our natural resources, oil shale and that sort of thing, as well as CNG (compressed natural gas) and LPG (liquid propane gas).
"Those are things we're working with government agencies on, and with industries on, to figure out how to make the impact as positive it can be.
Ford's Edsel Ford (R) and NASCAR owner Jack Roush (Photo: Autostock)
"I don't have any over-the-road haulers on CNG," Roush goes on. "But we do have a propane conversion activity in Michigan (where Roush Industries is headquartered); and we've had discussions with UPS and Frito-Lay (PepsiCo) and a number of other companies that are hub-and-spoke type operations, where they can return to their base and get filled up once a day, or twice a day, depending on the size of their tank and the size of their run.
"We working with Ford Motor Company and with a number of federal agencies, and it is having an impact already."
Roush points out that "Propane is lower in emissions, lower in particulates, lower in oxides of nitrogen, while in the same power as gasoline.
"And it has government incentives for fleet users."
The cost to convert a vehicle to natural gas or propane?
"We do not have every engine in the trucking business or in the utility vehicle/light truck business converted yet," Roush says. "But for the systems we have converted -- which are not diesel to propane, but rather gasoline to propane -- it's about $10,000.
"For an average hub-and-spoke type operation, it would take about 2-1/2 to 3 years to get the money back on that investment. And if you use that vehicle another two or three years, which is typical, you'll save yourself at least $10,000 in fuel costs."
But what about converting these NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide haulers from diesel to propane?
"It's on the radar screen," Roush says. "But it's not tomorrow."
Rolling (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)