Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

NASCAR GREEN: time to think natural gas for these Sprint Cup 18-wheelers?

 NASCAR's Big Rigs: certainly make a statement (Photo: Autostock)

   By Mike Mulhern


   The question seems pretty simple, and certainly timely: if NASCAR is pushing 'Green,' with its various marketing initiatives, why not have the fleet of Sprint Cup and Nationwide haulers converted over from diesel to much cleaner burning natural gas or propane?
   Maybe it's an idea whose time has come.

   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)



I like this idea much better

I like this idea much better than the race cars running on ethanol. Using natural gas as a fuel for the nation's vehicles makes sense. Use of ethanol only drives up the cost of groceries and does little to ween the world from Middle East crude oil. Let's hope the technology is as safe as putting gasoline in your car. The natural gas vehicles my company formerly had in its fleet developed leaks around the intakes. Not only is it dangerous, it's very costly because the gas leaks right back out after filling up. Hopefully, the newer technology will work better and not fail.

Unlike the faux GREEN nature

Unlike the faux GREEN nature of the fuel switch (which was more about press and a sponsor stepping up to back it) this would be an ACTUAL GREEN initiative and require much investment. Maybe they can say "Priority Parking at the Track and First Selection of pits to teams that arrive with Propane Power"...now there would be an incentive with some bite. (well ok...pit selection is a bit much...maybe just first in line for tech so they get onto the track sooner) that way the low/no budget teams can blow this off without a huge hit

Im not sure if it's the same

Im not sure if it's the same as passenger cars or not but CNG conversions cost $4,000-$12,000 for cars. The infrastructure as far as refueling and maintenance is a big issue. Also, due to safety, the tanks are almost twice the size of gasoline tanks and carry about half the fuel. The MPG is about the same. The Honda CNG Accord gets about 175-200 miles on an 8 gallon tank where the gasoline powered accord goes 450 on an 18 gallon tank. It's roughly the same MPG but when some states only have 1 CNG station it's very risky to rely so heavily on it. Also the price of natural gas is very volitile and is likely to go up as demand is going to surely increase.

It's cleaner burning, requires less maintenance, cost less in the long run, cheaper per gallon, lowers our dependance INITIALLY on foreign energy sources, would also lower demand on gasoline thereby theoretically lowering the price of gas, would create American jobs by: building stations; harvesting the CNG; conversions; new cars.

As far as NASCAR goes the most economical decision here would probably be to wait until it's time to replace your fleet anyway then upgrade to CNG rather than invest in a conversion. This would save you money and allow time for the infrastructure to catch up as well as monitor the changes in demand and price for CNG to make your final decision.

Propane in California is at

Propane in California is at or over $4/gallon, diesel is about $4.50. The trucks will get worse mileage (MPG) on propane or CNG. The fuel tanks weigh a LOT, and you'd have to go even larger than the current fuel tanks since you won't be able to count on fill up stations as often as you can diesel, need more range added. There's no way cost would reduce to $5k from $33k per truck, that's smoke and mirrors. Logistically, it may not even work if you can't get the tanks on the tractor itself, you can't put them in the trailer! Not saying it can't happen, and if there's a way, Roush is the man to figure it out. However, there's a lot of infrastructure missing to really make it work right out of the box. Stay on top of Jack on this issue, I'd like to hear if he's making any progress with it. Good 'out of the box' story Mike.

I was wondering when the cost

I was wondering when the cost of the conversion would come up in this article. It also needs to be taken into consideration that there needs to be available refuel locations on the routes traveled and they aren't available right now.

How many of the teams actually own their transporters? I would guess that most are leased vehicles so it would be incumbent on the manufacturer to provide any change over.

It's just not as simple as the article intimates.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com