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Okay, how about a match race between NASCAR pace cars: Uh, I'd take that 427 Mustang...but Toyota says 'green is good'

Toyota marketing boss Ed Laukes congratulates David Reutimann on Charlotte win (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Ed Laukes may be the greenest man in NASCAR right now.
   And he's got some intriguing ideas about how to make NASCAR racing more 'green-fan' friendly.
   He's not only pushing those hybrid Toyotas as pace cars but he's trying to use NASCAR as a larger green marketing effort: like completely recycling everything – Everything – from a NASCAR weekend.
   Coke cans, beer cans, paper, trash, leftover food….everything.
   "We're talking about having a race that is a 'zero landfill' event," Laukes says. "There is a lot of trash that comes out of each NASCAR race, and we have talked with them about this.
   "At our Georgetown, Ky., plant, nothing that comes out of that plant goes into a landfill. Even the food from the plant that isn't eaten, is plowed into the ground behind the plant, where crops are grown, with food donated to the local food bank.
  "So our plan is to bring our people from Georgetown to a track like this and be able to say 'Let's figure out how to have 160,000 to 180,000 people at a track, and nothing goes to a landfill. Or a minimum amount goes to a landfill.
   "That's a way NASCAR can embrace green technology."
   Laukes, as marketing manager for Toyota's racing efforts, is at the moment promoting his company's hybrid technology, with a new NASCAR pace car.
   General Motors was the first out of the box using NASCAR as a green launch pad, with its hydrogen fuel cell project, as unveiled last Labor Day at California's Auto Club Speedway, in conjunction with Shell. But nothing has been heard about that project lately. In part, because of GM's own issues, in part, because of the lack of enough hydrogen fueling stations around the country.
   Ford brought its own hybrid to Homestead for the season finale (though it didn't use it as the pace car, rather as a parade lap car).
   Now Toyota has upped the stakes, with a full-fledged pace car, which debuted last weekend at Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway and which is running again this weekend here, and again later this month at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway.

So a pace car is a pace car is a pace car.....well, maybe this is the start of 'pace car wars.' And, hey, look at the nose and front end of that passenger car versus the Sprint Cup stockers....(Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


Green pace cars are such a no-brainer that it's surprising no one has pushed it sooner.
   Why doesn't NASCAR, for the PR image of it all, simply tell the manufacturers to provide green pace cars, of whatever ilk?
   "That's a great question to ask NASCAR: they were very, very receptive to us about our project…as long as they could test it, because everyone was nervous about it," Laukes says. "But it passed with flying colors."
   Still, does NASCAR need to go green? Do NASCAR fans care about green? Isn't this sport simply entertainment?
   What's wrong with a 427 Ford Shelby as pace car?
   What is the marketing in NASCAR pace cars anyway?
  "What we're trying to do with the hybrid pace car is demonstrate to the general public that the hybrid technology can get strong performance and get good fuel economy, with ultra-low emissions," Laukes says of his side.
   So why not race something green too?
   Laukes says it makes more sense to attack the bigger issue – the vehicles that the 100,000 fans drive to each track every NASCAR weekend – than the 43 race cars themselves….though he concedes bio-fuels for the cross-country fleet of NASCAR haulers looks promising.

My pace car is faster than your pace car? Let's book 'em at ZMax Dragstrip, and let Bruton Smith decide (Photo: Autostock)

"What's going on in NASCAR versus what is going on in the mainstream is that what's going out on the track is entertainment," Laukes says. "So I don't know if the race cars themselves being green would have that much impact on the environment…versus the big stuff. It's the daily drivers…
   "But there are a lot of things that can be done with recycling, actually – like the 'zero landfill.'"
   The pace car here has perhaps the smallest engine ever to pace a NASCAR Cup race, a four-cylinder. And Laukes concedes NASCAR was skeptical about this pace car project: "We asked NASCAR…and they said 'Wow, it's got a four-cylinder engine. We need to test this.'
   "It has to go from its resting spot at the start of turn one and get close to 100 mph by the exit of turn two.
   "We took our V-6 out, the standard pace car, and of course it passed with flying colors. And then we took the hybrid out, and it passed with flying colors.
   "People are just astonished at the horsepower that comes out of this thing."
   Of course one big plus with the electric motors that actually power the car is the 'instant' torque; the gasoline engine charges the batteries that actually power the motors.
    But do NASCAR fans care if the pace cars are green or blue or purple? Or should they?
   "There are 75 million NASCAR fans," Laukes says. "People have asked why we're in NASCAR – our purpose is go mainstream and demonstrate our products, to all the fans. If we are going to be the leader in hybrid technology, we want to demonstrate all our products to the fans."



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