Racing into Oblivion

Two decades ago, NASCAR -- the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing -- was enjoying explosive growth. Fortune 500 companies such as DuPont, Kellogg’s, and Procter & Gamble were bankrolling its expansion. The sanctioning body was stretching way beyond its deep Southern roots, opening tracks in the unlikeliest of places, including New Hampshire (70 miles north of Boston) and Fontana, California. In 1994, it conquered the capital of open-wheel racing: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the Indy 500

But it all stalled in 2007.

Since the onset of the recession, NASCAR has been suffering a long streak of precipitously declining track attendance and TV ratings. And it hasn’t recovered.

NASCAR’s slump has been blamed on a number of things: a sluggish economy, a reliance on an older (and white) male fan base, cookie-cutter cars, the waning of American car culture, weak social media offerings, high gas prices, and boring races. In 2010, NASCAR Chairman Brian France ordered a five-year plan to stem the bleeding.

But on May 21, 2012, NASCAR may have choked off that five-year plan before it could get any traction. On that day, NASCAR inked a deal with the Obama EPA. Under the terms of the three-year pact, NASCAR will “stimulate participation in EPA programs” and “foster greater environmental awareness among NASCAR fans.” The EPA will identify the environmental “programs and messages that are best suited for promoting environmental stewardship and sustainable behavior.” NASCAR is charged with “encouraging greater environmental awareness and sustainable behavior by their fans.”

In other words, NASCAR is now an official EPA apparatchik charged with shoving the agency’s Orwellian propaganda down the throats of its fans in an attempt to change their behavior. NASCAR has essentially agreed to become a corporate crony of the EPA’s job and wealth shredding machine. For a sport that has always prized independence, raw power, and American traditions (invocations and military flyovers start each race), this may be too much for its core fans to swallow.

Yet the move follows a recent and steady progression. For the last couple of years, NASCAR has been drifting leftward, synching with the turns its drivers routinely make as they lap oval racetracks. On Earth Day 2012, NASCAR released its “sustainability white paper” that includes on-track “successes” such as a 25-acre solar farm to power Pocono Raceway.

In 2010, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) announced an agreement to sponsor Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet to promote its foundation. This is the same AARP that fights entitlement reform while it lobbies for greater federal largess. This is the same AARP that annually siphons tens of millions of dollars in federal grants as a registered nonprofit charity. This is the same AARP that vigorously pushed for congressional passage of the much-reviled Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It was then granted a sweetheart waiver from the law’s mandates that regulate the Medigap policies AARP sells.

Then there’s NASCAR’s embrace of ethanol. Partnering with American Ethanol, NASCAR has launched a PR campaign touting the benefits of E15 fuels -- that is, gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol fermented from corn. There are promotions at the tracks and commercials run during races promoting the fuel. Cars in NASCAR races have been fueled by E15 since the 2011 Daytona 500.

NASCAR claims “renewable” ethanol is environmentally friendly, generates “green” jobs, reduces dependence on foreign oil, and improves engine performance and horsepower. NASCAR fans, the racing body says, are 40 percent more likely than non-fans to support using ethanol to bolster energy independence.