Webinar highlights ethanol use in motorsports

By Chris Hanson | October 25, 2013

Ethanol’s role in American motorsports was the subject of Ethanol Producer Magazine’s Oct. 24 webinar.

The webinar was moderated by Tim Portz, executive editor of Ethanol Producer Magazine, and Daniel Schwartzkopf, account manager from ICM Inc.  Ethanol as a performance fuel was a personal subject for Schwartzkopf. “I got started back in the early 90s, we built an ethanol plant and my son wanted to race,” he recalled. “I said, ‘if we’re going to do this, we are going to do this on the fuel that we’re producing.’”

In the beginning, Schwartzkopf started racing ethanol with a street car and progressed into drag racing. “I’ve had the pleasure of being owner and part of a six car NHRA drag racing team with various cars in different divisions,” he said. From the drag racing circuit, he said that he helped get ethanol approved for other motorsports, such as a compact series, Indy car, tractor pulls, and boat series.

After three years of ethanol consumption, Michael Lynch, managing director of green innovation at NASCAR, reviewed how fuel is integrated within the racing association.  He shared that media coverage, such as posts from Bleacher Report and Jamie McMurray’s 2013 win at Talladega Superspeedway, put the fuel in front of racing fans. The day to day exposure is driving a change in NASCAR’s fan base in terms of how they think about ethanol, he said. In addition to media coverage, ethanol advertising during races reaches 10 million viewers each week and 100 million unique viewers each year, Lynch added.

Each year, NASCAR surveys fans and non-fans on environmental topics, attitudes and opinions on ethanol, Lynch said.  “NASCAR fans are 50 percent more likely than non-fans to be accepting of higher ethanol blends in their street cars,” Lynch said.

Jonathan Olmscheid, supervisor at Christianson and Associates and race car driver for Olmscheid Racing, featured how his E98 fueled racecar served to educate people on the dirt track. In 2009, when the racing team was converting to dirt track courses, Olmscheid Racing also switched to E98 fuel.  To modify the car, the team incorporated larger jets in the carburetor, hotter burning sparkplugs and a stainless steel fuel filter.

In addition to combusting a cleaner burning fuel, switching to E98 provided a financial benefit for the team, Olmscheid said. “Between the two cars we run, we ran over 300 gallons of E98 through our racecars and we paid $4.59 a gallon,” he said. He added the typical, petroleum-based competitors used fuel that ranged from $8.50 to $9.50 per gallon. 

Ignite Racing Fuels’ creator Jay Berry showcased how ethanol addressed concerns that stem from other racing fuel that contains harmful additives. The U.S. EPA has been putting pressure on racing operations due to pollution issues and carcinogenic additives in racing fuels, he said. By utilizing ethanol-derived racing fuel, race teams were avoiding pollution issues, while getting greater 60 to 80 more horsepower and its cars run cooler than traditional race fuel.

With Ignite’s racing involvement, the company is able to educate people about ethanol use. “One thing with Ignite, I work hard on, is getting us into different areas,” Berry said. “When we go to these events there’ll be 60,000 to 80,000 people. Over 75 percent of people now are running ethanol.” He added most people were not aware ethanol was derived from corn.

Ryan Welsh, director of sales and marketing for American Ethanol, echoed Lynch on how ethanol’s partnership with motorsports attracts fans to the biofuel. He explained drivers that use ethanol attract fans to the fuel. He added using a biofuel education center during racing events draw in the crowd.

“People line up to get to that thing, it’s a great attraction,” Welsh said. “We also use our drivers as spokespersons.” He added most fans believe ethanol saves the consumer money, use it in their own vehicles and supports jobs within the U.S.