FEW: NASCAR 'in your corner,' CEO tells ethanol industry

By Holly Jessen | June 28, 2011

It took several years to investigate whether E15 was the right fuel for NASCAR, Brian France, chairman and CEO, told attendees of the 27th annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo. The sanctioning body for stock car racing wanted to make sure to select the right American-made fuel, specifically a fuel that was greener and lowered emissions.

The biggest criteria, however, was performance. NASCAR had to be confident the fuel would withstand 500-mile races at 200 miles per hour without causing engine troubles. The bottom line is: NASCAR would not have selected E15 to fuel its racecars if there was any question about the above-named criteria and it firmly believes in the positives of ethanol. “We want you to know we are right in your corner,” France said.

France made the comments during a keynote discussion with Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis on June 28. Following that, a panel of speakers representing NASCAR as well as the National Corn Growers Association, Poet LLC and Novozymes, all supporting organizations of American Ethanol, drilled into the details of the partnership between the two.

E15 hasn’t caused a single problem for NASCAR, France said. In fact, it’s a higher combustion fuel that provides increased horsepower and only a slight decrease in mileage. “This fuel has been a great fuel for NASCAR and we’re happy to be your partner,” he said.

Greg Breukelman, senior vice president of communications, Poet LLC, said the partnership with NASCAR provides the ethanol industry with a whole new platform to reach an entirely new audience. Although exact financial terms of the six-year partnership have not been released, Rick Tolman, CEO of the NCGA did say that it’s a “substantial investment financially” on the part of American Ethanol. Though it’s always difficult to “pry open the wallets of farmers,” Tolman considers it a very worthwhile partnership. “This could be a game changer,” he said.

When NASCAR first started exploring the idea of becoming a greener industry it considered a variety of methods, said Eric Nyquist, NASCAR’s vice president of strategic development. When the idea of using ethanol was first discussed, Nyquist’s impression was that there was virtually zero chance that NASCAR would ever go that direction due to the negative perception of the fuel within the organization. “They were drinking the Kool-Aid of all the myths you have lived through,” he said.

However, as more investigation was conducted, those myths were uncovered as garbage and nonsense, he said. Today Nyquist is proud and thrilled to be associated with the effort to get the truth out about ethanol. “We’re on the underside of your canoe, for better or for worse,” he said.

 NASCAR is known for having many commercial sponsors and branding that is very visible on the track. The unique thing about American Ethanol, however, is that it’s truly a partnership rather than just a sponsorship, said Norris Scott, vice president of partnership marketing and business solutions for NASCAR. In addition, it’s not a partnership with a single ethanol plant or company; it’s a partnership with an entire industry. Key elements of that partnership, besides the fuel in every race car, are the green flags waved at the start and restart of every race and the green circles around the gas tank covers of every car. That puts American Ethanol in the position of being the first to have branding on the flags and one of only a few with logos on every car. “Literally the American Ethanol industry is receiving tens of millions of dollars in exposure,” he said.

Correction: A comment made by Breukelman was previously incorrectly attributed to Tolman.