Raising the green flag

Bart Schott, Kulm, N.D., and Darren Ihnen, Hurley, S.D., helped raise the green flag for ethanol at a recent NASCAR race at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan. Schott and Ihnen — long active in the North Dakota and South Dakota corn grower associations — are the current president and chairman, respectively, of the National Corn Growers Association.

NCGA is a partner in American Ethanol, a coalition of corn grower associations, ethanol producers and allied businesses that is working with NASCAR to promote ethanol to the sport’s 80 million to 100 million fans.

Key Points

Dakota growers like promoting ethanol at NASCAR.

If race cars do OK on ethanol, fans more likely to use it, too.

An estimated 80 million to 100 million people follow NASCAR.

“We’re getting out some real positive messages about ethanol,” Schott said before the Kansas race.

NASCAR fans are seeing that the race cars run well on E15. Horsepower is up 8% to15%. The fuel has proved to be reliable, safe and clean.“We think people will get the idea that if race cars can use it, maybe we can, too,” Schott said.

Good fit

Ihnen says NASCAR and ethanol are a good fit. NASCAR recently launched an effort to become greener. Tracks and racing teams are recycling more trash, tires and car parts. Tracks are planting trees, erecting energy-efficient buildings and installing solar panels.

“There isn’t a greener fuel for NASCAR to use than ethanol,” Ihnen said.Polling also indicated that energy security and jobs are two of NASCAR fans’ top concerns. “We have a renewable, domestic fuel that is clean and creates jobs at home,” Ihnen said. “Ethanol is a great fit with NASCAR fans.”

Six-year deal

American Ethanol’s partnership with NASCAR will span six years. The parties involved, including NCGA, won’t disclose how much money is involved or how much corn grower associations are contributing through their checkoffs. However, some sponsorships aren’t cheap. Several members of congress recently criticized the Pentagon for spending $7 million to sponsor NASCAR this year.

America Ethanol is supporting NASCAR drivers, teams and racetracks with several marketing activities. At the Kansas Speedway, American Ethanol sponsored Richard Childress Racing’s No. 33 Chevrolet, driven by Clint Bowyer, a Kansas native. American Ethanol also will participate in NASCAR’s Prize Money & Decal Program.

It will provide prize money for eligible competitors in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series based on finishing position. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekly award will be given to the participating driver who records the fastest average speed on restarts and who finishes the race on the lead lap.

“There’s no sport more American than NASCAR, and no fuel more American than domestic ethanol,” says Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an organization that promotes ethanol. “NASCAR is a great venue to get our message out.”

Grandstand reactions on ethanol use

Selling ethanol to NASCAR fans ought to be easy, I thought when I got to the Kansas Speedway for a race in June.

After all, the cars have been running well on E15. They have had plenty of horsepower. There haven’t been any fuel-related breakdowns. Mileage isn’t greatly affected, which was an especially important factor in several races this year. NASCAR even has its roots in corn.

Some of the sport’s early drivers honed their skills hauling moonshine, which is also made from corn.But on my way to the grandstand for the start of the race I bumped into two fans who might be hard to turn into ethanol enthusiasts.

“No kidding,” a tall thin man puffing on a cigarette was saying to his friend, “it’s the radioactive fertilizer that farmers are putting on tobacco that might be causing cancer from cigarettes.”

“What’s radioactive?” I asked.

“Fertilizer. Yeah. I read it on the Internet.”

“No way,” I said.

His friend glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. He had probably seen the combine at the American Ethanol exhibit outside the grandstand and knew there were farmers in the crowd.

“I don’t trust farmers,” he said. “They use radioactive fertilizer, and now they are even burning our food to make fuel — and the price of food in the grocery store is going up and up.”

“They’re not burning food,” I said. “There’s enough — ”He cut me off. “Let’s get going,” he said to his friend, “and see if we can find something to eat.”

After the race, I also discovered a lone comment from a fan posted to the NASCAR Web announcement that it would use E15 this year.

“Race car fuel is fuel with lead, baby, not some cheap ethanol, man. It’s bad enough that the point system sucks; now cheap junk gas is in the picture.”

Good thing it’s a long racing season.

— Lon Tonneson

ready to go: Darren Ihnen (left) and Bart Schott check out the American Ethanol car at the NASCAR race in Kansas.


Mobbed: Clint Bowyer signs autographs for fans at the American Ethanol exhibit before the race.


They’re off: The green flag drops at the start of the NASCAR race in Kansas City.

This article published in the July, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.