Cover Story: Racing - going green?

CONCORD, NC (WBTV) - Thursday is Earth Day and this year's events mark the 40th anniversary of the start of the modern environmental movement.

On April 22, 1970, more than 20 million people across the country joined together to raise awareness of pollution, pesticide dangers, oil and raw sewage, and wildlife extinction.

Today that spirit continues, with Earth Day celebrations planned throughout the country.

And the movement is still gaining momentum.. even at the race track of all places.

It's loud.  It's colorful.  And the name of the game is speed.

When you think racing.. you don't think so much recycling.  But can racing ever be green?

"Any performance shop that isn't keeping their eye on green right now.. to get cars to go faster and cleaner is making a mistake," says Rich Christensen, host of a racing show on cable TV's "SPEED".

At the zMAX Dragway on Wednesday to promote a TV reality show taping this week.. they were showing off what could be the next generation of racing vehicles.

Hybrids.  Motorcycles that run on biodiesel.  And electric cars.

Rich Christensen hosts the race show "PINKS All Out" on TV's SPEED.

"Really it's just an evolution. Why would we go backwards. If there's ways to make it more efficient, faster and cleaner, why wouldn't we?"

But will an industry built on the backs of the internal combustion engine (where the cars get 5 mpg) be able to embrace something other than fossil fuels?

Up to now the problem with electric cars has been a lack of speed.

"I believe racing can go green."  Ron Cerven of Li-ion Motors of Mooresville (that's Li-ion short litihum ion) showed us their wave car than can go 90 miles an hour, and they built a battery powered race car that tops out at 160.

Racing he believes has to wean itself off foreign oil.  He says, "Where's our fuel coming from? How are we controlling the cost of oil? The answer is we're not. We have no control over the cost of oil."

Tracks are already picking the low-hanging fruit.. like recycling oil.  Safety-Kleen says its collects more than a-quarter million gallons of used motor oil at races each year.

Tracks are also recycling trash.

"I think it's a feel good."  Scott Cooper of Charlotte Motor Speedway says bottles and cans that once went to the dump now fill up to 10 tractor-trailer loads.. after the 10 days of speed.

But getting cars to turn over a new, green leaf will be the biggie.

"Like anything it's a matter of time," says Cooper.  "It's something that's going to develop over time. There are a lot smarter minds than you and I probably that are working on that kind of thing right now."

NASCAR is exploring replacing its carburetors with more efficient fuel injection and using alternative fuels in at least one of its national series.

Give you an idea of how far we've come:  Charlotte Motor Speedway became the first track in the country to use a hybrid as a pace car.. that was in last year's Coca-Cola 600.