The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Comparing Apples to Corn – NASCAR and E15

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 29, 2014

We posted a couple of times on a Chicago proposal to require city service stations to carry E15 (here and here). The good news is that this bad-news idea looks like it’s stuck in first gear. Local reports say a City Council committee took no action Monday after a marathon hearing ran out of gas (their pun, not mine).  

The discussion included an E15 claim that’s worth another dose of debunking – that NASCAR’s use of E15 proves its suitability for your car or truck. Michael Lynch, NASCAR’s VP for green innovation, spoke at the hearing:

“We’ve been running now for six million miles, Sunoco Green E15 – which is exactly the kind of street fuel that is being proposed here – with great performance, and no issues whatsoever.”

Sigh. The what’s-good-for-NASCAR-is-good-for-the-family-car line, seemingly impermeable to fact, is a special favorite of the ethanol crowd (that’s Sen. Al Franken joy-riding the ethanol wagon, here). Previous posts debunking the NASCAR comparison here, here and here, but with racing’s 6 million-mile milestone approaching, we’ll take another shot.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the only thing NASCAR race cars have in common with vehicles being driven by regular Americans is that both have four wheels:

Engines

  • According to this post by Dave Juday, the average NASCAR engine makes about 750 horsepower; top-selling U.S. vehicles with V-6 or V-8 engines range from 302 to 360 horsepower.
  • NASCAR engines, which can run between $45,000 and $80,000, are designed for racing and have been modified to be compatible with the sole-sourced, Sunoco-produced competition E15 racing fuel.

Fuel Pumps

  • NASCAR fuel pumps have been modified to handle the special E15 racing fuel and high-performance flow rates.
  • While the emissions sensors in consumer vehicles can be damaged by E15, race car emissions aren’t controlled.  
  • NASCAR engines and fuel pump systems are highly stressed components that are put through meticulous maintenance, inspections and rebuilds after each race. NASCAR teams include dozens of mechanics available to work on cars.

Racing Fuel

  • The version of E15 that NASCAR switched to in 2011 has a 98 octane rating, compared to retail E15’s rating of 90.
  • Because of the 15 percent ethanol volume in the E15 Sunoco supplies NASCAR, care must be taken to avoid getting moisture – water – into fuel filler cans or the car’s fuel cells. Sunoco says this includes distribution of the fuel directly from its tankers (avoiding in-ground tanks where most retail fuel is stored and where water is inevitable) and specially designed fuel cans.

The point worth underscoring here is that NASCAR engines and fuel pumps are specifically designed for a high-octane, high-performance E15 racing fuel that is unlike retail E15. Race car engines run at racing speeds under racing conditions – unlike anything regular Americans put their cars and trucks through. They’re carefully maintained by expert mechanics on a daily/weekly basis.

Bottom line: Suggestions that the NASCAR experience says anything about E15’s suitability for consumer vehicles is just plain silly.

What we do know is that research indicates retail-grade E15 can damage engines and fuel systems in millions of American cars on the road today and that automakers warn that vehicles not designed to use E15 won’t be warranted for damage caused by E15 use.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.