As NASCAR fans excitedly prepared for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, with its almost unending stream of activities and entertainment, there was something decidedly different in store for them: a major solar installation and the first funded with private investment at a raceway (Pocono Raceway’s publicly-funded installation was completed in August of last year). Infineon Raceway, in partnership with Panasonic, has been working diligently, for months, to bring forth the racetrack’s vision of becoming a lightning-rod for sustainable practices, in auto racing.
By leveraging the impressive marking reach, demographics, and good will, of American motorsports, this Infineon/Panasonic initiative has the potential to educate and inspire Americans, about the true potential of sustainability, in a big way. it will do this, by turning, upside-down, what most see as an oxymoronic contrast: auto racing and sustainability.
The potential is all too real: on race day tens of thousands of NASCAR fans, braving early-morning, bumper-to-bumper, traffic “descended” on foggy Sonoma Valley, California, to view the action, in person. They came from all over the country, many from as far away as the East Coast, and covered the rolling hills, forming what looked like the encampment of an invading (but extremely good-natured), army.
By race time, hundreds of thousands more will have tuned in, via TV, radio, and Internet. Meeting this fan onslaught, is an equivalent force of vendors, selling everything from food to souvenirs to cell phones. (Especially impressive are the 18-wheel merchandising trucks, one for each of the more well-known drivers, and the huge displays put on by national vendors, such as Sprint, and Toyota.)
Even more amazing than NASCAR’s own popularity is the widespread popularity of a dizzying number, and variety, of other motorsports. Infineon Raceway, alone, is host to racing events 340 days a year, including NHRA drag racing, Indy Cars—even an electric motorcycle series—and the company is well-aware that it is perfectly positioned to educate all those race fans, about sustainability. The fans, in turn, are ripe to receive it.
“In the Northern California market, the early adopters [of sustainable products]…have clearly been reached,” explains Infineon Raceway president and general manager Steve Page, “[However], there is a much broader audience for whom [sustainability] might not be number one, or number two, and there are issues of performance, that are far closer to the top of their decision metric. It’s very important for us to demonstrate that there are options, in the sustainable world, where you don’t have to compromise on performance; that you can buy quality products, and not have to worry about your carbon footprint…or other issues related to sustainability.”
Infineon intends to capitalize on all this bottled-up potential by putting sustainability right up in front of the fans. Page says that, for the solar installation, “we consciously set out to identify the most visible spots on the property.”
And he wasn’t kidding. The solar installation, which now produces about 41% of the Raceway’s electricity, includes solar panels placed above the Turn 10 Sound Wall, the Main Grandstand, the administration office, and the Raceway Café, as well as the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School building. In some cases, a bit of efficiency was compromised in order to maximize visibility.
In addition to the solar panel arrays, Panasonic’s new full-color, dual-sided LED video board will use less energy than the previous sign. Easily visible from Highway 37, the new board uses LEDs to create messages, brighter than the older technology. Yet, it consumes just 50% of the energy of the board it replaces.
It may come as a surprise that this is not the first time that Infineon has employed this strategy. As part of its commitment to achieving a sustainable future, the facility has already boasts a comprehensive recycling program and even uses 3,000 sheep to trim the grass around the track and grounds.
Page: “The installation of Panasonic’s high-efficiency solar panels and board is a major milestone in Infineon Raceway’s Accelerating Sustainable Performance program,” said Steve Page, president and general manager of Infineon Raceway. “We’re honored to be teaming with Panasonic as our Visionary Partner in this significant venture.”
For much more detail on the specifics on the Infineon/Panasonic partnership, and the solar installation itself, please see this article from December of 2010. For an interesting look at Infineon Raceway’s quite comprehensive, and unique sustainability programs, you can check out the companion article, also from December.
Steve Puma is Director of Business Development for SABA Motors, and a sustainability writer/consultant. His work focuses (mostly) on clean transportation, including Plug-In Electric Vehicles, something he is very passionate about.
Steve holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Computer Science from Rutgers University. You can learn more about Steve by reading his blog, or following his tweets.