Clearing the Air in the Windy City

Chicago Hosts First NASCAR Street Race

The rolling thunder of racecars was drowned out only by the deafening roar of NASCAR fans and a deluge of July rain pouring from the sky in downtown Chicago. The rain, although not welcome by the sellout crowd, helped to clear the air from the Canadian wildfire smoke that had hovered over the city for days.

This was the first-ever Chicago Street Race, with road-course rules, and with all the commotion that had accompanied NASCAR’s arrival in the Windy City, it wasn’t about to be restricted by a little rain. Each team brought multiple sets of rain tires, and every car was equipped with windshield wipers and tail lights in anticipation of unpredictable weather.

Rain or shine, the race would go on, and the day was set up to be a memorable one.

Long before the thick Canadian haze blanketed much of the U.S. throughout the summer, Chicago had experienced unhealthy air pollution, dating back to the city’s industrialization in the late nineteenth century. The culprit was dirty coal sourced from southern Illinois, used to heat buildings, run motor engines, and power steel mills. For many years the city was shrouded in a dense, toxic cloud, increasing instances of pneumonia, asthma, and heart and lung disease in its citizens. The continued urbanization of the city and its dependence on motor vehicles have plagued its air ever since.

Now contrary to popular belief, Chicago is not nicknamed the “Windy City” because of the brisk gales rolling off Lake Michigan into town. The term is actually derived from the heated political environment that is as much a staple of Chicago as Michigan Avenue, as political hot air regarding social policy made the city a bureaucratic hotbed.

And pollution has always been a part of the conversation, ranging from early factory emission regulations in the 1880s to the ongoing debate discussing transportation and environmental policies, emissions standards, and sustainable practices today — all of which can stand to benefit from biofuel.

E15 first met Chicago politics in 2014 when many of the Windy City’s alderman proposed mandating the biofuel blend at all city gas stations to clear the air and lower gas prices. But, not surprisingly, deep pockets and politics put that common sense on hold. Today, however, widespread E15 is becoming a reality, with drivers across the country proving we can get past political games for a solution
that works.

On July 2, E15 was in the Chicago spotlight once again as NASCAR took to the streets, showcasing how bioethanol can improve engine performance while reducing emissions as it powered every car on the urban track. In fact, using E15 has helped NASCAR reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent since its adoption in 2011.   

The #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet team raced their hearts out, vying for the lead late in the race, but a miscue meant clipping the wall and ending our day in turn 12. It was a wreck-filled race from the beginning, highlighting the difficulty of maneuvering a heavy stock car through a street course.

Overall, the NASCAR Chicago Street Race provided fans with thrilling moments, intense battles, and surprising outcomes. It was truly a memorable occasion for drivers and spectators alike; in fact, the television ratings were through the roof, making it the number-one viewed sport of the weekend.

And because there had been concerns in the days leading up to the race about the impact of 40 racecars on the city’s air quality (it had been dubbed the worst in the world three days prior due to the wildfire smoke), the street race became an unprecedented opportunity to discuss the benefits of bioethanol at the intersection of city dwellers and race fans.

Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet, is a true biofuel believer as he puts the fuel to the test week in and week out. “I trust clean Sunoco Green E15 to deliver the best engine performance and durability,” said Dillion. “Plant-based bioethanol cleans the air, makes a positive impact on our planet and the air we breathe, and delivers performance benefits on the track. Whether I’m racing down the streets of Chicago or the high banks of Daytona, I know I can rely on engine-smart bioethanol fuel, and so can everyday drivers all over the country.”




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