Gas prices hurt NASCAR, too
By Jenna Fryer
CONCORD ó As gas prices soar across the country, the thought of paying $6.25 a gallon would make any consumer cringe.
Yet thatís what it costs in NASCAR, where race teams use a special Sunoco 260 GTX unleaded fuel to fill their cars. Although the gas is free ó part of Sunocoís agreement as NASCARís official fuel supplier ó it doesnít mean car owners and drivers arenít feeling the pain at the pump.
iIt affects all of us, anybody thatís in business,î said car owner Richard Childress. iGetting our cars to the racetracks costs a ton in gas money for the haulers. Bringing our people to the tracks, the rising costs of jet fuel. Itís very, very expensive to do what weíre doing.î
Childress, owner of a highly successful race team, isnít complaining. Nor are the drivers who pull in multimillion dollar salaries and donít flinch at $85 fill-ups on their luxury SUVs.
But no one in NASCAR is immune to the weakening economy and rising costs on fuel. Just because they can afford it, doesnít mean they arenít feeling the pinch.
Under Sunocoís deal with NASCAR, teams are provided free fuel at any sanctioned test, practice or race for all three top divisions. A company spokeswoman said itís impossible to determine just how much fuel is used per weekend because of fluctuations in schedules, weather and the teamsí practice times each week.
When teams tested earlier this week at Loweís Motor Speedway, their gas was once again free.
But the good teams test a lot, traveling all over the South to facilities not sanctioned by NASCAR. Sunoco doesnít cover those all-day sessions, and a race team typically brings a 55-gallon drum of gas to get them through the test.
Of course, itís all budgeted for long before the season even starts. And teams arenít affected by the oft-changing fluctuations in fuel costs under the Sunoco deal.
Even so, there are critics who complain that NASCAR races are dipping into the national supply. But NASCAR officials claim the amount of fuel being used ó less than 175,000 gallons per year on the Sprint Cup Series ó doesnít come close to the 366 million gallons that Americans average in daily usage.
So NASCAR has no current plans to shorten races, as it did in the early 1970s when OPEC hoarded oil to increase prices, causing long lines at the pumps.
But the pain is still felt away from the track, where teams have noticed a significant increase in transportation costs.
From sending diesel-chugging haulers across the country to transport the race cars, to the exorbitant jump in jet fuel, costs are soaring in simply getting drivers, crews and equipment to each event.
iWeíre really noticing it in credit card costs,î said Jay Frye, general manager of Red Bull Racing. iWeíre getting bills back for thousands and thousands of dollars in diesel fuel thatís needed to get the haulers to the track each week. So every time gas prices go up, it affects our monthly budget because weíre paying a bigger gas bill than we did last month.î
With diesel fuel now over $4.00 a gallon, and each hauler holding roughly 300 gallons, fill-ups now cost more than $1,200 for a truck that only gets between 4.5 and 7.5 miles per gallon.
The real pinch, though, comes in jet fuel. Many team owners shuttling crew members, and drivers flying private planes on weekends, are considering cutting down on the luxuries.
Jeff Burton said he recently sat down with his wife, Kim, to discuss removing any nonessential travel from their plans, and in March, Childress had crew members make the three-hour drive from North Carolina to Bristol, Tenn., instead of sending planes.
iThatís directly related to fuel costs,î Childress said. iWeíve gotten rid of some planes this year and gone to some different programs to save money in that area.î