When you think about NASCAR and the environment, you wonder if cars screaming around a recreational track can ever really be environmentally friendly?

Maybe not, but NASCAR isn't trying to win any ultra-green contests. Instead, the competitive racing venture has set out to lighten its environmental footprint through some surprising initiatives, from solar power farms to large-scale recycling projects.

That effort even involved creating a new eco-centric position: Director of Green Innovation.

Mike Lynch, the first to take the job, explains that NASCAR is taking a realistic approach but still hopes to make big changes.

"We're not attempting to take any high ground," Lynch told USA Today last October. "Go out and ask 10 people, and they'll say, 'OK, you're green, now what about the cars? You're burning fossil fuels.' This is a pragmatic approach to green, and what we're doing now is just the beginning."

Recycling, Tree Planting and Green Buildings

NASCAR and many associated race tracks and racing teams have already begun education and awareness efforts to curb pollution and resource consumption, from asking truck drivers not to leave their 18-wheelers idling to careful disposal of used motor oil.

But in a sport like auto racing, there are a lot of not-so-green variables to consider. Since NASCAR can't directly address all of these issues, it had Carbonfund.org calculate its total competitor — and fan-produced — pollution to come up with a carbon footprint that it could then work to mitigate.

In June 2009, NASCAR announced 'NASCAR Green Clean Air', a program designed to help offset the carbon emissions produced by this very emissions-heavy sport. Tracks participating in this tree-planting program will plant enough new trees in local areas to mitigate 100 percent of the carbon produced by the cars competing in their 2010 Cup Series events.

Many of these trees will be planted in the acres of campgrounds that surround a number of popular race tracks.

In addition to a comprehensive recycling program that leaves little waste in garages, NASCAR has also expanded its event recycling program.

In 2009, NASCAR and Coca-Cola Recycling diverted more than 80 tons and 2.5 million containers and aim to reach numbers much higher than that in 2010 and beyond.

NASCAR also has a few LEED-Certified green buildings under its belt, including the 20-story NASCAR Plaza in Charlotte, North Carolina and the “Daytona Speedplex.”

According to Lauth Group, the architecture firm that worked on the project, the NASCAR Plaza “is now considered one of the most environmentally-responsible office towers in the Southeast.”

One-third of the building is made up of recycled materials, it's powered by 35% renewable energy and consumes 30 percent less water than a similarly sized conventional building.

Solar-Powered Raceway

One of NASCAR's most iconic tracks, the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, will soon be powered with solar energy.

Set to be the world's largest solar energy project at a sports stadium, Pocono's transition to solar will involve an incredible 40,000 photovoltaic panels on 25 acres across the street from the racetrack.

The extra energy that is produced will be sold back to the grid.

NASCAR might not be switching to renewable fuels in its race cars anytime soon, but the rest of its power needs can easily be managed in an environmentally friendly way.

“We have a power footprint that can be addressed with renewable energy,” Mike Lynch said in an interview with The New York Times in July 2009. “We see the Pocono project as one that’s a fantastic example of how it can be done.”

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