By Phil R. Elliott
(Written for Quick Times Racing News, October 20, 2004)
Recently, the imprinting on a towel machine caught my eye. It was one of those that dispense a continuous cloth towel in a foot-wide loop that usually ends up in a heap on the floor by the time I get to them. It said, "The Use of Cloth Towels Saves 8-Million Trees Per Year."
On the surface, that sounded real nice, one of those warm fuzzies we're supposed to receive when we do the right thing.
Then I began to think that though the statement might be correct, the use of cloth might not be better than using paper towels at all. After all, I only had this one statement to go on.
Chopping down trees so that I can dry my hands seems a wee bit harsh. But, having grown up in the northwest where trees make up a major part of industry, I saw through the statement. For example, hand towels for industrial use (gas stations, etc.) come from by-products of the lumber industry, like sawdust. Nobody heads for the forest to clear-cut several hundred acres because somebody is running low on hand towels.
Then there is what is not stated, such as where the cloth came from, how much it costs to launder it, what type of detergent is used and whether that detergent is harmful to the elements.
I'm not trying to start a war here, nor is my intention to dissect the paper vs. cloth industry as to how much harm either/both do to Mother Earth.
My next thought goes to the automobile, more precisely the offbeat electrics. If I were to write a single sentence, similar to the towel dispenser, in attempt to persuade you to buy one, it might be, "Electric Autos Don't Pollute Our Atmosphere Half as Much as Normal Autos."
Again, superficially, the statement is correct until one delves deeper.
As the battery-powered car almost silently whines through its paces for its 97-mile range, it indeed is not polluting. The ironic problem comes when one plugs it in to recharge its very expensive batteries. Does no one wonder from whence that power to recharge comes? In the northwest, 95% comes from hydroelectric plants - wonderful waterpower. Other places aren't so tuned in and burn fossil fuel - the same stuff normal cars burn - to develop electricity.
The person that purchased a gutless, homely electric car with minimal range to do more to help save the planet ain't saving diddly squat!
Don't be confused between straight electrics and the hybrids that are becoming so popular. The latter, currently offered by Honda and Toyota, and soon by Nissan, GM and FoMoCo, are truly an engineering wonder. They do everything pretty well. I drove a friend's Prius a few hundred miles and it amazed me. Had I not known it was a hybrid, I would have thought it to be an ordinary, low-powered compact. It accelerated and stopped in normal fashion, all the while generating power to its batteries.
The only abnormal part to the available hybrid automobiles is, they aren't ... Available that is. Long waiting lines in every part of the country - the longest being SoCal and the Pacific Northwest - await potential hybrid buyers.
What worries me in this time of evolving sentiments toward all things ecological is that the big picture is rarely the main theme of the plan. Cloth towels save trees and electric cars don't pollute are just two minor items.
The ecology minded are the groups that have placed this country at great risk in many areas. Once, the USA led the world in the production of most goods. Steel mills dotted the landscape. We produced lumber, which in turn allowed us to build economical housing, and whatever else suited us. Today, a huge percentage of steel and lumber is imported. We whined about smoke from smelting plants so now we send ore and scrap to Japan and China, they do the dirty work and ship us back steel and aluminum. We do the same thing with logs. How we can ship stuff roundtrip across oceans and get it cheaper than we can produce it here is way beyond me. Seems like a loss of many jobs. Big picture? What happens should we get involved in a real war again and can't supply our own raw materials?
There are those that feel racing is a total waste of time and dollars and they will continue their quests to put a stop to contests of speed. They rationalize that speed kills therefore they must end such frivolity. They don't see the bigger picture of this multi-billion dollar industry that keeps thousands of families in food and shoes. They don't see that on-track crashes and even deaths provide research and development to save future lives in normal passenger cars.
Motorsports racetracks of all kinds have long been the focus of noise pollution legislation. Eventually, noise and traffic and the inevitable property values will close many of our favorite haunts. These reasons have already closed many old raceplants.
Since I was a kid, I have seen hundreds of race teams leave racing due to one thing - escalation in cost. Not just Pros either. Tracks have been pushed out for the same reasons. Rent, power, water and racer payouts now are overshadowed by insurance costs and legal fees. What was once an activity involving fun and increasing your heart rate can have serious financial consequences. Big picture? Ever-decreasing entries at local, regional and national levels.
Once, there were dozens of weekly and monthly publications covering every nook and cranny of dragracing. Every time a driver sneezed, added a different camshaft or turned a better elapsed time, some cub reporter was right there covering it and sending it to one or more of those publications. Now there are very few of those newspapers and magazines - maybe ten (?) total - and those youngsters willing to shoot photos and write stories for a few bucks and a T-shirt are even less. Big picture? Less racers, tracks, publications and reporters spell ultimate doom.
Why? With high numbers of each, racing was a reciprocal winner. Photos of winners in publications cause other racers to want to attend races at that track too. More racers mean bigger payouts. Tracks buy ads in the newspapers for their major events. Spectators and even more racers show up to take part. More magazines and papers cover the events. More reporters cover the races. The increase in specatator numbers continue. Everybody wins. The whole scenario breeds more of everything.
Of course, if you only read sanctioning body boilerplate, all is well and there is nothing to be concerned about whatsoever. But if you only look at one set of statistics - Professional entry numbers at NHRA national events, you can understand what I'm suggesting here. I have watched as fewer and fewer teams pull their rigs into the pits. I cannot understand why there isn't a huge movement to find replacements for the dwindling numbers, to find ways of reducing costs and/or finding increased sponsorship so the lesser-funded teams could return. If there were not the multi-car teams, field sizes would be in trouble now.
As you look around for those drivers, cars and teams that are no longer there, drive by what used to be your favorite racetracks, and search your mailbox for familiar race publications no longer able to handle the death spiral of day-to-day expenses, thank your lucky stars for what does remain.
When you complain about trivial things at your local track, consider the many that have gone by the wayside. When you miss old what's-his-name that ran the red-and-white whatever, consider that you are still out there and be thankful. When you pick up a magazine that covers racing and wonder why your picture isn't inside the covers, remember the times when your picture was in others. Try your best to look at bigger pictures and realize that all is not what it once was.
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