Soybean-Powered Rally Car at Food Lion AutoFair
Most race cars burn thousands of gallons of gasoline during a year of competition, but RallyVW's Golf hatchback has not consumed one drop of precious petroleum since the start of the 2002 racing season.
Suggesting a possible solution to America's future energy needs, this Volkswagen Golf rally car and a Jetta street model powered by "biodiesel" fuel will be on display during the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jon Hamilton, a firefighter in Marysville, Ohio, had one of those "sounds so crazy it just might work" moments in 2001 when he chose to campaign a turbocharged diesel Volkswagen Golf in the Sports Car Club of America's Pro Rally Production class.
Hamilton recalls the decision to visit his local Volkswagen dealership was an easy one as the manufacturer's ruggedly reliable and well-engineered front-wheel drive models had won many races and numerous championships in this sport that combines the skill of ballet with the brutality of football.
The choice to go with the optional diesel engine, however, seemed just plain odd. Americans associate diesel engines with large tractor trailers, smoky exhaust and low power output-a result of the poorly designed and ineptly marketed domestic cars available in the 1980s.
In Europe, diesel engines are popular due to their greater efficiency and longer life spans when compared to gasoline burners. Adding a turbocharger, such as Volkswagen does to its TDI (turbocharged, diesel, injection) models, increases horsepower to the point that drivers are unaware they are in an economy car.
Despite what many saw as a handicap, Hamilton and his VW Golf captured the 2002 rally championship, making RallyVW the only team to ever win an American rally title using diesel power. Adding to the team's unique accomplishment is the fact that the Golf competed the entire season on a soybean-derived fuel known as "biodiesel."
"'Biodiesel' can go a long way toward reducing our dependence on foreign oil," said Dan Sycks, a spokesman for RallyVW. "The raw materials for the fuel-vegetable oils and animal fats-are grown right here in America by our farmers, so 'biodiesel' is a renewable resource that benefits the domestic economy. It is far better for the environment than regular diesel fuel or gasoline; 'biodiesel' is less toxic than table salt and degrades as quickly as sugar.
"Compared to diesel fuel, 'biodiesel' combustion creates far fewer unburned hydrocarbons and lower levels of carbon monoxide and particulate matter. In other words, everything we've been trying to accomplish for the last 40 years through filters and computerized engine management can be achieved by simply switching to 'biodiesel'."
"Biodiesel" fuel can be used by any diesel engine with no major modifications, and it is the only alternative fuel that has met or exceeded the requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.
Even the strict Environmental Protection Agency has approved its use as a fuel and fuel additive. Some truck fleet managers are already running "blends" in their vehicles, which means that a specific amount of "biodiesel" is mixed with regular fuel.
Currently first in the Rally America Group 5 Unlimited class standings, the RallyVW race team is a small, but highly visible part of a national movement to make "biodiesel" fuel available to consumers.
In 2004, a country music legend lent his name and image to Earth Biofuels Inc. to start the Willie Nelson Biodiesel Co., which now has BioWillie distribution stations in California, Texas, Georgia and South Carolina. Records supplied by the National Biodiesel Board indicate 500,000 gallons of the fuel were sold in 1999, with significant annual increases bringing the 2004 total to 25 million gallons.
Other attractions scheduled for the April 6-9 Food Lion AutoFair include a flying car from the television show "Monster Garage," the wild Tornado Attack vehicle, a Navy Osprey airplane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings, unusual vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum and a special Century of Turbochargers display.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.
For information, contact the Charlotte Motor Speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.