CONCORD, N.C. — Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark is getting ready to embrace a new car, and not just the Next Gen model that NASCAR is unveiling next week.

Newmark is preparing to swap out his Ford Raptor, an off-roading pickup truck marketed as “the toughest F-150 to date,” for Ford’s first all-electric crossover, the Mustang Mach-E. He recently installed a charging station at his home in South Charlotte.

“It will be a change because I’ve had a big truck for about 10 years,” Newmark told The Observer.

But the longtime team president for the two-car Cup operation said he’s excited for the switch because he wants to do his part to reduce carbon emissions and set an example for his two children. He shared this, along with takeaways from a 2021 book by Bill Gates, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” while standing in front of a new electric charging station in the public parking lot of Roush Fenway Racing’s 22-acre campus in Concord on Thursday.

Newmark acknowledged that he’s no expert on the subject of sustainability and carbon neutrality, but these are languages he’s had to learn for business purposes. In February, Roush Fenway Racing announced that it was the first carbon-neutral NASCAR team — a process that involved quantifying and tracking its greenhouse gas emissions over the last two years, submitting receipts and travel records to a third-party auditor and purchasing carbon offsets with the help of sponsor Castrol to reach net-zero emissions.

The announcement was a product of the team’s December contract renewal with Castrol, which extends through the 2022 season. Roush Fenway Racing committed to working with the sponsor to achieve carbon neutrality, as specified by a clause in the contract. It was a development Newmark called “novel” in his 10-plus years of sports business experience. For Castrol, a subsidiary of oil and gas giant BP, it is part of the company’s goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.

“As we continue to work with partners, sustainability is a key initiative,” Castrol vice president of marketing Rayne Pacek told The Observer. “So every partner that we work with will have some sort of step forward into leaving the world a little bit better.”

In line with the announcement, Roush Fenway Racing driver Ryan Newman raced a muted all-white Castrol paint scheme at the Daytona road course in late February, which replaced the typically green-and-red scheme on the No. 6 Ford. The change required buy-in from additional partners like Kohler, Oscar Mayer and Coca-Cola, among others, to alter their logos. But the environmentally conscious thinking at the race shop has gone beyond a paint scheme, and illustrates an industry-wide shift in how businesses, including NASCAR teams, are viewing their environmental impact.

Newmark said he received calls from three different team presidents of larger NASCAR organizations asking how their teams could replicate the process of achieving carbon neutrality following Roush Fenway Racing’s announcement. Newmark declined to disclose those names, but shared that his feedback to each was that it was an “unbelievably worthwhile” process.

“We didn’t take things that were a detriment to speed on the track,” he said. “You can do this by thinking about things in your business operation that doesn’t impact what we’re trying to do to win races.

“It really doesn’t cause a complete upheaval of how you operate your business. It’s being smarter in how you design things. It’s being smarter in how you purchase energy. It’s being smarter in how you lay out office space.”

On the competition side, NASCAR is flirting with an electric future. The Next Gen car is package-protected for electrification and hybridization, meaning it’s designed with space to add an electric motor and battery. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said last weekend that the industry was looking at a hybrid component in its race cars as early as 2023 prior to the pandemic, but now “it could be ‘24.” He said the timing could be synonymous with a new manufacturer joining the sport.

NASCAR’s three current manufacturers, Toyota, Ford and Chevrolet, want to field race cars that look similar to what consumers see in the showroom and are aligned on the goal of moving toward cleaner technology, according to Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson. He said that the industry is exploring a “host of different technologies” to implement in the next three to five years.

“For NASCAR and motorsports, when you use the word ‘relevancy,’ if you don’t include electrification on some level then you’re not really being credible,” Wilson said.

Last week, Toyota released its first all-electric SUV concept, the bZ4X model, that will hit the market next year as part of the company’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Toyota has said its goal is to reduce CO2 emissions from its vehicles by 90% by 2050 compared to its levels in 2010.

“Over the next decade or so, that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of electrification,” Wilson said of the bZ4X.

While “net zero” might feel like a corporate buzzword, in practice it’s an intentional process, and one that could involve more NASCAR and sports teams in the future, driven by partners and consumers. NASCAR launched its “NASCAR Green” initiative more than 10 years ago. The industry committed to using a blended biofuel (Sunoco Green E15) across its three national series (trucks, Xfinity and Cup), expanded its at-track recycling efforts and launched an expansive tree planting campaign. Pocono Raceway also installed solar panels near its track in 2010 to offset 2,300 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Sustainability isn’t a new concept to the sport, but the industry’s efforts could gain new life based on corporate and consumer interests in a post-pandemic world.

Roush Fenway Racing had a unique partnership with Castrol to facilitate the process of achieving carbon neutrality in accordance with PAS 2060, a global standard, and an eye toward sustainable design long before it had to prove it to sponsors.

“We do this because it is the right thing to do to affect climate change,” Roush Fenway Racing chief sustainability officer Ian Prince said. “We also do this because nobody else is doing this, so it gives us a competitive advantage in the marketplace for finding new partners as well.”

Prince has worked with team owner Jack Roush since the 1990s. He helped design the Roush Fenway Racing campus, including the team’s main building that opened in 2004, which features a rainwater collection system that drains water into surrounding ponds and irrigates the landscape, solar shades on the windows and reflective panels on the roof to reduce heat from the sun (and thus the amount of air conditioning required), as well as sensory lighting indoors to minimize electrical usage.

The organization also has giant bins sitting in a lot across from its main building labeled “Plastic,” “Steel” and “Aluminum” to separate the materials for recycling, and has been using recycled oil from Castrol in its race cars, which includes the No. 17 Ford driven by Chris Buescher, since Martinsville. Those practices are part of the team’s commitment to recycling 90% of every race car, including oil, rubber, aluminum, metal, plastic and carbon fiber. Prince said the hardest part isn’t necessarily acting on sustainable practices. It’s quantifying any output and subsequent change.

“Being carbon neutral requires you to track all those things, quantify it and then have a process for continuation of improvement,” Prince said. “You want to figure out where you are, figure out where you want to go, and then come up with a plan to get there.”

The team reported that it emitted 4,982 metric tons of greenhouse gases (CO2e) in 2019, a minuscule amount in the scope of the United States’ total 6,558 million metric tons of emissions reported by the EPA for that same year.

A recent Harvard Business Review article notes the challenges and partially misguided hype around achieving a sustainable agenda. “Reporting is not a proxy for progress,” the article says. “Measurement is often nonstandard, incomplete, imprecise, and misleading.”

Newmark assured: “This is not just a publicity stunt.”

Third-party ERM CVS signed off on the team’s submitted carbon neutrality qualifying statement, which includes an outline of its carbon management plan, its calculation approach, offsets and targets. RFR’s number was achieved by tracking levels of gas consumption, direct emissions from company-owned vehicles and planes, grid-supplied electricity, purchased goods and services and employee commuting, among other outputs.

Last year, Roush Fenway Racing reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to 3,634 metric tons and said its goal is to achieve a 20% reduction in its combined natural gas consumption, direct emissions from company-owned vehicles and planes, and grid-supplied electricity by 2022 from its baseline year in 2019.

The team is planning to install solar panels on its shop roof and convert half of the team’s roughly 40 Ford-provided vehicles that are used in a non-competition capacity by drivers, executives, crew members and staff, to hybrid or electric cars — hence Newmark’s switch to the Mach-E. He said he’s expecting the car to arrive in a few weeks. Newman already has one of his own.

The driver recently made an appearance in Uptown Charlotte wearing a fluorescent safety vest and carrying a hand-held grabber device for a community cleanup event organized by Castrol and Keep Charlotte Beautiful, a local chapter of nonprofit Keep America Beautiful.

Newman was among the 63 volunteers, including team crew members, who spent a few hours picking up a collective 850 pounds of trash along Freedom Drive two weeks ago. He was featured in a recent video competing with Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods to pick up track in their respective cities as part of a Castrol-promoted spot.

“Castrol has led us by example and we hope to lead the rest of the garage,” Newman said. “Which is obviously bigger than (NASCAR) when you talk about communities that are associated with racing.”

The organizations’ efforts have made those outside racing communities take notice as well. Anita Davis-Ayers, a 63-year-old Charlotte resident, volunteered at the trash cleanup and said she didn’t follow NASCAR nor know of Newman’s celebrity despite the cameras, but she saw the team’s presence as a positive.

“It makes me feel like they’re getting it,” Davis-Ayers said. “This has got to be an everybody effort, corporations, we all have to pitch in, so yes, it makes a difference to me.”

Davis-Ayers said that what brought her out to the event was more free time during the pandemic and a desire to preserve the planet for future generations, however small the steps.

“I’m trying to learn how to live better,” she said. “This is a start.”

Newmark shared the sentiment from a corporate perspective.

“I don’t want to overstate that what we did is going to somehow change the world,” he said. “But the hope is it sets an example and other small companies see that they can take steps to help combat climate change.

“And if a lot of small businesses do that in the aggregate then you have a bigger impact.”

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