Sonoma Raceway thinks way outside the oval

It’s got all the racetrack bells and whistles. But sit down with Steve Page and his enthusiastic staff for awhile, and you realize that Sonoma Raceway is also a hub of sustainable business practices and a showcase of innovative products for an audience not accustomed to thinking of sustainability and racing.

The raceway is responsible for 1,600 acres in one of the choicest spots in Northern California, and management works hard to be good neighbors. Weeds are kept under control by 3,000 sheep that live on the property along with their Peruvian shepherds and dogs.

Owl boxes dot the landscape to encourage the birds to hunt for rodents.

The track is water-independent, from its wells to its sewage-treatment plant. All landscaping is watered by the reclaimed water.

But the raceway personnel have gone further, taking advantage of their popularity and reputation in the racing community to showcase new and innovative products. They are working to “power” other companies’ bottom lines as well as their own.

“When we engage potential sponsors in this program it’s important that the partnership demonstrates a link between sustainability and performance so there’s an education and lengthy process that goes into it. It’s a unique platform,” said Matt Ellis, director of business development.

Solar panels installed through a partnership with Panasonic, now power 41 percent of the raceway’s overall energy usage. The installation is one of Panasonic’s largest, and the company often brings visitors from countries like Brazil and Japan to study the technology.

Safety-Kleen, a leading provider of environmental services to commercial, industrial and automotive customers, now provides trackside support at the raceway. Through its oil recycling and refining services, Safety-Kleen ensures all cleaning solvents, oil, fluids and lubricants are recaptured and reused. The greenhouse gases captured through the reuse process at Sonoma Raceway and other tracks throughout the country are significant.

Another innovative company showcased through the raceway is Novvi, which now supplies the track with its latest line of biodegradable and renewable lubricants. Novvi Engine Oil, a high-performance oil made from plant sugars, is “drop-in” ready. It is the first producer of biodegradable and renewable-materials-based oils that can match the performance of the best petroleum-based products.

One last significant innovation comes from Amyris, an Emeryville company that supplies the raceway with renewable diesel, made by converting plant sugars into building blocks used for the fuel, as well as other traditionally petroleum-based products.

“Sustainability and performance are concepts that go hand in glove,” said Page, track president. “Our goal is for those in our industry to view Sonoma Raceway as the hub, where the latest in green performance technology can be tested and showcased.”

Changing the racing culture isn’t easy. As Ellis said, it takes time and education. But staff members at Sonoma Raceway are making it work and making money at the same time.

Jane Bender is president of the Center for Climate Protection.

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