The way Pocono Raceway President Brandon Igdalsky sees it, his facility's three-year-old trailblazing Green campaign was part necessity, part opportunity and a whole lot of just doing what's right.
While the entire NASCAR industry has spent the past month showcasing and stepping up its commitment to the sport's Race to Green initiative, Pocono Raceway has been a factor for years -- an example of what's possible not only for other NASCAR facilities, but also for any sports franchise or facility.
From a one-of-a-kind, on-site solar farm to a goal of 100 percent sustainability to an E-waste recycling event, compost program and even a flock of sheep herding on property, Pocono Raceway has been first among sports facilities to NASCAR Green's checkered flag.
This past weekend Pocono Raceway and NASCAR participated in an emotional tree planting -- donating 8,000 seedlings -- on the grounds of the Flight 93 National Memorial -- a national park in Southwestern Pennsylvania established to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the United States.
"There were a lot of neighbors and people in our county alone who were either killed in the events of 9/11 or had family members killed,'' Igdalsky said of Pocono Raceway's three-year involvement with the memorial. "There's a large New York population here, tens of thousands of people that commute to New York City every day for work, and a lot of them worked in the Trade Towers.
"It hit this area as hard as it hit New York just because how many people from this area work in New York or are from New York or still have family in New York.
"For us to be able to give back to those families and to the nation, from that horrific day, aside from the Green elements, it's just the right thing to do and a feel-good event. For me, a little selfishly, it makes me feel like I'm doing something for a much greater cause -- you could say, planting the future."
It's this mindset that has driven Igdalsky to embark on one of the most ambitious environmentally minded initiatives in sports.
As of this week, Pocono Raceway's 25-acre solar farm had produced 10.2 million kilowatt hours, a number that is literally changing by the second. The power generated is enough for 58,000 60-watt light bulbs being used eight hours a day for one year.
The 2010 Fall Pocono race became the first sporting event completely powered by renewable energy, and the solar grid still provides enough energy to power an additional 1,000 homes. The carbon offsets created from the system is equivalent to the emissions of 106,000 propane barbecue grills. And, according to Igdalsky, the current system of panels is projected to last another 25-30 years before needing to be replaced.
All in all, not bad for an idea generated in part because of a pressing need to find an alternative energy source. The state of Pennsylvania was deregulating power in various regions in 2009 and Igdalsky wanted to not only avoid a massive increase in energy costs, but also to use the situation as an opportunity to be creative and most importantly, green.
After many consultations and presentations, solar energy looked like the perfect fit.
And ? Pocono Raceway just happened to have an unused 25-acre parking lot across the street from the track available for the endeavor.
"We didn't set out to do a project as big as we ended up doing,'' Igdalsky said. "But when we went to my grandfather with the original plan, he looked at us and said, 'What can you do if you use the parking lots across the street?'
"We all sat back and said, 'whoa, we can go pretty big.' And that's what we did. We went as big as it could get legally here in Pennsylvania.
"It's been a great project to be a part of and exciting to be a leader not only in racing, but in sports in general when it comes to renewable energy and it's been a fun.''
While Igdalsky is certainly very proud of the facility and always thinking of new ways to invigorate and innovate, he hopes it will be a shining example for others. His young children, for example, are growing up among a generation that sees recycling, renewable fuel and alternative energy as proven concepts, not abstract potential.
"Facilities from around the world have contacted me about sustainability in sports and renewable energy, specifically,'' Igdalsky said. "We're showing the world it can be done, and it works."
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