Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz puts up self-imposed carbon fee during first Indy Lights season

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Aaron Telitz’s racing career has always been a little bit unconventional and outside-the-box. The free thinking native of Birchwood, Wis. now living in Minnesota is a rare mid-20-year-old veteran (he turns 26 in December) on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, works at a golf course and knits when he’s not driving, has family ties to the Boston Red Sox and the birth of the national anthem at sporting events, and is an avid Star Wars fanatic.

But the 2016 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion and two-time race winner in his maiden season of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition this year opted to pay it forward in another unconventional but smart way: giving back to the environment with a self-imposed carbon fee.

An idea was developed between Telitz and Wisconsin Citizen’s Climate Lobby chapter leader Dan Herscher, that would see Telitz keep track of the fuel and tires used throughout a season at Belardi Auto Racing (roughly 60 sets of tires) and pay the fee depending on how much used to offset the emissions.

The results, and the ultimate low cost, were staggering.

By the CCL base number of $15 per ton of CO2 emissions, the fee imposed for the year was only $224, which covered 10 weekends and 16 races.

Telitz released the study in partnership with CCL about a month after the season ended and explained to NBC Sports how important this initiative was.

“We’d chatted about different ways to help combat climate change and lower emissions,” Telitz told NBC Sports. “Citizen’s Climate Lobby’s main mission … puts a price on carbon.

“So we thought it would be a fun and good way to show how much this would actually cost, contrary to beliefs this would be a ‘bad idea’ or would ‘price people way out of their price range.’ I’d donate whatever fee was based on emissions from on-track activity to donate to Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

“We used that number, and it only came out to $224. That kind of goes to show you in Indy Lights, where budgets are $1 million or more, $224 for an on-track carbon fee isn’t much.”

Herscher added how surprised he was the number was as low as it was.

“The coolest thing for me was when we added it all up, all the fuel and tires, I was bracing for it to be over $1000. It was just over $200,” Herscher told NBC Sports. “That was an amazing result, so putting a carbon fee in place isn’t going to break the bank.

“Taking that result and having this experiment work, means doing well for the environment won’t kill everything. We couldn’t quite do the dividends part. But if we did this nationwide, yeah prices would go up a little bit, but the dividends check would come back. It’s not as scary as most people assume.”

Further information about the carbon fee and dividend is linked here, via CCL’s website.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The amount of fuel and tire usage per weekend didn’t vary too much, Telitz said. A big oval will naturally use more fuel than a road or street course given the long straights, but it’s offset by lower stress and usage of tires. And as Indy Lights races are no-stop sprints with only one fuel tank and set of tires used in a race, if you’re using more than that in a day, it’s not been a good day.

Inspiration from Stefan Wilson’s solar energy push within racing was part of the reason for this new event, Herscher said.

“When Aaron and I talked about ideas, we talked with Stefan given he’s done a lot with solar,” he said. “Here, we wanted to draw attention to the what the carbon fee and dividend could be as far as a nationwide policy.”

Essentially the goal here is to illustrate how much could be saved by trying to avoid as much fossil fuel usage as possible down the road by giving back, and adding more cost to companies which produce too many CO2 emissions. As Herscher explained, the way CO2 emissions are emanating into the atmosphere, it’s as if the Earth is being treated as a natural garbage dump.

“One thing Aaron and I talked about is the rationale for a carbon fee,” Herscher said. “You don’t to get to throw your garbage anywhere; not on the side of the road for instance. That costs someone else money.

“But we treat the atmosphere like an open dump, and pretending like it doesn’t have a cost. The price doesn’t include damage to environment. That’s the point of the carbon fee, is to factor that cost into everyone’s decisions when they buy things.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Telitz said raising awareness was a big key of the yearlong project, and he’s also received inquiries from other racing teams about doing something similar and donating to another outlet – it does not have to be the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

“You have to look up what a carbon fee and dividend would do,” Telitz said. “Hopefully politicians will say, ‘Hey, this is a good idea.’ It’s a great way to get energy companies to get away from using fossil fuels. So this will hit coal, natural gas, and carbon-emitting fuels. And so it’ll get them in the direction of using renewable fuel sources.”

With some forms of racing having already explored alternative fuel forms, namely ethanol blends, hybrid technology, electric technology, or even hydrogen-powered technology, it’s apparent fossil fuels won’t be around forever to power racing cars.

And for Telitz, who is working on securing a return to Indy Lights for a sophomore season after staying fresh with both Pro Mazda and USF2000 testing at last month’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, getting ahead of the curve here is key to furthering his own career while giving back a little bit to the environment as a result.

“For me to be an advocate, you have to put your money where your mouth is,” he said. “I’m driving a racecar operating on high-powered fuel. There’s a place for racing even in a world while we’re trying to erase CO2 emissions.

“So racing isn’t going to cost that much in terms of if you pay for the carbon fee. That should take the fear out of it.

“Racing will always be there. We’ve raced horses for years, and then as the joke goes, from the time there was the first car, there was the second, and so there goes car racing. This is a way to show racing will exist in a way beyond fossil fuels going away.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

3-time NHRA champ Larry Dixon gives back to save lives on the streets

Photo courtesy Larry Dixon Racing
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Three-time NHRA Top Fuel champ Larry Dixon is a man on a new mission: to save lives on the streets and highways as perhaps the fastest driving instructor in the world.

Because he’s not currently hurtling down a dragstrip at 330 mph on the NHRA national tour, Dixon is at a point where it was time for him to give back and help youngsters the way so many individuals helped him in his own life and career.

Much like when he became the protege of mentor Don “Snake” Prudhomme – first as a crew member and then as Prudhomme’s hand-picked choice to replace him when he retired as a driver – Dixon is now imparting some of his vast knowledge behind the wheel upon thousands of impressionable teens and young adults around the country.

Dixon recently signed on as an instructor with fellow former Top Fuel champ Doug Herbert’s nationally renowned B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe) driver safety training program. Since Herbert formed the free, non-profit program in 2008 to honor the memory of sons Jon and James, who were both killed in a tragic car crash, B.R.A.K.E.S. has trained over 35,000 students across the U.S. and five countries to be better and safer drivers.

MORE: Drag racer Doug Herbert turns son’s deaths into program that has helped over 35,000 teens

After putting two of his own teen children through Herbert’s program (with a third child to go through the program soon), Dixon was so impressed with the training that his kids received that he told his old buddy he wanted to become involved with B.R.A.K.E.S.

“I’ve known Doug since we were in high school,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We both worked at a chain of speed shops in Southern California, Doug at one in Orange County and me at one in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. We came up together racing Alcohol cars and Top Fuel cars kind of along the same lines. That’s how long I’ve known Doug.

Photo: Larry Dixon Racing

“I ran my son through the course a couple years ago when it came through Indianapolis (where Dixon and his family now live), and then my daughter signed up for a class a couple months ago, and that kind of got the talk going because I’m not on the (NHRA national event) tour now and I’ve got more time and the conversation just snowballed and here I am.

“I obviously believe in the deal if I ran my own kids through the system. The program is very methodical but still personal. When you put the kids in the car, you’ve got one instructor and three students, so they’re getting taught one-on-one almost.”

Even though he’s been driving for nearly 40 years, Dixon, 52, readily admits with a chuckle, “I’ve even learned things from the program already, which shows you’re never too old to learn.”

In a more serious vein, Dixon said from his perspective as both an instructor and a parent of two of the program’s graduates is how parents are so vital to the program’s impact.

“It’s mandatory that when you’re running a student through the program that at least one parent or guardian is also there, so the message you’re teaching the teens, you have to rely on the parent to not only be on the same page as what we’re teaching, but to also drive that message home for the rest of their lives.”

Dixon isn’t teaching students to drive 330 mph or to become aspiring drag racers. On the contrary. Dixon is right at home giving instructions on how students can avoid incidents or accidents on streets and highways at speeds typically between 30 and 50 mph.

“It’s more impactful as far as your legacy,” Dixon said of his motivation to teach. “Obviously, I’ve won a lot of races, but what I have to show for those wins are trophies but they’re in the basement, and if you don’t dust them, they get dusty.

“What I’m doing with B.R.A.K.E.S., you’re making a difference for people hopefully for the rest of their lives, and that’s bigger. I remember when I first got my own racing license. The first day I had my license, I was a race car driver but I wasn’t a great race car driver right away, I just had a license. It took a lot of years and a lot of runs and laps down the racetrack to be able to be good.

“It’s the same thing with a driver’s license. You go through the driver’s education course and such and they hand you your license, but that doesn’t make you a great driver. It takes a lot of road time to be able to get that experience. And the great thing about this course is you’re trying to ramp up that experience and put the teens in situations ahead of time so that when they’re in the real world, they’ll know how to react to them.

Larry Dixon is interviewed recently during his debut as a driving instructor for B.R.A.K.E.S. Photo courtesy B.R.A.K.E.S.

“These cars nowadays have so many safety features on them, but they don’t get taught. When you go through a basic driver’s education course, they don’t teach you that you can slam on the brakes and if you have an ABS (anti-lock) brake system, let alone how to use it, so that’s part of what we’re running the kids through. It lets them speed up and then slam on the brakes and feeling what ABS does and that a car isn’t going to spin out or flip over like you might see in a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. Most people don’t know what you can do with a car and how great cars will take care of you as long as they use the tools you’re supplied with.”

Dixon has already taught three different classes in the last month, with five more sessions scheduled primarily in the Midwest in the coming months. You can immediately hear the passion and self-satisfaction he’s getting from being a teacher.

“I really do enjoy it,” Dixon said. “You get to see the difference you can make in someone’s lives. When you get them on a skid course and they’re learning how to get out of a spin or slide, they’re having fun but also learning a valuable lesson.

“After they’ve taken the course, they have a bounce in their step and know and understand cars better and have a good time doing it. That’s what Doug has done, out of his tragedy, he’s really making a difference in other people’s lives. We’re not trying to turn the kids into Mario Andretti or anything like that … just to be better and safer drivers.”

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