Michigan's Addiction to Motor Sports

In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush called for Americans to reduce their gasoline consumption by 20% in the next decade or so. Coming from a Texas oil man, this must a sign that we are in deep do-do, not just in Iraq and the Middle East in general, but that the USA is bound to end up on the skids as long as we are importing 60% of what we are already using. Yet this appeal arrived just as gas prices are now hovering around $2 a gallon rather than $3, and the snow that finally seems it is going to be around awhile all but guaranteed the running of the annual "Sno-drift" sports-cars rally over here in Montmorency Co. And, sure enough, the snow quickly brought out bevies of snowmobilers—some of whom reportedly tried to outrun the sports-cars and even interrupted the running of one segment of the race! All this got me wondering. Just how much of this looming crisis is due to our addiction to various motor sports? This in turn drove me to surf the internet for some statistics. What I turned up is very interesting. A 70-some page study commissioned by the US Department of Transportation back in 1999 estimated that Michigan off-road sports use about 72.3 millions of fuel per year. The biggest portion (37.9 million gallons) is used by off-road use of light-trucks and SUVs. The next biggest portion (23.5 million gallons) is consumed by snowmobiles. Dirt bikes and ATVs in Michigan use up a combined total of about 11 million gallons. Overall, our sum totals — except for snowmobile use — are exceeded only by California, a state with about five times as many inhabitants. Only Wisconsin and Minnesota come close to consuming up as much gas each winter as does Michigan when it comes to snowmobiles. All this has to be balanced, of course, by the total consumption of gasoline in our state. According to an official 2000 State of Michigan report, 4.84 billion gallons of gasoline were sold in Michigan. So unless my calculator is out of whack, I come out with something like only 1.5% of Michigan’s gasoline consumption is due to off-road recreational use. But then think again. How much of the rest is consumed by monster pickups and SUVs hauling trailers filled with snowmobiles or ATVs up north each weekend from downstate? Consider also that your typical snowmobile only gets 12-15 miles per gallon — about half as much as a compact pickup or a newer fuel-efficient SUV. Then consider this: a lot of snowmobile riding, at least here-abouts, is done on dirt roads with most of them having only one rider, or at most two, aboard. In contrast, a compact car can carry up to four passengers in comfort on the same road. So this means that using a snowmobile to cruise the back roads is using anywhere from two to eight times less efficient than using a car to do the same, depending how many passengers you take along. So let's get serious. It seems to me that if we are to be true patriots and answer the President's call, we've got some do some hard thinking about what we consider really beneficial sport or recreation. Using up a lot of gas to go some place to use up even more gas hardly seems to make much sense in the face of the needs of the future.

R W Kropf 1/24/07