High Gas Prices Don't Deter NASCAR Fans

This past weekend, 150,000 loyal NASCAR fans spent $3 a gallon to drive to the Phoenix International Raceway to watch cars that consume $5 a gallon in racing fuel.

Three things were on the minds of those who attended the event -- the race, partying and the high price of gasoline.

"I used to pay about 40 bucks to fuel up," said one man filling his recreational vehicle at a nearby gas station. "Now it's about $55, $60."

Like most motorists, those who came to the race felt the pinch of high-cost gasoline. But these are car fans, and they're not ready to sacrifice their gas-guzzling motor homes and SUVs.

Mark Ostrow drove his $250,000 motor home from San Diego, where gas prices are among the highest in the nation. His tank holds 100 gallons, and he paid about $3.15 a gallon when he gassed up before driving to Phoenix.

He figured the cost of the trip was about $265. "I got about 7.9 miles per gallon," he said.

When asked whom he blamed, he said it wasn't the Middle Eastern suppliers of oil but the American companies that refined it into gasoline. "I'm boycotting Exxon-Mobil, because that's the largest company, and they have had huge record profits," he said.

Native son and presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, who made a political "pit stop" in Pheonix, picked up on that theme. "I think Americans are understandably upset when they see that the former CEO of Exxon-Mobil made $400 million or something obscene," he told a packed news conference.

McCain later told ABC News he thought ethanol was a possible solution. "When oil was $10 a barrel, ethanol didn't make any sense," he said. "Now, with oil at $70 a barrel, ethanol is a viable option."

Making the Budget Add Up

Some of those who brought their families to the race said they would cut back on travel this summer. One young mother said it was all about choices. "It's whether you're going to take that trip to California or whether you're going to take that trip to Las Vegas or not," she said. "Gas prices are high!"

An elderly woman said she was conserving by changing her driving habits. "I ride my motorcycle a lot more than driving my truck," she said. "A lot better gas mileage."

Others said they would eat out less. Marsha Swink, from Aurora, Colo., said she was cutting down on souvenirs. "We buy T-shirts for everybody at home. Usually that's around $200. This year, I just spent 60," she explained.

But the vast majority of people we talked to at the raceway said they would not abandon their fuel-inefficient vehicles or NASCAR no matter how much gasoline cost.

Roofing contractor Paul Rich from Phoenix, who proudly showed off his huge motor home, said, "These people are committed to their vehicles, and they're still going to drive. They may slow down some but they're still going to drive."

Another man was more emphatic. "You can ask 20 bucks a gallon, and there will still be people here at NASCAR. I'm serious!" he said.

Racing cars use leaded gasoline with an octane rating of 112. Sunoco, the biggest supplier of racing fuel, charges about $5 dollars a gallon. But that's not the only increased cost for those who race for a living.

Jay Frye, general manager of Team MB-2, says there are a lot of other fuel-related expenses. "We use air travel to fly our drivers around the country, and we use tractor trailers to bring our cars out here, that's the two biggest issues we have right now with fuel costs," he said.

Team MB-2's fuel costs increased by about 35 percent in the last year. The cost of tires, which are petroleum based, has also increased.

Still, none of that seemed to deter the fans.

As eight cars piled up on the speedway below, one fan in the stands leaned over and repeated what has become the NASCAR mantra. "NASCAR isn't just a sport," he said. "It's a lifestyle."