Veggie Power

Professional racer Randy Pobst is a nice guy and all, but you don’t have to be Al Gore to see that he’s left a pretty big carbon footprint on the planet. Just check out his credentials: 30 years of competition, two victories at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, and 70-plus professional wins plus seven pro titles. On average he runs more than 30 pro races per year to the tune of several thousand track miles.

However, Randy is doing something to atone for his sins: His daily driver is powered by vegetable oil, not dead dinosaurs. Yes, Randy Pobst drives a grease car.

Randy has long been associated with Volkswagens. When he started road racing professionally back in 1985, it was with a VW Golf. More recently, he signed on as the lead driver for the APR Motorsport Koni Challenge endurance team. Their stable features a small fleet of turbocharged VW GTIs. (His other regular ride also comes from Germany, as Randy drives the K-PAX Porsche 911 in SCCA Speed World Challenge competition; together they’re the reigning series champs.)

For the last few years, Randy has traveled about the land in a 2002 VW Jetta TDI. It might not be as sexy as his race cars, but it’s actually a speedy, high-powered materialization of his Earth-friendly beliefs. These views might be at odds with his career, but don’t call it hypocrisy.

Randy is just trying to balance his values with a lifelong passion. As he says, “Use less gas—save it for racing.” And if you doubt that green machines can hit apexes with the best of the gas-guzzlers, Randy’s Jetta will change your mind.

“I’m environmentally conscious,” Randy explains. “I try not to waste any natural resources. Even though I race cars, I can at least not use any more fuel than I have to.”

The “Powered by Vegetable Oil” sticker displayed on his rear window is about as loudly as Randy shouts about his environmental concerns. With his racing fame, he hopes to set an example of how small contributions can benefit the Earth. (Randy’s vegetarianism is also partially motivated by environmental issues.)

He’s not afraid to take a solid stance for resource conservation and reducing dependence on foreign oil, either. “We’re learning the same lessons they’ve learned in Europe. Smaller cars, smaller houses—smaller meals!” he says.

His inspiration for this project came along with a bit of betrayal, but hey, it’s all in the name of Mother Earth. “Even though I had a contract driving for Mazda [at the time], I read an article about a conversion you can do on a diesel car. I thought that sounded really cool. Unfortunately, Mazda didn’t make any diesel cars. The only logical choice really was the VW.”

So, what does a grease car do for the environment? For one, it drastically reduces the amount of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere. Another pro-veggie argument goes a little something like this: The carbon in petroleum-based fuel is safely sequestered underground until it’s burned, releasing harmful carbon into the atmosphere. Vegetable oil comes from plants, which convert carbon dioxide to friendly, life-giving oxygen. Therefore, on the whole, plant-based fuel is a cleaner source.

A Jetta, but Betta

A guy who spends almost a dozen weekends per year piloting a 400-plus-horsepower Porsche GT3 Cup race car isn’t going to be happy with a stock Jetta. APR Tuning made sure Randy didn’t have to settle.

The shop specializes in hopping up VWs, Audis and Porches, and they treated the diesel-engine Jetta with the works: a full suspension kit—lowered springs, Koni shocks, BBS wheels and Michelin tires.

Although the Jetta’s engine is still mostly stock, it isn’t all bad news. Even though diesel engines aren’t known for being rev-happy, they make a ton of torque. “Gas engines rev up better,” Randy explains, noting how most diesels top out before 5000 rpm. However, diesels can have an edge. “They have more bottom-end grunt at lower engine speeds and will pull much harder,” he continues.

Diesels can also post some impressive mileage figures. “I’ve never made 50 miles per gallon, but I’ve made 49.7 twice,” Randy boasts. “The lowest was 35—and I was towing a motorcycle trailer at 80 mph on the highway!” These numbers are roughly the same whether the car is running on diesel or veggie fuel.

Randy’s VW is outfitted with a conversion kit from Greasecar Vegetable Fuel Systems. The system employs two tanks: One is the original diesel tank, and the other is strictly for straight vegetable oil. SVO is too viscous to be injected into a diesel engine, so a heating system first warms the SVO fuel tank, lines and fuel filter, thinning the fuel.

The car runs on diesel fuel during startup when the SVO is too cool. When the SVO reaches the ideal temperature, the driver flips a toggle switch in the cabin to run on SVO. During shutdown, the driver flips the switch back to diesel to prevent the SVO from cooling in the engine and mucking up the works.

Algoraphobic

For some people, environmentalism is about as interesting as Al Gore whipping a projection screen with a collapsible metal pointer (any details beyond that are too blurry to decipher). Still, grease offers benefits that have nothing to do with politics.

If you’ve gotten your hands on this magazine, chances are you’re interested in saving some cash. “A Grassroots reader is aware of the price of fuel,” Randy says. “If you think it’s still 1961 and we can do whatever we want, even if you don’t care about the environment, the price of fuel is going up.”

Good news: Driving grease reduces the cost of fuel dramatically. The initial cost of a conversion kit like Randy’s is $995, leaving only the cost of minimal diesel fuel and a bulk-sized bottle of vegetable oil every now and then—Randy Pobst picks up five-gallon jugs of soybean oil from Costco. Also, there’s the option of collecting the leftover frying oil from restaurants. Since this saves them the hassle of disposing of the oil, they’ll usually part with it for free. Free fuel? Not bad.

Secondly, grease car setups are technically interesting. If you like to play with parts, installing a kit could be right up your alley. And the system in action is quite fascinating.

Pobst digs it—he thinks the heating system is especially cool, as it’s simple yet ingenious. “The coolant is run through heating coils. Hot water goes through copper tubing and heats the SVO in the tank,” he marvels. “The fuel line that runs from the veggie tank to the engine is a really neat little combination that puts the fuel line inside the coolant line. The fuel filter is also warmed by engine coolant before it shoots in the engine.”

Finally, grease cars appeal to do-it-yourself-ers. What could be more grassroots than acquiring your own fuel, filtering it yourself, and filling up completely independent of a gas station?

Greasing the Way

The grease car is currently an eager acceleration in the right direction for environmental sustainability. Still, it’s not the final solution. Can you imagine your grandmother converting to an SVO system and filtering her own waste oil? Also, what kinds of resources are needlessly used to produce vegetable oil? Randy sees wind power as a popular future energy source.

As for his career, Randy says he would love to race a biofuel car. “I’ve actually made some inquiries into that for 25 Hours of Thunderhill. I was interested in winning that race overall on biofuel.” Until then, he’s looking forward to the coming of modern direct injection turbodiesels, which provide more power and better gas mileage. “It’s like having your cake and eating it, too.”

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Comments

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TiggerWelder
TiggerWelder New Reader
8/25/14 3:13 p.m.

While I applaud Randy for his stand, a gentleman in Charlotte was fined heavily for doing this exact thing. That tote of canola oil at costco is not tax paid fuel. Using it was at that time considered a major no-no. There was an effort to change that, but I don't know where it went.
How much diesel did it take to grow and process the oil bearing veggie? Is it really a net plus? Many cooking oil suppliers are now requiring their customers to return the oil, as they sell it to commercial biodiesel producers to meet the Al Gore inspired minimums of "renewable" resources.
I would love to see more about the total footprint than just the local ones. They call plug in hybrids or totally electric cars zero emmisions. No they aren't! There is a smoke stack at the power plant that is your emmisions, and no tree hugger wants to admit to supporting a nuke station for their car motivation. I like it, and want to see more of this, but let's get the whole picture, not just the pretty parts!

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