By Fraser Porteous
University of Strathclyde
Growing up, I found myself spending large amounts of time playing games like ‘Gran Turismo’ with my friends. Those that have either owned a PlayStation games console, or have a child who does, will probably be aware that this is a mainstream car-racing game. For several years, I’ve dreamed of going to a racing event, but have never actually gotten round to doing it.
When we arrived at the office last week, we were invited to join two of our colleagues on a trip to the state of Iowa to visit Gordon Wassenaar, a farmer in Prairie City. The main purpose of this trip was to assist with filming work on the farm, but there was an added benefit for me. With the farm being around six hours north of St Louis, we travelled on Saturday and, as luck would have it, the Corn Indy 250 was in town at the Iowa Speedway!
The Iowa Corn Indy 250 is slightly different from a regular race, in that the cars are more environmentally-friendly. This is due to the fact that, in 2006, the INDYCAR Racing league made the decision to switch to ethanol. According to the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the league has saved approximately 20,000 gallons of fuel each season since making the move. In addition to this significant resource and cost reduction, ethanol use has also provided benefits to the farmers who produce it.
Prior to the start of the race, we had the opportunity to research the chosen fuel by visiting one of the exhibits outside the stadium. This year, the cars made their first appearance using E85, an ethanol-blended fuel containing 85% ethanol and just 15% gasoline. This fuel can be found at more than 160 fuel stations throughout Iowa, thus allowing consumers to use the fuel as well. I believe that empowering consumers to use ethanol fuel in their day-to-day lives is hugely important, as its usage will have large-scale benefits to the environment.
So what did I think of my first live racing experience? First, the atmosphere was incredible. Back in Scotland, I enjoy the atmosphere when attending a football/soccer match, but this was on a new level. Mid-afternoon, we experienced some of the heaviest rain that I’ve ever seen in my life (which I am told is perfectly normal here in the American Midwest), and suddenly conversations started about the main event that night being cancelled. However, with around two hours to go until race-time, the track staff began working to dry the track using an array of vans, tractors and cars. This was an element of racing that I’d never considered before, and it was amazing to watch.
The race itself was fantastic, but my fellow intern Linda Newman and I were both slightly disappointed with the finish. We were expecting a dramatic high-speed finish but instead, due to one of the drivers experiencing technical difficulties, the race finished after lap 248 and the cars were ushered around the track for their final two laps.
But to finish the night, we were treated to one of the things that America is famous for – a fireworks display.
On Sunday, we spent the morning at Gordon’s farm in Prairie City. This was extremely interesting as it gave us an insight into the perspective and operations of a corn grower. Gordon has spent his entire life on his farm, as he was born into a farming family. This has allowed him to watch and experience how the world of agriculture has changed over the years, and he was one of the first supporters of biotech seeds.
This was the second farm that I’ve visited during my time at Monsanto, and it’s amazing how I’ve managed to take different thoughts, feelings and emotions away from each visit. Agriculture is a very diverse business.
Fraser is interning this summer at Monsanto through a program hosted by the Saltire Foundation.
Photograph: Fraser at the Indy Corn 250.