Each year, U.S. motorsports events are estimated to have more than 15 million people in attendance. That’s a lot of people. In terms of the industry, the global market for motorsports was predicted to be worth $4.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand to $7.8 billion by 2026. Suffice to say, motorsports are big in the U.S., and they have been for some time.
A small, but notable piece of the motorsports pie is the enthusiast racing scene, where amateurs and professionals alike race their souped-up vehicles to their heart’s content. While some might buy or build a purpose-built race car, a vast majority of individuals choose to upgrade and convert their street-legal vehicles into racing machines.
This process of converting street-legal cars and trucks into dedicated race vehicles is a decades-old American tradition – one that is maintained by an extremely passionate community. However, the future of street-to-track conversion is currently up in the air.
In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a draft rulemaking of the Clean Air Act (CAA) of 1970. The original legislation sought further development of the nation’s role in regulating and maintaining air pollution control by limiting emission from industrial sources and automotive sources; the EPA’s reinterpretation of the Act asserted that converting a vehicle that was designed for street use into a dedicated race car was in direct violation of the CAA.
After a massive public outcry over the EPA’s assertion, the organization attempted to diffuse the situation by saying their intention was to prevent the sale of parts that deactivated a given vehicle’s emission system. Despite the EPA ditching efforts to make the policy a formal regulation, it still contends that the practice of modifying the emission system of a motor vehicle for the purpose of converting it for racing is illegal.
In a legal proceeding last year, a representative from the EPA stated that “an EPA certified motor vehicle cannot become a non-road vehicle even if it is used exclusively for competition, because the definition of a motor vehicle hinges on the purpose of its design and not its use.” The wording in the EPA’s many statements can get muddy at times, but ultimately the motivation for the new policy making was to deter the tampering of emissions controls in vehicles that often need to be removed or altered for a vehicle to be upgraded to a racing standard.
“When the Clean Air Act was written in the late 1960s, members of Congress never intended for race cars to be subject to the law’s mandates,” says President of PRI, Dr. Jamie Meyer. “Unfortunately, lawmakers left enough ambiguity in the law for the EPA to assert that any vehicle produced after the CAA was enacted must remain emissions compliant for the life of the vehicle, even if it’s used solely for racing.”
Obviously, this targeting leads to a much greater problem in the automotive aftermarket industry in the area of manufacturing. Countless automotive shops and garages at the amateur and professional level sold and installed “emissions delete” kits to the buyers for street-to-track conversions before the EPA began cracking down on the services.
Although emissions-delete devices have always been illegal for street use, the EPA has ramped up reinforcement of them since the infamous Dieselgate scandal of 2015 when they determined Volkswagen had been intentionally programming its TDI diesel engines to activate emissions controls only during laboratory testing and not on the road. Since then, a handful of shops and manufacturers have been caught selling these delete devices.
The EPA’s principal concern is with the manufacturers and not the actual racers, as they’ve pointed out many times how there’s no concrete method of tracking if a “for competition only” product is being used on the track and not on the highway. The EPA estimates that more than 500,000 diesel pickup trucks have been “deleted” since 2009, most of them being daily-driver trucks and not race vehicles.
Even if the EPA started its attack by focusing on delete devices, their rhetoric has again moved closer to focusing on motorsports and street-to-track conversion. One statement from the agency declared that any vehicle that has ever had a VIN (vehicle identification number) is not allowed to have any “off-road” parts installed on it. Again, the wording and details get more than a little confusing, especially to someone who isn’t keen on politics.
Understandably, there are a lot of people in the community who fear being penalized for pursuing their passions and allowing for others to experience theirs. In such a huge industry, some are at risk for their livelihoods being legislated into non-existence. Luckily, this isn’t a one-sided fight.
“Racers and the motorsports parts industry recognize the threat, and all we’re asking for is clarity in federal law,” Dr. Meyer says.
Soon after the EPA’s initial rewriting of the Clean Air Act, the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act was drafted. Heavily backed by SEMA, the RPM Act has been presented to congress almost every year since its initial introduction in 2016.
Essentially, the RPM Act is seeking to revise the EPA’s Clean Air Act in order to make it legal for street cars to be modified (via emissions delete devices) if, and only if, they are fully converted to off-road race vehicles committed exclusively to competition. The bill’s most recent reintroduction to the House and Senate in 2021 reads as follows:
S.2736 – This bill authorizes the modification of a vehicle’s air emission controls for vehicles that are not legal for operation on a street or highway and are used solely for competition. In relation to the exemption of competition vehicles from anti-tampering provisions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is prohibited from creating or authorizing a database of vehicle registration information that is required to be consulted at the point of manufacture, sale, installation, or use of parts or components. Additionally, the EPA may not require the registration of a vehicle, or part or component of a vehicle, by the manufacturer, seller, purchaser, installer, or user of the vehicle. The regulation prescribed by the EPA regarding the exemption must include certain components, including a description of the reasonable conditions for the applicability of the exemption.
H.R.3281 – Section 203(a) of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7522(a)) is amended by adding at the end the following: “No action with respect to any device or element of design referred to in paragraph (3) shall be treated as a prohibited act under that paragraph if the action is for the purpose of modifying a motor vehicle into a vehicle that is not legal for operation on a street or highway and is to be used solely for competition.”
The bi-partisan bill is currently backed by 140 co-sponsors from a variety of states in both the House and Senate. The diverse support of the bill is good news, but it hasn’t been passed by either legislative body yet. Co-sponsors ultimately mean nothing in the actual process of making a bill become law, but bills with more co-sponsors are usually given a higher priority, which expedites the process. The fact that the RPM Act is being considered in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate is also great news, putting it in a great position for passage.
“With over 9,000 bills currently introduced in the 2021-2022 session of Congress, the RPM Act is in the top 1% of the most bipartisan bills under consideration by lawmakers in DC,” says Eric Snyder, SEMA’s Director of Congressional Affairs. “Over 150 total members of Congress have co-sponsored the RPM Act. Racing is enjoyed by both Republicans and Democrats, which is one of the reasons so many lawmakers from each party support the RPM Act.
“This year is an election year, and we must continue to remind members of Congress that the RPM Act is the most important issue to the racing community and is something that we will consider when we cast our ballot this fall.”
SEMA and other motorsports bodies have been heavily encouraging their audiences to write letters to their elected officials to draw more attention and support for the bill. As of late last year, American’s had sent 1.5 million letters to their representatives urging them to support the bill. That number has undoubtedly grown in the months since.
It’s important to note that the RPM Act is not intended to and will not interfere with the EPA’s authority to enforce against individuals who illegally install race parts on vehicles driven on public roads and highways and the companies that market such products. SEMA has made it clear that this is still a direct violation of the Clean Air Act.
“Once the RPM Act is enacted into law, the EPA will be tasked with drafting regulations to implement the law,” Dr. Meyer says. “SEMA and PRI will play an integral role in working with the EPA to ensure that regulations offer a reasonable approach for businesses to demonstrate that the products they produce, sell and install are being used exclusively on the track.”
The RPM Act is a protection for the amateur and professional motorsports lovers across the country, because even though the EPA is not currently targeting the actual owners for emission-deleted vehicles and only the manufacturers, their reinterpretation of the Clean Air Act could lead to further regulatory decisions in the future. Who’s to say that five or 10 years from now, the EPA won’t take offense from the actual drivers and start fining or seizing vehicles? The RPM Act will make sure nothing like that happens, and that one of America’s greatest pastimes will continue to live on.
We encourage all of our readers to first and foremost spread the word about the RPM Act and continue talking about this topic, as well as contact their elected officials on this matter. Readers who would like to send a message can easily do this through sema.org. Protect your right to race! EB