Need To Know: Did The U.S. EPA Outlaw Converting Street Cars Into Racecars In 2016 Or Not?

  • In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed its interpretation of the Clean Air Act to outlaw the conversion of street cars into racecars.
  • The U.S. EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to prohibit any person from disabling, removing, or rendering inoperative emission controls on a motor vehicle. The question then becomes, is a racecar still a motor vehicle?
  • The Racing Enthusiasts and Suppliers Coalition (RESC) is asking a Federal Judge to decide if the EPA can outlaw the conversion of street cars into racecars. Its case directly challenges, in Federal Court, EPA’s assertion that those who design, sell, and install parts converting street vehicles into racecars are violating the law.

Do you love the automotive industry? I know I do. It’s responsible for shaping a lot of who I am. Like so many of us, I dreamt of getting my driver’s license long before I was legally able. In the time since, I’ve spent much of that time immersed in the automotive aftermarket world. Learned valuable life lessons along the way, including problem-solving, quick thinking, and budgeting. I’ve met a diverse melting pot of people from all cultures and formed my career through this passion. I’ve even taken it a step further to build a few of my very own cars for grassroots racing, an American pastime I’ve thoroughly enjoyed with my closest friends for years. But now, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to take all of that away from me — AND FROM YOU — by declaring that those who design, sell, and install parts converting street vehicles into racecars are violating the law. This would mean no more HPDEs, grassroots-level (and some Pro-Am) wheel-to-wheel racing, drag racing, drifting, gymkhana, autocross, rallycross, or any other performance automotive events unless you started with a body-in-white factory racecar with no legal VIN ($$$$). It also means most companies won’t be allowed to manufacture racing parts for street vehicles, so not only do you have to build a racecar from scratch, but you also have to fabricate every single part.

Luckily, the Racing Enthusiasts and Suppliers Coalition (RESC) is challenging the EPA in court to better understand and protect our right to convert street vehicles into racecars. To explain who this coalition is, what it’s trying to do, and why its efforts affect each of us in the automotive aftermarket, we sat down with the RESC co-chair, Jon Pulli.

First, let’s start with the Clean Air Act. What was the original intention of the U.S. EPA with this?
Jon Pulli, co-chair of RESC: The Clean Air Act (CAA) authorized the EPA to establish air quality standards to protect public health. Over the 50 years EPA had been regulating motor vehicles before the 2016 rule, it had been a long-accepted understanding that the CAA did not prohibit the conversion of certified vehicles into racecars used solely for competition on private closed courses.

In 2016, the EPA altered the interpretation of the Clean Air Act. What did they change it to say?
In 2015, EPA published a 600-plus-page proposed rule to set greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty on-road vehicles. Buried in that proposal, EPA proposed a revision of its stance on the competition exemption:

“EPA is proposing in 40 CFR 1037.601(a)(3) to clarify that the [CAA] does not allow any person to disable, remove, or render inoperative (i.e., tamper with) emission controls on a certified motor vehicle for purposes of competition. An existing provision in 40 CFR 1068.235 provides an exemption for nonroad engines converted for competition use. This provision reflects the explicit exclusion of engines used solely for competition from the CAA definition of “nonroad engine”. The proposed amendment clarifies that this part 1068 exemption does not apply for motor vehicles.”

SEMA realized the existence and importance of what EPA had proposed and objected during the EPA comment period. Following SEMA’s lead numerous opposing comments were filed, and in a marked shift from the proposal, EPA said it decided not to promulgate the proposed rule change stating:

“The proposal included a clarification related to vehicles used for competition to ensure that the [CAA] requirements are followed for vehicles used on public roads. This clarification is not being finalized. EPA supports motorsports and its contributions to the American economy and communities all across the country. EPA’s focus is not (nor has it ever been) on vehicles built or used exclusively for racing, but on companies that violate the rules by making and selling products that disable pollution controls on motor vehicles used on public roads. These unlawful defeat devices lead to harmful pollution and adverse health effects. The proposed language was not intended to represent a change in the law or in EPA’s policies or practices towards dedicated competition vehicles. Since our attempt to clarify led to confusion, EPA has decided to eliminate the proposed language from the final rule.

EPA will continue to engage with the racing industry and others in its support for racing, while maintaining the Agency’s focus where it has always been: Reducing pollution from the cars and trucks that travel along America’s roadways and through our neighborhoods.”

Breathing a sigh of relief because EPA’s decision appeared to support motorsports, the aftermarket industry relaxed. Yet, in the final rule, EPA did, in fact, make material but more subtle changes to several key regulatory provisions related to tampering—changes designed to cement in the rules EPA’s newfound view that motor vehicles cannot lawfully be converted into competition-use-only vehicles under any circumstances.

Who in the automotive industry does this directly affect?
Everyone who produces, supplies, or enjoys racing.

How will the trickle-down effect of this act’s new interpretation impact the future of automotive culture as we know it?
Modifying an EPA-certified internal combustion engine or vehicle in any way that increases emissions violates the CAA and exposes everyone involved to civil ($$) and criminal (jail) punishment regardless of your intended usage. It means that every form of amateur and professional racing involving a mass-produced car or engine must conform to federal emissions standards and be able to prove it.

RESC was explicitly formed to “Help Protect Racecars.” Alongside yourself, who are some of the members of RESC?
Many companies operating in the aftermarket today, all of whom are concerned with retaliation for seeking clarification and justification from the EPA. For this reason, I will not name any of them. If they want to name themselves, they can do so. Publicly only Greg Neuwirth and I have made statements.

Is RESC under scrutiny from the U.S. EPA? Is this just a response to being sued or put under fire for violations?
RESC is not being sued or investigated.

So, why was RESC formed, and what is the function of its petition?
Since its formation, RESC’s goal was to seek clarification on how businesses in the automotive aftermarket can do business while complying with the Clean Air Act (CAA) and avoiding the risk of EPA enforcement. Over the years, RESC and I have met with the EPA and tried to work constructively countless times only to be delayed, rebuffed, or ignored, all while the industry has been under immense, unrelenting enforcement pressure.

The core issue is whether it is a violation of the CAA to convert a street car into a racecar. The EPA views this as a violation and the basis for enforcement, while our entire industry believes it isn’t. Up until now, this has been made more confusing by the EPA using calculated and indirect language regarding racing. SEMA has focused on passing the RPM Act through Congress, validating the industry’s stance through law. RESC supports the RPM Act and SEMA but has chosen an alternative path that is not reliant on our Congress.
In December 2021, RESC filed a legal petition for review of a rule of the U.S. EPA in Federal court. This petition forces a panel of Federal Judges to decide, not the EPA, if it is legal to convert a street car into a racecar.

In response to our petition EPA has made its stance crystal clear:

• “The Clean Air Act prohibits tampering with motor vehicles, whether they are used for competition or not.”

• “it is illegal to ‘convert’ motor vehicles into ‘competition use-only vehicles.'”

• “No tampering with motor vehicles, and no exceptions for motor vehicles that race.”

Where can people read up on the different claims by the U.S. EPA that threaten their pastime, passion, livelihood, or hobby?
If you want to learn more, you should consider reading the public legal document for RESC’s case, which can be found here: Opening Brief filed by Petitioner RESC Answering Brief filed by EPA Reply Brief filed by Petitioner RESC

You can also see settlements the EPA has had with various companies here:

It is important to note that RESC’s sole focus is to protect the right to convert street cars into dedicated racecars that are not used on public roads. Many of the EPA’s enforcement efforts have focused on tampering with cars driven on public roads, which is clearly under their authority. The problem is, as the EPA has worked to root out tampering on street vehicles, they’ve gone so far that now the conversion of street cars into dedicated racecars is illegal. Killing an entire industry and passion for millions of Americans.

How can people get involved or help the cause?
RESC has created a GoFundMe allowing you to support this cause and, more importantly, show the depth of grassroots support behind racing. Even if you only give a few dollars, you are still making a statement that you care about the future of racing.

All of the proceeds from this fund go directly to an independent third-party treasurer who pays RESC’s law firms handling the petition directly. Neither I nor any RESC member has access to donated funds.

What is the next step for RESC?
Next for RESC will be oral arguments in a federal courtroom this summer, but only if we can obtain proper funding.

We’d like to thank Jon Pulli, co-chair of RESC, for taking the time to answer our questions and shed a little more information on this scary moment in our automotive aftermarket world. For more information on RESC or to donate to the cause, please visit the GoFundMe page, and please share it with your friends to help spread the word! Let’s all help save our racecars!