Yesterday, Gearhead-Americans were alarmed to learn that, buried in a massive, 600+ page EPA document called Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles–Phase 2 was a clarification to a rule that could, potentially, let the EPA restrict emissions on street cars transformed into track-only race cars. If you’re wondering what’s going on, and what you can do about it, we’re here to help.

First, regarding what’s going on, I know it’s been very confusing. There’s been articles from almost every major automotive outlet either counseling panic or offering eye-rolling disregard. The aftermarket trade association SEMA brought this to everyone’s attention, and their stance is among the most alarmed. Some news outlets suggested it’s nothing, and I was, frankly, just confused. So where does the truth lie, and what should you do?

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While it’s not total war against race cars, we don’t think it’s entirely nothing, either, and if you care about amateur racing, like LeMons, Spec Miata, AER, ChumpCar and more, you probably should do something.

We explain all this in detail here, but in a nutshell what’s going on is that the EPA is claiming that they’ve always considered modifying the emissions systems on cars, even ones used exclusively on the track, to be illegal, and this current update to their rules is just clarifying that cars designed solely for competition (as in not street-driven or registered cars) are not exempt.

SEMA, which represents a $36 billion parts industry, disagrees. They say historically the Clean Air Act has not regulated emissions on such cars, and they fear the rule change could impact how race cars are built—or, to be more honest about their concerns, how the parts industry’s bottom line could take a hit.

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To be fair, it’s still quite unlikely that the EPA would ever raid a LeMons race and slap fines on owners of shitbox Geo Metros held together with rust and mucus. As they themselves said in a statement:

The EPA remains primarily concerned with cases where the tampered vehicle is used on public roads, and more specifically with aftermarket manufacturers who sell devices that defeat emission control systems on vehicles used on public roads.

So, really, if you don’t drive your ChumpCar to take your spouse out for Dim Sum, you’re probably fine. Plus, the car you have at this moment is okay, as the rule wouldn’t take effect until 2018. But if you buy or sell aftermarket racing parts (like the members of SEMA) you are likely to be boned.

The EPA is trying to play this down, but make no mistake—this does matter if you want to enjoy amateur racing that involves racecars made from former street cars. Even if the chances of an individual, or even a whole racing league getting in trouble are slim, the point is that on the books, non-street legal cars used in LeMons races will be considered in violation of emissions laws, and there’s no way that can be seen as beneficial for non-professional racing.

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Grassroots racing is a fantastic thing, and, while growing, the volume of pollution produced by the cars and races is minuscule compared to what, say, garbage trucks produce in one week from a handful of major American cities. It’s just not a target that makes any sense to crack down on.

Hell, if anything, the transition from old, shitty street car to racing car takes heavy polluting vehicles out of daily use and converts them to occasionally-run racecars for, let’s be honest, a likely limited time before the over-eager driver cooks it too hard in a corner and rolls the shitbox.

That’s a net benefit to the environment, and the car got to go out like a racecar, every car’s dream. It’s win-win.

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Odds are this rule will get 86'd through the lobbying process and public comments before it becomes a final, legally binding rule. But the latter can’t happen if enthusiasts don’t get involved. The EPA needs to know that cracking down on amateur racing is not something that we’ll accept without a fight, no matter how innocuous they claim these rules are. So what can we do?

Most of those online petition sites don’t really do much. There’s been dozens of whitegouse.gov petitions over the years to kill the 25-year import ban, and Barack Obama still hasn’t given us the Nissan Skylines we demand. (The bastard.)

Instead, and happily, our very own government has a system in place for the public to comment on the proposed new rules, and in these comments, we can explain, loudly and confidently, that these changes are insipid and benefit no one, and have a real economic, cultural, and quality-of-life cost for the businesses that have developed around racing and the many, many voting participants in these races.

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To comment, you’ll want to go here, to the Federal Register, first. There you can find the full text of the proposal, and can find and cite the 40 CFR 1037.601(a)(3) section that’s hoping to exclude competition cars from the 40 CFR 1068.235 nonroad competition use exemption. It can’t hurt to be specific.

Then, you’ll go here, to Regulations.gov, and if you follow that link there that will take you to the specific page for the EPA document in question.

There, you’ll see this comment button:

Click there, and it’ll take you to the comment page. Follow the instructions from there, and feel free to copy and paste from our articles on this if that helps. At this moment, the document has nearly 225,000 comments, so let’s try and get that number up even higher so there’s no way the feds can ignore this.

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Hopefully, if enough of us express concern at this proposal, and the overall lack of respect for small-scale racing that it represents, we will be able to stop this in its tracks before it can potentially cause the racing community any harm.


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.