Craig Murto: EPA targets grassroots racing

The racing industry may be under direct attack from the U.S. government, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency. The Specialty Equipment Market Association uncovered that hidden in a regulatory package called “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles – Phase 2” is a regulation that prohibits modifying any vehicles or engines sold for street use, even if they are “used solely for competition or if they become non-road vehicles or engines.”

The association, which spoke to EPA officials for clarification before making the issue public, reported that the EPA expects to publish the regulation’s final wording by July, to take effect in 2018. The day after the association released its news release, an EPA spokesperson claimed the new language simply reinforced language that’s always been in the Clean Air Act, and assured they weren’t after racecars. But the Clean Air Act addresses street-use cars, and the language quoted from the proposed regulation is clear: You cannot alter a street-use car for competition, even if it will only be used for competition.

This threatens the industry because it could make illegal after-market parts hat are used to convert cars to racing. Engine parts, suspension parts, safety equipment; forget it, if you want to race your car it may have to be completely stock, in original EPA-certified condition.

The Clean Air Act was never meant give the EPA authority to regulate automobiles used in competition. There are some automotive publications making light of this issue, claiming the EPA will not go after your racecars, they won’t have any means of policing the regulation, or claiming the EPA always had this authority.

None of that is true. And even if an EPA representative isn’t going to show up at your local track looking for violations, they can essentially shut down every business that sells parts used to modify stock automobiles for competition. This includes parts meant to maintain the car you already race.

Racing businesses are threatened. And it’s grassroots racing that’s targeted. Sports car racing, drifting, off-road racing, sportsman drag racing, autocross – there’s a long list of racing that depends on converted road cars. And that includes the entry-level divisions at your local oval. As the regulation is written, Street Stock and Mini Stock classes won’t see any new cars, and the parts to keep the current crop of cars on track will dry up.

What will remain if all the classes of racing that depend on modified road cars dry up? Will we be left with Legends Cars and Go-Karts, then a wide gap until you get to Late Models?

We all need to worry about this; the more government reaches, the more it continues to reach. If the EPA succeeds here, the next target will be purpose-built racecars. Maybe these bureaucrats need to do something more productive with their time, such as setting and enforcing standards to keep lead out of people’s drinking water.

The association shouldn’t have to fight this battle alone. The Sports Car Club of American and National Auto Sports Association need to be involved; most of their club members compete in cars that began life on the street. NASCAR sanctions weekly tracks across the country; it behooves them to donate some legal and lobbying expertise to keep this from happening. Most if not all of those tracks have a Street Stock, Mini Stock or UCAR division.

There are a lot of changes going on in racing; NASCAR’s new charter system and restart rules are good topics of conversation. The advancement of the Haas F1 Team is also worthy of attention. Denny Hamlin’s Sprint Unlimited win is noteworthy, as is Ryan Dungey’s continued success in American Motorcyclist Association Supercross. But this issue threatens racing at its core, and surely the damage done to the sport will trickle up if this regulation is imposed.

Visit SEMA.org for more information. There’s also a link on their page to a White House petition that addresses the issue. Sign it. Be heard. Read all you can about this issue, and tell your friends. Have them sign the petition. We cannot allow this to stand.

The EPA can reassure the public all it wants — the language, as written in the regulation, threatens racing. It needs changed. Call your congressman; make some noise. We are under attack; it’s time to get the EPA far away from racing.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.