By on March 16, 2021


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is embroiled in a lawsuit with Gear Box Z, Inc., contending that the Clean Air Act (CAA), doesn’t allow you to convert your street car into a competition-only race vehicle.


Once certified as a street vehicle, your car or truck can never be converted into a race vehicle even if it’s trailered and never driven on public roads again, argues the EPA.


The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) represents the $46.2 billion specialty automotive industry, which manufactures, distributes, and sells appearance, performance, comfort, convenience, and technology products for passenger and recreational vehicles. SEMA’s functions include legislative advocacy, market research, training, and product development support, along with hosting the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, and the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show in Indianapolis, both leading trade shows.


SEMA has entered the fight with the EPA as an amicus curiae, someone not a party to a case who assists the court by offering information, expertise, or insight concerning the issues in the form of a brief. Whether to consider an amicus brief is at the court’s discretion.

SEMA contends that the Clean Air Act doesn’t apply to street vehicles that have been converted to track-only use, stating that the EPA’s interpretation breaks from the CAA’s language, its legislative history, and the EPA’s own regulations and guidance. In the brief, SEMA points out that the EPA’s position contradicts its prior stance, where the agency said it had no interest in EPA-certified production vehicles used on public roads, which are permanently converted to sanctioned, competition-use only vehicles.


The EPA has tried to bend the CAA to fit before, as part of a 2015 rulemaking draft. A huge public backlash organized by SEMA caused the withdrawal of this provision. The next year, Congress introduced SEMA-sponsored legislation that confirmed what had been in place for 45 years, that the CAA doesn’t apply to vehicles modified for racing-use only.

SEMA is now advocating the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act (RPM Act), bipartisan legislation that restates the legality of making changes to street vehicles for the purpose of converting them into race cars. Furthermore, it confirms the legitimacy of producing, marketing, and installing racing equipment. With the support of enthusiasts, whether racers or not, the RPM Act will protect your rights, save our race cars, and curtail the EPA’s actions.

[Images: Haugen Racing]

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27 Comments on “SEMA Vs. the EPA’s Attempt to Outlaw Race Cars...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Seems like a rather obscure item for the new EPA to tackle. I wonder if Joe really supports this.

  • avatar

    The Indy 500 would last a lot longer with electric cars.

    • 0 avatar

      And all roads should be brick.

  • avatar

    0. Politically, I don’t believe street vehicles *actually* modified to be off-road/track use only should be subject to the CAA.

    1. From both a GHG and particulate perspective there is virtually no difference between someone turning a C5 Corvette into a dedicated racecar versus someone buying Timmy Swerve’s old sprint car and using that.

    2. If the EPA goes with the argument that they have jurisdiction over modified competition vehicles then I expect they will (eventually) lose.

    3. If the EPA keeps a narrower scope they have a much better chance at winning. The argument that these defeat devices and other parts aren’t being marketed or engineered to actually be used solely off-road/on-track is more compelling.

  • avatar

    Not a Reaganite but he was right when he said: government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

    • 0 avatar

      Except, the actual problem here is douchebros rolling coal on city streets and pretending its for “competition only”.

      Its like if your teacher lets you have phones as long as they stay in your backpack and then some dickweed decides to buy a clear backpack and stick his hands in there to use his phone blatantly. So now the teacher (govt) is taking away everybody’s phone.

      • 0 avatar

        In the early 1980s diesel was promoted heavily as part of the solution to the 1979 Oil Crisis (no doubt with memories of the ’73 embargo) but by the end of the decade the US gov’t really turned on it and they have hated it ever since. If it was 10% of the market, I could see it more but AFAIK it’s never cracked more than 1% and of that the amount of people committing such capital offenses with diesel is so small its a statistical anomaly that doesn’t matter at all. In fact, when the VW thing started I found an EPA document from 2009 that stated 95% of all NOx emissions were from power plants. So *every other source in the US only amounted to 5%* and yet you would have thought Gaia spoke to them the way they had their panties in a twist. Realistically if lowering these emissions was really necessary they needed to shut down power plants, but that’s easier said than done and its much easier to go after lower hanging fruit. I argued then and now, they had to come at VW heavy not because it mattered in any significant way, but because if they allowed one corporation to defy their edicts others would follow so an example needed to be made. An unelected technocracy decided it wanted to kill diesel through regulations (just as they seem to be doing with gas ICEs) and GFY USDM market/US public they didn’t/don’t care what you want and never will. This is no different, statically the amount of money/man hours spent vs pollution per cubic meter stopped is going to have worse ROI than Enron stock – but its gov’t money being p!ssed away no matter what so who cares right? This is at the genesis of my overall thought on the matter.

        I went to a well-to-do high school but I don’t recall anyone having a cell phone, though some of us had pagers. I think your argument is one person ruins things for everyone, and yes that happens in kindergarten but we’re supposed to be adults now. For the most part I don’t care what people do in their lives, and I want a gov’t who isn’t lazy chasing things which don’t matter so it can look like it does something – especially while Rome burns.

        I don’t know who works at these agencies but I imagine they are the personality types who should never ever, ever, ever be put in positions of authority or ideally any kind of power. Because there are personality types who are just sh!tty people who get off on controlling/hurting others and just enjoy thinking they are right even when they are wrong. They are the bad teachers who instead of pointing out the bad behavior and explaining those who fool around in class will do poorly in school (and life) then ignoring it, confiscate everyone’s phone.

  • avatar

    This concept is a non-starter. The problem is more of illegal modifications to vehicles used on the street, not off-road. There are many more [email protected]$$es out there with removed catalytic converters thinking that now they go faster and with coal-rolling diesels (which piss off everyone) than actual off-road racers.
    But seriously, President Biden most likely has nothing to do with it.

  • avatar

    Dear TTAC:

    When I read “EPA is trying to outlaw race cars,” I conjure up images of some nameless bureaucrat trying to ban ALL race cars – Indy cars, NASCAR, F1, funny cars, dirt track racers, and so on. I guess the Indy 500 and Daytona are memories, right?

    But, hold on – turns out this proposed EPA rule would only apply to street cars being used for racing, which makes this headline completely inaccurate. And it’s clickbait, whether that was the intention or not.

    And now that this rant is over, I’ll chime in on the rule: it makes zero sense.

    • 0 avatar

      Even worse, the story is about SEMA supporting Gearbox Z in their lawsuit, a company that tunes diesels. The pictures should have been street trucks rolling coal.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, if they want to have coal-rolling races, whatever…I don’t think this is enough to deal Mother Gaia a death blow. But I sure wish the cops would do a better job enforcing this on the street. God, are loud, smoky diesel trucks a friggin’ annoyance.

        But I suppose that in the end, this isn’t much different than a guy modding his Miata for race weekends, and then driving it on the street – non compliance is non compliance. And I suspect that is the reason why the EPA is doing this.

    • 0 avatar

      Former street cars, modified for racing to the point where they are no longer streetable, make up a huge part of racing at the amateur level. This looks like an EPA lawyer, assigned to go after Gear Box Z because too many of its off road products end up on the street, trying to win his case with no concern for collateral damage.

      Something like 25 years ago, OSHA proposed extending its authority over the workplace to employees homes if they did any work there. Think illuminated exit signs, fire extinguishers hanging on the walls, emergency lighting with battery backup, etc. There was such a backlash that OSHA quickly abandoned the idea.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m sure the EPA doesn’t care about the tiny percentage of street vehicles that really are converted to race cars and taken completely off the street. Their target is the massive and rapidly growing market for emissions defeat devices of various sorts that are marketed with a wink as “for off-road use only” and then used on people’s daily drivers. Go to any red area in the country and you won’t have to wait long to see a smoky diesel or a cammed-up, decatted Challenger belching unburned fuel. That crap is a public health problem and should be pursued by regulators.

        “This looks like an EPA lawyer, assigned to go after Gear Box Z because too many of its off road products end up on the street, trying to win his case with no concern for collateral damage.”

        Ding ding ding.

  • avatar

    Relative to the total amount of auto emissions, this particular case has to be a rounding error in terms of quantity. There are other, far more viable things that would make worlds more sense to pursue.

    • 0 avatar

      Actual real live race cars? You’re right.

      Mouth-breathing coal rollers with “FOR OFF ROAD USE ONLY” parts all over their trucks? You’re wrong. That’s easily a big and destructive enough market to have a major impact on overall pollution.

  • avatar

    I hope EPA will not make deep breathing illegal. In last 20 years America become such a crazy place that often I have to take deep breath to remain sane, exhaling excessive amounts of CO2.

  • avatar

    About a decade ago I was involved with a group of primarily US-based folks who were looking at building glider winches. For those who don’t know, a glider winch is a far more cost and fuel efficient alternative to using a small airplane to tow gliders aloft. Basically, a traditional winch consists of an engine and transmission attached to a large steel drum containing a mile or so of (expensive) high tensile strength rope. Pull the rope out, attach it to the glider at the other end of the runway, hit the gas, glider accelerates from 0 to 65 MPH in about 150 ft of ground roll, pilot pulls back into a 45+ degree angle climb, then levels off and releases at 2500 feet or so altitude in under a minute. Easy. Gobs of torque are required during the climb phase, a decent size turbo-diesel (like a PowerStroke) would seem to be the obvious choice.

    The problem was that both the EPA and California Air Resources Board regulate all diesel engines, whether in on/off road vehicles, stationary generators, railroad locomotives, etc. There are some obvious reasons why this is the case. We would have had to use an unmodified Tier IV compliant diesel engine, or take the chance of getting caught. Stationary gasoline engines are more loosely regulated with usable loopholes, so we went with a fuel injected Ford 460 V8 from a truck. It worked fine, although we ultimately abandoned our project (mostly due to liability concerns).

    If this is, in fact, a diesel tuner they are going after, that is likely why. Your gas race cars are safe.

    • 0 avatar

      “Your gas race cars are safe.”

      While they are targeting diesel tuners at this time, I don’t see any carve outs for gasoline race cars in that.

      I do see this:
      “This NCI focuses on stopping the manufacture, sale, and installation of defeat devices on vehicles and engines used on public roads *as well as on nonroad vehicles and engines*.”

  • avatar

    The “OFF ROAD USE ONLY” isn’t easy to enforce, point and click. Someone at the EPA would have to leave their cozy office.

    Going after the manufacturers is too easy, at the expense of true racers.

    Guilty until proven… There’s a Constitutional violation somewhere. I don’t know but someone should sue. It’s the American way.

  • avatar

    As a guy who road-races a 1990 Miata with a Megasquirt, this theoretically concerns me, but over the last few years I’ve seen any number of “sky-is-falling” pronouncements from SEMA, spread by anxious racers, that just happened to virtue-signal furiously to SEMA’s main customer base (or customer-of-customer base). I’m a bit skeptical that this isn’t a tempest in a teapot of, “They’re coming for your gu… racecars!” ginned up by people with a vested interest.

    It would sure suck if it accidentally turned out to actually ban grassroots motorsport, though. Back to Formula Vee and SRF for everyone!

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