The 117th Congress has adjourned without passing the motorsports-related RPM Act. What does that mean, exactly? Here’s a brief explainer of the legislation that many hoped would save America’s race cars.
According to the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) and its sister group, the Performance Racing Industry (PRI), all was once well when it came to the relationship between racing and the Environmental Protection Agency.
But then came 2015, when the EPA was under the leadership of Administrator Gina McCarthy, an appointee of President Obama.
That’s when the agency began interpreting the Clean Air Act as prohibiting a motor vehicle designed for street use—including a car, truck, or motorcycle—to be converted into a dedicated racer. “This American tradition was unquestioned from 1970 until 2015 when the EPA took the position that converted vehicles must remain emissions-compliant, even though they are no longer driven on public streets or highways,” said SEMA in a mission statement.
Now, five administrators later, that interpretation stands.
And an “interpretation” it remains. The EPA introduced a proposal in 2015 that would have tacitly banned racers’ ability to modify street vehicles into dedicated race cars—a practice that took place with no perceived or proven ill effects for 45 years since the Clean Air Act was introduced.
As part of a lawsuit in 2021, SEMA continued to fight the EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act.
“Although the EPA formally withdrew the proposal, the agency has since maintained that street vehicles cannot be converted into race cars, an assertion that has left the motorsports industry in a state of flux,” SEMA said.
Fearful that the EPA’s stance would no longer be an interpretation, but spelled out as law, SEMA and PRI have backed the RPM Act, which stands for Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports. The RPM Act is “a bipartisan bill which clarifies the motorsports-parts industry’s ability to sell products that enable racers to compete, and protects Americans’ right to convert street vehicles into dedicated race cars.”
All this pretext leads us to this: Despite strong support from the performance industry and racers themselves—as well as SEMA and PRI, which had NASCAR’s Richard Petty and NHRA racer Antron Brown make trips to Washington on behalf of the RPM Act—it didn’t make it to a vote in the 2021/2022 Congressional session.
“Key negotiators in Congress could not reach an agreement on bill language that balanced the need for federal law to protect racers and motorsports parts businesses from EPA enforcement with reasonable measures to ensure that race parts are not used on vehicles driven on roads and public highways,” SEMA explained.
Racers are essentially united in backing the RPM Act. “The EPA is overstepping its jurisdiction and penalizing small motorsports parts businesses,” said Richard Petty. “The RPM Act is essential to the racing industry and protecting the careers of young racers all over the country. During most of my racing career, my fellow NASCAR drivers and I competed in racecars that started out at as street-legal vehicles.”
“We wouldn’t have made it this far without this incredible effort by so many of our members,” SEMA President and CEO Mike Spagnola said last week. “The RPM Act was one of the most bipartisan bills in the 117th Congress with over 165 lawmakers cosponsoring the legislation. SEMA and PRI will leverage the momentum we built during this congressional session, assess the current challenges the industry faces, and chart a new path forward for the industry’s advocacy efforts at both the federal and state levels.”
It doesn’t sound like the bill is dead, but SEMA’s status update falls short of outlying a specific plan to re-introduce the RPM Act to the 118th Congress, which meets January 3, 2023 to January 3, 2025.
The legislation indeed has its share of support within Congress. “Growing up, I spent countless hours at the racetrack with my father,” said Rep. Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D-CA), who originally introduced the bill in May of 2021. “Racing has always been close to my heart.”
Many Americans feel just the same.