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Common Tread

EPA regulation could make MotoAmerica racing illegal

Feb 15, 2016

Imagine MotoAmerica race day at Road Atlanta. As teams prepare for the morning warmup, a federal official walks through the paddock handing out letters to team managers warning that if anyone starts an engine, they’ll face a $37,500 fine.

Fans streaming in have no idea the day’s races are about to be cancelled. Every single MotoAmerica Superbike, Superstock and Supersport race bike is illegal. By the way, so is your track-day-only motorcycle.

What is this sport bike Armageddon I’m talking about? It’s not some dead-on-arrival legislation by a member of Congress. It’s a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation. And despite an age-old understanding that competition-only vehicles do not have to meet federal emissions standards, the EPA believes that its position is not a new proposal, but is already the law of the land.

As unlikely as it may seem, these assertions are buried deep in 629 pages of EPA documents that mostly have to do with truck engines. The issue was brought to light by the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), the trade association for car and truck-related businesses that is best known for its huge annual trade show in Las Vegas.

“This proposed regulation represents overreaching by the agency, runs contrary to the law and defies decades of racing activity where EPA has acknowledged and allowed conversion of vehicles,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting in a news release. “Congress did not intend the original Clean Air Act to extend to vehicles modified for racing and has re-enforced that intent on more than one occasion.”

And while SEMA is worried about race cars, the regulations refer simply to motor vehicles that are emissions-certified for on-road use, and that would apply to motorcycles.

The prohibition is stated more than once in the EPA document (link to the full 629-page document in pdf form).

Page 429: “Certified motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition or if they become nonroad vehicles or engines; anyone modifying a certified motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine for any reason is subject to the tampering and defeat device prohibitions of paragraph (a)(3) of this section and 42 U.S.C. 7522(a)(3).”

Page 391: “Also, if a motor vehicle is covered by a certificate of conformity at any point, there is no exemption from the tampering and defeat-device prohibitions that would allow for converting the engine or vehicle for competition use. There is no prohibition against actual use of certified motor vehicles or motor vehicle engines for competition purposes; however, it is not permissible to remove a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine from its certified configuration regardless of the purpose for doing so.”

In other words, Cameron Beaubier’s modified Yamaha YZF-R1, because it is based on an emissions-certified street bike, is illegal, just like all the Superbikes, Superstock and Supersport race bikes. When the Superbike World Championship comes to Laguna Seca, Jonathan Rea’s Kawasaki ZX-10R would be illegal. If you have a street bike you've modified for track-day-only use, perhaps by changing the exhaust or modifying the fueling, the EPA considers it illegal, even if you never ride it on the street or license it.

Presumably, MotoGP bikes would not be affected, since they are racing prototypes not based on emissions-certified street bikes. Motocross and Supercross bikes are not emissions-certified, so they are not affected.

Cameron Beaubier racing a Superbike
MotoAmerica Superbike champion Cameron Beaubier rides a modified Yamaha YZF-R1. Is he in violation of the Clean Air Act? Photo by Philip Somersall.

I contacted MotoAmerica officials for comment. They are aware of the issue but have not yet formulated a response. The American Motorcyclist Association said in a tweet: “we’re looking into the issue.”

As SEMA noted, the assertion by the EPA challenges the understanding that modifying emissions-certified motor vehicles for racing (or for track-only use) is not a violation of the law. The EPA doesn’t see it that way, however. It presented the prohibition not as a new proposal, but as a clarification of existing law.

Page 403 of the document: “EPA is proposing in 40 CFR 1037.601(a)(3) to clarify that the Clean Air Act 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.”

While that may sound a little ambiguous, an EPA spokeswoman, in response to questions from a writer at Autoblog, said that modifying emissions-certified street vehicles for racing has always been illegal.

By the way, it’s on page 584 of the document where we find out the penalty for turning a street bike into a race bike that's not in compliance with emissions regulations: $37,500 per violation. That’ll put a dent in any race team’s budget.

I guess if this is actually enforced we'll either have to go back to racing 250 cc two-strokes, which were never emissions-certified to begin with, or else race mechanically bone-stock street bikes.

A petition has been created at to oppose the EPA’s position.