Aftermarket industry, racers rev up RPM Act support

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

‘RPM” stands for more than revolutions per minute, as in how many times the crankshaft in your vehicle’s engine rotates within a 60-second time period. When it comes to pending federal legislation, it also stands for Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports, as in a congressional bill known as the RPM Act of 2016.

Introduced with sponsorship from 125 members of the House of Representatives, the bill’s aim is “to exclude vehicles used solely for competition from certain provisions of the Clean Air Act, and for other purposes.”

At a “town hall” meeting last week in Livonia, officials from the Specialty Equipment Market Association encouraged grassroots racers, those who provide the equipment they use, and all motorsports fans to encourage their representatives and senators, and especially Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, to support the measure.

The bill was introduced in response to a statement in February by the federal Environmental Protection Agency concerning modifications made as production vehicles are prepared for racing, whether on or off road, on ovals, drag strips or road courses. In part of a 629-page report, the EPA claimed jurisdiction over such alterations, which it found to amount to exhaust tampering.

After the EPA report was distributed, there was such a backlash from SEMA, its members (SEMA is a trade association of companies that make aftermarket automotive products) and from racers that two months later the agency withdrew section regarding motorsports. However, it said it retained the jurisdiction to revisit the issue.

The RPM Act notes that at the time the Clean Air Act was written, and ever since, congressional intent was that vehicles modified for motorsports were exempt from such jurisdiction and that the EPA was exceeding its authority in attempting to do so.

But if the EPA has withdrawn its initial statement, what’s the big deal?

“For 40 years, the EPA policy and practice and what the motorsports community has been doing has allowed street vehicles to be modified and converted for racing,” Chris Kersting, SEMA’s chief executive, told The Detroit News at the conclusion of the town hall meeting, an event which drew more than 200 people to the Roush museum, where auto supplier and racer Jack Roush displays his car collection.

However, Kersting said, that the agency now was declaring such modifications to be illegal was “an earth-shattering proposition” for racers and suppliers since so many grassroots and even professional-level motorsports are contested in modified rather than purpose-built vehicles.

Kersting said that when SEMA officials read the initial EPA report, they wondered if they were misreading the intent and sought a meeting with the agency, only to learn that reading was correct.

SEMA posted an online petition that drew more than 100,000 signatures, which were forwarded to the White House within 24 hours.

“Unless and whether we can get a change in law clarifying and supporting the policy for 40 years, all our member companies and (racing) participants do so under the cloud of illegality,” Kersting added in regard to the RPM Act.

Other issues discussed at the town hall meeting included integrating aftermarket products into the new computer-controlled vehicle safety technologies, how to customize cars while keeping them within regulatory compliance, programs to encourage young people to study and train for work in automotive fields, new detailed data sources to help aftermarket producers plan future product potential, and how to export American automotive products to overseas markets.

Regarding the RPM Act, Kersting encouraged people to act quickly in hopes of getting the bill through Congress before the fall elections.

For more information, or to see the petition, visit the website.

Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer. You can reach him at