Geez, the title of this post could be a frickin’ Fall Out Boy song title. Anyway, I’m stalling with a poor attempt at humor because I sense that quite a few people are sharpening pitchforks right now. So, hang on, please, and wait until I explain myself before-
*torch flies past head*
Okay! Okay! I’ll get to the point.
Recently, the EPA released a rule, or rather, a clarification on a rule, that SEMA believed would make it illegal for normal people to convert their road cars into race cars, specifically in regards to the emissions controls.
Legal-ese puts me to sleep, as does anything involving heavy duty statistics (It’s math about math....and I’m an engineer. Oh the irony), but thankfully the great people over at The Drive managed to clear things up a bit.
It’s always been illegal to remove emission controls from your engine in order to turn the car it’s in into a race car, and what the EPA is doing is merely making the language of the law more plain. But, if you buy a dedicated race engine—which you can—or, more simply, leave the controls alone, you’re fine.
(That being said, it does mean that if you bolt a turbo onto an engine that didn’t originally have a turbo installed, without doing the proper emissions checks, you are technically breaking the law. Though it’s not like the EPA has the money or manpower to actually try and catch you doing it. Why was that statement both satisfying and depressing at the same time?)
Now, I’m not completely an idiot. I know that buying a race engine is fairly expensive, especially if you’re building a race car on a budget. I also know that leaving emissions controls on an engine can be problematic from a power and performance standpoint. But, that being said, this could still be a good thing.
Remember GM in the late 70s to early 90s? How they had massive engines that really didn’t make any kind of power? That’s because they struggled with combining performance with the catalytic converters that were required to meet emissions. But, as the years went on, and the engineering quality and knowledge improved, the performance returned. And that’s what can happen here.
Don’t get me wrong, the EPA essentially euthanizing small-scale racing outfitters is not something I’d like to see. On the other hand, as someone who has studied the state of the environment, I do know that cutting emissions at any reasonable point is something that we’re all going to have to do—it’s bitter medicine, but like a lot of bitter pills, it’s one that has to be taken. On the other other hand, it is a bit unfair that this new clarification could cost a lot of people their livelihoods and passions.
But, let me (at last!) get to my point. If the aftermarket parts manufacturers want to stay in business, it will behoove them to work closely with the government and the OEMs, which sounds like it’ll probably turn into the biggest shitshow since the Black Eyed Peas performed at the Super Bowl, but has the potential of raising the level of performance for race-converted street cars. Restrictions CAN and often DO lead to creative solutions, as long as they’re instituted correctly (read: not like the current Formula One rules). It’ll mean that racing cars will be even closer to what’s on the street—when was the last time a NASCAR machine was in any way based on the model of the same name you could buy off the showroom floor? Plus, if you force normal dudes to, barring roll cages and other safety devices, quite literally run stock engines, then it means the racing will be that much tighter, and force competitors to get even better. What’s more satisfying, driving a fast car slow, or a slow car fast? And how much more incredible did Takumi from Initial D seem after it turned out he was mad drifting, yo, using what was basically a mildly modified family hatchback?
Am I worried about the new EPA clarification? Yeah, a bit. But I’m also excited about what amazing ideas it could force into fruition.