The Beginning Of The End?

Steve Lita, American Iron Magazine Editor

Steve Lita, American Iron Editor

RIDE TO WORK, By Steve Lita, Editor

“…it is illegal for anyone to modify a certified vehicle…”

Back in issue #335, about five months ago, former American Iron Magazine editor Chris Maida penned a column about the then-urgent matter involving the EPA and all motorsports hobbyists. The EPA had proposed legislation that would outlaw the conversion of street vehicles  into racing vehicles. For a short while, gloom and doom circulated among enthusiasts, with the thought that the EPA was going to clamp down on all things performance.

Think about it. Most hobbyist race vehicles, whether two or four wheeled, probably started life on a production assembly line as a run-of-the-mill street vehicle. There are exceptions: The Harley-Davidson V-Rod Destroyer, a full-on drag race bike available on the showroom floor or, for fans of NHRA Super Stock car racing, the COPO Camaros and Drag Pak Dodge Challengers of recent years, which have been tearing up the strip. But even the popular XR1200 Sportster road race series was based on street bikes. Add in an official Vance & Hines spec race parts kit, and you can go road racing semiprofessionally.

During the summer, the EPA seemed to back down, once the opposing assertion from the performance industry came to light. It appeared that EPA regulations were never meant to apply to purely racing participants, and so the whole matter blew over—or so we thought. That is, until we all read the press release issued by Harley-Davidson dated August 18, 2016, stating: “Harley-Davidson, Inc. has reached a settlement with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding the sale of one aftermarket tuning product used to calibrate motorcycles intended for off-road and closed-course competition. As part of the settlement agreement, the company will no longer sell its competition-only tuner in the US.” By the way, the “settlement” included a hefty check.

The good news is Harley will continue to sell a performance tuner designed to retain 50-state and EPA on-road emissions compliance.

The official press release goes on to state: “This settlement is not an admission of liability but instead represents a good faith compromise with the EPA on areas of law we interpret differently, particularly the EPA’s assertion that it is illegal for anyone to modify a certified vehicle, even if it will be used solely for off-road/closed-course competition,” said Ed Moreland, Harley-Davidson’s Government Affairs Director. So there it is again, the EPA’s assertion that you can’t modify and race with something that was once street legal. This has not blown over, folks.

Truth be told, writing for American Iron Magazine and its sister publications is not the first time my name has appeared in print. Back in the early ’80s, the bad old days of performance cars that were comprised mostly of decals on ugly duckling coupes (remember the Plymouth Volare-based Road Runner?), I was a young gearhead who sent a letter (remember a letter, with a stamp and an envelope?) to Car Craft magazine lamenting the sorry state of the performance automotive OEM and aftermarket. A few months later, imagine my surprise when I saw my letter published in a commentary about the work of the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) in representing the automotive industry to the government.

Change does not come quickly. It took the automotive industry years to work through the restrictions to develop vehicles and products designed to perform within the constraints of emissions regulations, while still offering better performance than vehicles of the muscle car heyday of the ’60s and ’70s. Not trying to do my Chicken Little act, crying that the sky is falling, but could we be seeing the choking of the performance products industry here? Or perhaps this is the dawing of a new age of performance innovation, one that meets tougher scrutiny.

In perhaps a tiny act of throwing the consumer under the bus, Harley states it has safeguards in place to educate dealers and customers on the implications of installing Harley-Davidson performance products. So when will the EPA turns its eyes to the consumer and make accusations for violating emissions regulations? AIM

To order back issues, visit

To subscribe to the PRINT edition, click here.

To receive DIGITAL DELIVERY, click here.