Miata Speed

The MX-5 Miatas of the Month from

January 2001

Tom Brenholts and Bugsy


Congratulations to Tom Brenholts on the selection of Bugsy as our posthumous January
Miata of the Month!

It can happen at any time: so it did.

I decided to drive the Miata to work this morning. It was a gorgeous morning, bright sun, no clouds, and my daughter had missed the school bus. That was no problem though; I was running early, and her school was on the way, on Rte. 309. Mary Jeanne loved the Miata. She already had it scoped out for when she was 16, in seven more years. Every Saturday night during the summer, we would drive down to the car wash and wash the car, and chamois it, and clean the windows, and vacuum the insides; then we would turn "Saturday Night Fever" on the radio, and drive around in the warm night air with the top down, looking up at the stars and the moon, singing along with the beat, feeling the tribal drum. Sheís at school right now, and doesnít know about the accident yet; sheís going to be brokenhearted at the news.

After I dropped Mary Jeanne off, I set off south on 309. I was still running early. It was cool, in the mid 30s, and the Miata was very happy about that, pulling strongly though the gears and just generally feeling frisky. Since I was early, I was taking my time enjoying the drive, not paying attention to the radio but to the sound of the car, the feel of the wheel, the bite of the tires on the road surfaceÖ

Thereís a moment before an accident happens, some of those moments are longer than others, when you simply canít believe what you are seeing. As I came down the hill on 309 towards the Rte 80 overpass, a silver Accord started drifting across the center line about 150 yards away, not erratically, but simply as if the line in the middle of the road was not where it actually was but instead ran straight toward my car. I was going between 45 and 50 mph, in a 45 zone, and Iíd jammed on the brakes for enough deer on that road to know that I didnít have much time or room to decide what to do next.

The Honda continued to come right at me. We were most certainly going to hit head on! I yanked the wheel hard to the right; the driver of the Honda saw me, and started to veer to her right, and her car fishtailed so that her side was facing me. Now we werenít going to hit head on, but I was still going to crush the driverís side of the Honda, about mid-rear door. I yanked back left and the Miata set up in a 4-wheel drift to the right, the tires screeching as I jammed the brake pedal to the floor, and the Accord started rotating back counter-clockwise; we missed each other by what Iíd estimate as 2 inches. Later, the investigating officer told me that there was less than Ĺ inch between her skid marks and mine.

At this point, the cars were safe from each other, but I had another problem; there was no roadway for me to use to the right of my car. All I had was a cinder berm to maneuver on, and I continued to drift off the road to the right. I was off the brakes, but the surface was too loose to have any control, and the car continued to drift right; I was along for the ride at this point. The berm sloped away from the road. Pulling left back onto the asphalt would result in a rotation counter-clockwise, and a possible rollover; I decided to let the car slow down by its self in order to edge back up onto the road. Safe at last! Magnificent driving!

The front of the Miata hit the telephone pole with a sickening finality. I watched the air bag as it exploded in my face. I took a deep breath of the smell and the gas and the powder. The windshield exploded in front of me as the pole broke off and smacked into it. My sunglasses went flying. My right wrist jammed in the steering wheel. Buzzers were going off. Everything was jumbled together, sights and sounds and motion, the left wheels caught the drainage ditch along the edge of the berm, and the Miata limped to a stop about 20 yards past the pole. As quickly as it happened, it was over.

Damn! Son of a bitch! Whatís that smell? Whatís that smoke? Am I okay? Whatís that buzzing? Is the car going to explode?

No pain. Everything works ok. Iíd better get out, though! Jesus! What the hell!

I stumbled out of the driverís door. Following me had been an E.M.T., and going the other direction behind the Honda had been an emergency room nurse on her way home. I looked back about 50 yards and saw the Accord off the road on its side. Somewhere I heard something whirring, or buzzing, or something. It was coming form the Miata. I reached inside and turned off the ignition, and the noise stopped. I put the keys in my pocket.

"Are you okay?" asked the nurse. "Yes, yes I am," I replied, very calmly. Iím still amazed that Iíve been so calm throughout this whole thing; not that Iím not rattled to my core, but outwardly Iíve been completely calm. "I think Iíd like to sit down, though," I said. "Do you have a phone? I need to call my wife and tell her Iím okay, and Iíd like to call work and tell them what happened."

Someone produced a phone, and I sat down on a rock and called Mary Joan. I concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths. My dad lives with us; he answered the phone.

"Hi, dad. Is Mary Joan there?"

"She went back to lie down after you left." (My wifeís been fighting a bad cold.)

"Could you get her? Itís important." I looked back up the road and saw a young woman standing by the side of the road with a toddler on her arms. There were people standing around her.

I told my wife what happened, and assured her I was okay. I called work, and told my boss not to expect me. I hung up and handed the phone back to someone. One of the emergency personnel came running over.

"Uh, you guys better move," he said, gesturing upward. "That pole there is, uh, hanging over you by the wires." We looked up, and walked quickly away from the pole that was swinging slightly in the morning breeze.

"Is the other person okay? Why did she cross the road like that?" I asked.

"Theyíre all right," someone said. "Itís that woman and that little boy. She turned around to watch him and wandered into your lane." I silently thanked the woman for putting her child seat in right.

I sat in someoneís van and looked at the little red car that now sat broken by the side of the road, and for the first time I marveled at it for more than its obvious charms. The front bumper was pushed in about two feet. The front frame rails were pointing almost directly at each other, separated by the width of the pole that the car had struck. The hood was accordioned its entire length. But the passenger compartment remained intact and secure. The seat belt did its job. The Air bag did its job. The windshield cracked, but didnít shatter. And then I marveled at the car for what its obvious charms had done for me this morning. If I had driven the Impala to work, this would have been a major tragedy. There was no way that the big Chevrolet would have been agile enough to miss that Accord. There was no way I could have done with the Impala what I did with the Miata. And perhaps most importantly, I wouldnít have been paying attention to the feeling of driving had I been in the Impala rather than the Miata. I would have been going faster, perhaps. More in a hurry to get the drive over with. Listening to the radio, maybe.

The tow trucks came, and started recovering the wreckage. The womanís husband showed up, and my dad came to see that I was okay. He had his camera with him, and I asked him to take a picture of the car; he got pictures of both cars. As we sat there, a man walked over to me and started talking.

"That was an amazing piece of driving you did," he said. "I was behind you, and I thought I was witnessing a major tragedy."

The nurse who was driving behind the Honda agreed. "I thought you were going to hit head on," she said.

"Thanks," I replied, but I didnít, and donít, think it was all that great. If I were really a great driver, I would have figured out a way to miss the pole. I thought a second, and said, "The MiataÖ when it comes to handling, the Miata is a very special car."

In due time, an ambulance showed up, and although I was sure that nothing was wrong with me, I went to get checked out anyhow. Now Iím sitting here with a very sore right wrist, two sore shoulders, and a sore right ankle, but very calm, and very much alive. Iím thinking about looking out the window of the ambulance and seeing the woman and her little boy, and seeing her husband hugging them tightly as we went past. I bear her no ill will; who among us hasnít done something similar, and been fortunate enough to not have anything happen?

And Iím thinking about my marvelous car, now a formless collection of steel and plastic. I have a real feeling of loss, which I think is unusual when itís directed toward a thing rather than a person. But the car did what its designers wanted it to; it gave its life so that I would live. Miata friends, you all know that there is more, much more, to your little sports car than you could ever know, than you would ever think possible. I hope that you never have the opportunity to find out first hand; but if you do, please have the same results that I did.

Tom Brenholts

RIP, Bugsy, the Little Red Car.

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