My son Derrick has been asking me for years to take him to Las Vegas to see a NASCAR race there. Since next year is the first year of F1 at Austin, Texas, I figured this would be my last chance, since from now on I will be using all the goodwill I can muster to earn the right to go to the F1 in Texas. So Saturday afternoon Derrick and I headed south on I-15 to see the NASCAR race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
I drove my 350Z. I was excited to take it on a road trip anyway, but ironically the primary reason I took it is because it is the most fuel efficient vehicle I own. (Sad but true.) Knowing the temptation it would be to attack those open roads at high speeds, I decided not to speed at all and just set my speedometer at the speed limit and followed this strategy throughout the whole trip.
At about ten miles north of Beaver, Utah, I was cruising along at 80 mph in an 80 mph zone, in the right lane, just slightly catching a red 4-door sedan that was maybe 100 yards or so in front of me, maybe at a rate of one mile per hour faster than the red vehicle ahead. Further ahead of us was a large semi. We began heading up a hill and I could see that I was moving slightly faster than the traffic ahead, so I moved to the left lane of the two-lane freeway. I could also see, however, that the red vehicle was quite a bit faster than the semi ahead. As I closed the gap to the red vehicle, I continued to monitor it carefully, expecting it to move over into the left lane ahead and prepared to slow down to allow it to change lanes.
It never did.
Finally, by the time we neared the semi, I became convinced that the red vehicle was waiting for me to pass it and then it would follow me past the semi. I accelerated slightly by two or three miles per hour to try to get past a bit quicker. Suddenly, the red vehicle turned on its left signal and made a slight move left. I let off the accelerator to go for the brake, but at that moment the red vehicle seemed to cease moving left and slow, seemingly deciding (or deciding again) to let me past. I proceeded to pass him. By this point my front bumper was roughly even with the red vehicle’s rear wheels.
Suddenly, the red vehicle moved rapidly into the left lane. Not just sufficiently to avoid the semi — it moved completely into the left lane clear to the left hand side. I quickly veered to my left to avoid contact. In order to avoid hitting the red vehicle, I had to drive completely off the freeway altogether.
At 80 mph. In a sports car with maybe four to six inches of ground clearance.
My primary thought at this point was to regain control of the vehicle by gradually slowing down and avoiding any major corrections. The first obstacle was one of those three-foot-high aluminum posts with a reflector on top. I was about 95% successful at missing this post, clipping it with the outside front right corner. Next I realized that we were careening through the median toward the northbound lanes, which median sloped sideways at perhaps a 10%-12% grade. I carefully brought the vehicle back to the right, smashing through one sagebrush plant after another, and somehow avoided rolling the vehicle over and brought it back onto the left southbound shoulder at maybe half of my original speed. I slowed the vehicle to a stop and got out to survey the damage.
The first thing I noticed when I got out was a red four-door sedan continuing along the freeway southbound. It did not turn around or stop. I never saw it again.
I walked around the car slowly, looking for broken bits. Mostly I saw tires and wheels full of dust and leaves and weed seeds. I came around to the front right corner and saw where my 350Z and the reflector post had become acquainted.
As you can see, the corner of the bumper had broken completely off. You can clearly see where the post hit and caved in the fender. That whitish container there is the windshield wiper fluid container; it is completely ruined. The headlight is cracked and there is other damage, possibly more hidden damage. I kicked the air in disgust, then briefly clasped my head in my hands and bent down a bit to catch my breath. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as I tried to calm myself down.
When I looked up I saw that a pickup truck had pulled up behind me. The driver hopped out and ran up to help.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Yeah. I think so,” I replied. ”I’ve got some damage on the front of my car.”
“You aren’t hurt?”
“No, I’m okay.”
“Anyone in your car with you?”
“Yeah, my son.”
“Is he alright?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” Yeah, I’m a great father. I’m glad someone was there to remind me. I checked with my son, who was pretty shaken up but otherwise unhurt.
The truck driver then said, “Man, that was some amazing driving. That red car just completely ran you right off the road. I saw the whole thing. I was SURE you were gonna roll that thing. You must be one hell of a driver to have saved that one.”
I looked back on the 100 yards or so we’d traveled off road. I’m not sure how we kept from rolling it either.
He offered to call the local dispatch in Beaver. He handed me his cell phone, at which point I described the red vehicle to the dispatch officer. He confirmed that they would send officers out to look (in vain, as it turned out) for the red vehicle. Meanwhile, a county Sheriff was sent to us to monitor the situation, and later a Highway Patrolman showed up to take a statement.
I let the Z run while we waited for the police, while I wrote out my statement, while we waited to see if anyone found and stopped the red vehicle. I continually was monitoring my son’s mental state (I probably asked him “Are you alright?” so many times he was about to hit me) as well as the state of the car. I was particularly looking for things like overheating (indicating a coolant leak) or an oil pressure drop (indicating an oil leak) as well as looking specifically for leaking fluids, smoke, or other problems, and listening for weird, atypical sounds. Amazingly the Z seemed to be running completely normal. Aside from a warning light on my dashboard indicating that I had no washer fluid, there were no indications from inside the car that anything abnormal happened.
Once things were wrapped up, I asked the Highway Patrolman to follow us into Beaver, which he agreed to. I carefully pulled onto the freeway, listening to the sounds of the engine, checking to see how the steering and handling felt. Other than a strange vibrating noise underneath the car, everything seemed perfectly normal.
We pulled off the freeway in Beaver, waved at the Highway Patrolman as he continued down the freeway, and pulled into a parking stall at truck stop to do a more thorough check. Most worrisome was the vibration under the car. After stopping, I was very relieved to see a large sagebrush branch stuck to the underside of the car. We removed the branch and drove over to the gas pump. No vibration. What a relief.
After filling with gas, I decided to check the air pressure of the tires. The front right tire, most directly impacted by the post, seemed low. I drove to a tire shop next door who offered to check the tire for leaks. Despite the low pressure, no leaks were found. Derrick and I decided to get a bite to eat at a nearby Wendy’s and check the air pressure again after eating to see if the pressure maintained.
I ate, sort of. Wasn’t exactly in the mood. Derrick, on the other hand, devoured everything in front of him while I picked at my sandwich and fries. Finally we threw my food away and, after verifying that the tire pressure had maintained correctly, we climbed into the car.
But before leaving, we prayed. We thanked our Heavenly Father that we had survived the incident and that we were not hurt. We thanked Him that I had been able to safely bring the vehicle to a stop and that we’d avoided a major accident. We thanked Him that the vehicle was relatively unharmed and seemed to be functioning properly. We thanked Him for people who stopped to help us. We asked Him to help me to calm down and relax as we proceeded along on our journey. We asked Him that the car might function properly and get us where we were headed safely.
What a relief to report that we continued on to St. George without incident, and last night we returned back to Spanish Fork safely. I fully expect that there is some hidden damage, but I was very surprised, relieved, and honestly a bit proud that my Z had carried us home.
We pulled into the garage and I turned the car off. ”Good girl,” I said to my Z as I patted the center console, and then gently kissed the steering wheel. Say what you will. I love that car.
As far as the red car is concerned, I admit initially I was quite angry. Initially I wondered what was wrong with someone to just run me right off the road like that. Now, however, I’m willing to give the benefit of doubt. Is it possible that the driver of the red car did not know we were there? Is it possible that the red car didn’t stop because the driver simply did not know what had happened? Yes, it is possible. I’d rather think it was negligent, not malicious.
From our point of view, we are grateful today that we survived it, and not just survived but escaped relatively unharmed. Neither Derrick nor I were hurt in any way. We are grateful for a good man who stopped to help, who may feel that he really accomplished nothing, but in fact helped me calm down and think, which was crucially important. We are grateful that somehow the car was able to continue on without trouble. And while I’m fully aware that the 350Z is not an off-road vehicle, and while I’m very happy to accept glowing and raving compliments about my excellent driving ability, I can tell you one thing right now without hesitation: If we’d been in my red truck, we would have rolled it down the slope in the median toward the northbound lane, and we almost surely would have been severely injured or killed.
In which case, you wouldn’t have heard this story. So you should be grateful too.