"Behind the scenes" means exactly that: a world hidden from the public spotlight. It's here where many keep the light shining, usually on someone else, and these hardworking individuals are seldom revealed to the public. In the automotive world, the annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas is one such stage, a place where tireless contributors live in the shadows behind the big builds you see flooded across your social media feeds. However, last year one man had the attention turned inward when he was given the chance to embrace the limelight with a head-turning project car of his own.
Tommy Babiarz has been plying his trade as a videographer for some of the biggest names out there: Liberty Walk, Mad Mike Whiddett, and TRA Kyoto/Rocket Bunny. After leaving the nine-to-five world in 2012, he worked his way into the Formula DRIFT series, eventually becoming a key member of Mad Mike's TCP Magic team. It was here where he met Jonathan Grunwald. Jonny would become a close friend and a key figure in transforming Tommy's ND MX-5/Miata into one of the biggest standout cars of last year's SEMA.
"Coming back from a trip to Japan with Mad Mike in 2016, I decided it was time to own a Mazda of my own," Tommy says. "I'd had a long list of sports cars, but never a Miata. When I purchased the car, I knew I wanted to do something really special with it, something beyond anything I'd ever done before."
Enter Jonny, a SEMA veteran and multiple Super Street feature car builder who recognized the chance to make one of the unknown heroes of automotive media's dreams come true. "Tommy had never built a SEMA-level car before. That's where I stepped in," Jonny explains. "At this point in my career, I'm fortunate to have partnered and grown with some of the largest names in our industry. As his project manager, I was able to rally everyone who believed in Tommy and I to get on board and make this happen. SEMA is the world's stage for our industry. Once you're locked in, there's no margin for error, a lot of sacrifice, time management, and you really see who's in your corner. I gave him the freedom to dream what he wanted to do, guided him through the process at each step, executed, and made it happen."
The end result? One of the most eye-catching MX-5s out there. Tommy's Miata is the first to wear the stunning Pandem widebody kit at the SEMA show, set off with a massive Pandem GT wing and Hard Dog M4 Sport roll bar, then blasted in BASF R-M Mazda ceramic metallic paint. The Mazda's open cockpit reveals Bride Zeta III Type L seats with Takata Drift III harnesses, and a Vertex steering wheel handles driver input.
Even with the MX-5's extroverted looks, what's under the hood is even more interesting to roadster fans. The vehicle's 2.0L four-cylinder has been outfitted with a unique turbo kit designed and built by Elliot White at TurboSource. "The coolest thing about this kit is you don't need a crazy ignition and fuel system—it's designed specifically to complement the ND Miata's setup," Jonny says. "Aside from an ECU flash and gapping the spark plugs, it's basically a drop-in power solution for an already great platform. There's a larger crankcase vent system there if you want to run higher boost, but for anyone who wants to buy a Miata and keep up with 300- to 400-whp cars, it's just perfect."
The turbo is a smaller BorgWarner EFR 6258, which is perfectly matched to the Mazda's SKYACTIV motor. The downpipe, three-bar map sensor, and manifold are all from TurboSource, which hand-crafted the latter to feed into a track-spec Remark exhaust (which Tommy's ND used for its development). Custom Vibrant charge piping and a Treadstone Performance intercooler round out the kit, which is managed by an EcuTek RaceROM tune via OrangeVirus.
Tommy fully intends to hit his hometown track at Sebring International Raceway, which is why he opted for the Club model that comes factory equipped with Brembos and a limited-slip diff. He then added KW Clubsport two-way coilovers, a Cusco strut bar, and more aggressive Winmax brake pads. It's also wearing 100 treadwear Toyo R888R tires, wrapped around Volk Racing TE37V wheels.
"You can't get out of the car without smiling," Tommy says. "I thought the stock Miata platform was balanced to the point where you almost don't need any extra power, but once you hit a straight stretch of road, the turbo is just wonderful. You don't need a thousand ponies—it's so much fun! We've managed to put together a complete package that's not a full race car, but the perfect street/track/show car."
Tommy also says one of the reasons he was inspired to go all-in on this project was because during his time in Japan, he noticed a huge decline in kids modifying cars. "I wanted to show younger people what was possible with an affordable and attainable car like the Miata," he adds. "I also wanted to share the experience with my own kid."
Guess there's no hiding from the spotlight anymore for Tommy.