PETALUMA -- The following paragraph will have a happy ending. If you're a parent, however, it's the beginning you won't like.
On Oct. 3, 2011, a 16-year old boy with the need for speed slipped behind the wheel of a 2000 Pontiac Firebird. It had 775 horsepower. It looked like it was going 100 miles a hour, standing still.
The boy had never driven the car before. He was told to stomp the throttle.
Thus begins the description of every parent's worst nightmare. A teenager hits the gas hard on a car totally unfamiliar to him. The potential for awful, hideous tragedy is high. The level of disbelief registers incalculable. This is teenage testosterone in full bloom.
The kid is 16!
Clearly, this teenager on this day is in way over his head.
Until we find out how Marko Perivolaris reacted after he reached 147 miles an hour.
That's the speed he posted in the quarter-mile that October day at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That was the sixth of six runs Perivolaris made down the track. Six flawless runs. Six runs that produced this: Perivolaris earned his NHRA driver's license. Running this coming weekend at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals, Perivolaris passed the test to run cars at America's top drag racing series.
At 16 years old.
So how did he react? Scream? Do a dance? Did he punch the air? Spike the car keys? High-five and dislocate the wrists of grandmothers?
Perivolaris shook his dad's hand and then hugged him.
Teenagers were thinking of making Perivolaris an honorary adult after that stunt.
Whereas some teenagers you wouldn't trust them to ride a tricycle, so wild is the glint in their eye, Perivolaris creates the opposite effect. Nothing about him screams unrest. He has the passion of a cool calculator, down to his inspection of every bolt, nut and washer. In fact, he keeps more things hidden than he reveals.
Like The Wally.
The Wally is the most prized and sought-after possession in NHRA. It is a 12-pound, 18-inch statue representing Wally Parks, the sport's founder. Even though the statue actually is the likeness of another NHRA member, it nonetheless represents a singular nod of praise. Most drag racers never get a Wally, given to a winner of a NHRA-sanctioned event.
"Oh, here's his Wally," said Lela, Perivolaris' 16-year old sister. Lela reached into a dining room shelf inside the family home and removed the Wally. Her brother nodded once. Perivolaris won the Super Street competition in Fallon, Nevada, on June 9 in his 2000 Chevy S-10 black pick-up truck.
It is an accomplishment brilliant for any age and that Peri-volaris is but 18 makes him someone who now is being seriously tracked by NHRA.
Yet Perivolaris doesn't act like a hot commodity because that would violate his personal code of conduct. For 23 years, his father, Nick, was a dirt racer with late models and modifieds and didn't display attitude.
Respect the equipment and your competitors. Perivolaris learned sportsmanship at the feet of his father. Keep perspective, not everyone will enjoy what you enjoy.
Which of course is what flabbergasted everyone at Petaluma High School last May. School would be over in two weeks. Perivolaris was graduating with a 4.0 GPA. He had friends and a nice reputation but hardly was the type to call a parade in his honor. So he was a little surprised with the stir he created on Car Day.