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Padecky: Teen drag racer from Petaluma shows talent, poise

  • Drag race driver Marko Perivolaris stands with his 1966 Chevy Corvette before racing it at Sonoma Raceway on July 18, 2013. (BY CONNER JAY / The Press Democrat)

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.

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