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Perry a golfer in life, a driver at heart

There’s that child in all of us, that part that never seems to disappear, no matter how much a hairline retreats like a Long March into middle age or how many fewer belt holes are needed to support our trousers.

There’s that part that always wanted to be a race-car driver.

Kenny Perry has owned the vision since he was 9, since the day his father drove home a new 1969 Chevy Camaro for his sister. Growing up, he always was captivated by the power of cars, by the speed, by the adrenaline rush felt when thrusting a foot onto the accelerator.

So he went out and took up golf.

Talk about distinct interests. Golf and motor sports go together like Lon Kruger and Tommy Lee, but Perry has managed to merge a life of measured walks with one of substantial danger.

Don Roberts crashed at a drag race in 1975, after which he said he lost control of the car … after the third flip. The closest a golfer gets to such peril is being paired with Tiger Woods on Sunday of a major.

“To me, racing is like riding a roller coaster,” Perry said. “I just enjoy going fast. I’m not very good at it. I don’t know much at all about engines or much of anything else. I just like sitting in the car and letting the clutch out and feeling the G-force tugging on me moving down the track.

“But those cars can also intimidate. Those things are fast. It’s not like golf. It’s not a stroll in the park. I thought golf was hard. It doesn’t compare to racing. That’s a rough deal, man.”

Perry won’t be here for the Street Car Super Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway today through Sunday, but his Pontiac Grand Am will be. Bob Glidden is the NHRA Pro Stock legend who will drive the car.

Glidden’s son, Billy, also will race. That is when he is not telephoning Perry with updates following each round. They’ve been the closest of friends since Billy drove onto the Kenny Perry Country Creek Golf Course in Franklin, Ky., a town off I-65 you might miss if you blink.

“We just pulled up beside the barn near the putting green, and (Perry) was coming down the 18th,” Billy Glidden said. “We’ve been real close ever since.”

Because if you can’t bond near a barn on a golf course, where can you?

You might remember Perry on the 16th green at Valhalla in Louisville a few months back. The 48-year-old Kentucky native was closing out Henrik Stenson in Sunday’s fifth match for a U.S. Ryder Cup team that finally ended its eight-year drought against Team Europe. You might remember Perry’s family rushing at him with congratulations, a group that included his father. He was the guy wearing overalls, a cigar hanging from his mouth and another in his shirt pocket. Kenny Perry comes from some good ol’ boy stock. The racing part fits.

The golf part has, too: Perry struggled just to earn his PGA Tour card back in the mid-1980s and needed a loan from a church elder to chase his dream that required he repay the amount and a percentage of his winnings to charity.

He also just had one of the finest stretches of his career, two years shy of 50, winning three tournaments this year and making that Ryder Cup roster because he can still hit with most everyone on the tour. That’s the key nowadays. Long off the tee isn’t just important, but essential for survival.

He would like to race more, which he hasn’t done in a few years, caught between his desire to win as much as he can on the tour while also feeling those G-forces ripping through his body.

That’s not to say learning what to do following a burnout is as easy as discovering how best to attack different PGA Tour tracks each week. Glidden remembers the first time Perry sat behind the wheel of a car with the intent of racing.

“He started out as a hacker,” Billy Glidden said. “Everyone wants to be a driver … We started him out with an automatic transmission and got him 30 to 40 rides, but then put the (clutch) back in. Kenny would stop holding the gear before letting the clutch out and always ended up in neutral.”

There’s a lesson in there: No matter how much the child in us wants something more dangerous, sometimes we’re just built for those strolls in the park.

Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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