Sophomore Christopher Penovatz attentively observes the model Jaguar E-Type in his hands. Polished to the chrome, he can now imagine and visualize the paint job his latest masterpiece will have.
When he isn’t working on his latest model car restoration, you’ll probably see Penovatz motoring through the halls and hear his brakes screeching as he swings around a corner. For Penovatz, the halls are the race track, and Carmel High School is Daytona.
Before Chris was a car, he was an airplane. And no, he isn’t a transformer.
“I used to go around the school with wings,” Penovatz says.
Penovatz reveals that he started making car noises as a way to entertain himself because he had no friends in school. He had a lot of time to practice his sound effects, and with the help of good control over his vocal chords, he got to the point where he sounded so realistic that he could fool his friends into thinking that a real car was driving by.
In reality, it’s just Chris.
Cars aren’t just a hobby for Penovatz. They have been part of his life for as long as he can remember. He was surrounded by cars from his dad, who was a collector, so naturally he fell in love with them.
Penovatz isn’t just some casual car aficionado either. No, he knows what he likes. Golden age classics from the 1930s to modern sports cars get his engine going.
What’s his favorite? Picking a single favorite “is hard, but there are couple at the top of the list,” Penovatz says. Everything from Volvos to Rolls Royces and Saabs make this young car lover’s heart melt.
“But none are better than the other.”
Apart from giving him something to get excited about every morning when he wakes up, cars gave Chris Penovatz something much more important. They saved his life.
A few years ago, Chris and his mother were traveling down a stretch of mountain road between Salinas and San Juan Bautista. Penovatz explains that their peaceful day was shattered unexpectedly when a lifted Ford Bronco—part of the reason why Chris now hates trucks—shoved them off the road and down the side of a cliff. The car slid about 100 feet and crashed against a tree.
Amazingly, nothing happened to them except a little scuff. The car was damaged, but luck and the safety standards of their car made it possible for them to walk away unharmed. Penovatz didn’t let the accident damage his passion for cars.
Aside from his love affair with cars, Chris is also unique in another way. According to Penovatz, he has a minor form of autism and ADHD, and having two different hyperactivity disorders has posed its challenges for him.
“People treat me like I’m ‘special,’ especially the adults,” he explains. “Just treat me like a normal goddamn person.”
Penovatz does receive extra academic accommodations, such as getting extra times on tests, but he admits that sometimes “it’s embarrassing because [he thinks he] should be self-sufficient.”
But probably the greatest asset Chris has is his incredible energy. While most students roam school in the morning like zombies, Chris Penovatz revs up his engines and flies past all the kids wishing they had a cup of coffee and four more hours of sleep. To him, ADHD and autism aren’t disorders. They are gifts—gifts he has learned to cope with through biking and running instead of medication.
“Some people do drugs, some people play tennis or football. For me it’s biking. That’s my fix.”
To Chris, having these disorders “can be annoying sometimes, but who cares? It’s different. I like being different. I’m a rebel.”
While it might make sense for Chris to use his disability to his advantage in the future, he prefers using his energy recreationally.
So the next time you hear the sound of a sports car speeding off and burning rubber as it turns a corner, it’s either Chris Penovatz doing what he loves or someone stealing your car. Hopefully, it’s Chris Penovatz.