Under the radar no longer

The mother of Nick Bollea says the public has gotten the wrong idea about her son.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY, Times Staff Writer
Published September 14, 2007

BELLEAIR - Despite growing up in the spotlight as the son of famous wrestler Hulk Hogan, Nick Bollea managed to avoid headlines for most of his 17 years.

Before the VH1 reality television show chronicling his family's life, most people had never heard of him.

But that changed on Aug. 26.

That night, Bollea lost control of his yellow Toyota Supra and slammed into a palm tree, putting his friend and passenger, John Graziano, 22, in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center.

Suddenly, Bollea's driving record, which includes tickets for driving more than 100 mph, was under a microscope. An interview he gave to a car magazine, in which he boasted about talking his way out of tickets, made international headlines.

On Thursday, Bollea's mother, Linda Bollea, said the public has the wrong idea about her son.

"With the persona from the VH1 show, it's been taken out of context as to who Nick really is," she said in an interview at her Belleair home.

On Hogan Knows Best, Nick plays a mischievous prankster. But off camera, her son is soft-spoken and gentle, Linda Bollea said. He's a smart, serious and level-headed businessman, she said.

But one aspect of his personality featured on the show is real: He loves cars.

When he was younger, he hung out in his grandfather's garage filled with antique cars, Linda Bollea said. He would line up his HotWheel cars along the baseboards of the house. He loved the movies Gone in 60 Seconds and The Fast and the Furious.

His parents took him to Toyota Supra meets where he met Graziano and Danny Jacobs, who was driving a silver Dodge Viper on the day of the crash.

Witnesses said they saw the Viper racing against the Supra before the wreck. The Bolleas were advised by their lawyer, Barry Cohen, not to answer questions about the accident.

No charges have been filed in the ongoing investigation. Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor said he anticipates some information about the crash will be released next week.

Bollea turned his car hobby into a profession. He took lessons at a stunt driving school and was coached by Samuel Hubinette, a champion in drifting, a motor sport where the driver puts a car into a controlled skid.

He showed a lot of talent at 15, Hubinette said.

"He's very focused and a good listener and trying to do the best to learn this as quick as possible and eager to do it over and over again," Hubinette said. "We used up a lot of BF Goodrich tires, that's for sure."

Bollea failed several times before earning a provisional license, said Jim Liaw, president of Formula Drift.

"For being the son of Hulk Hogan and somebody that obviously is in a little bit of wealth and kind of privilege, he kind of worked his butt off to get his license," Liaw said.

Graziano and Jacobs were always by his side. They helped transform the Bolleas' garage into a workshop and worked in Nick Bollea's pit crew this summer in St. Louis, Denver and Los Angeles.

Bollea, who suffered a broken arm in the crash, won't be competing in the last Formula Drift competition of the year.

"This was like their baby; this was like their dream come true," Linda Bollea said.

Driving records show that Bollea indulged his love of speed off the track. On Aug. 10, Pinellas Park police pulled him over for going 82 mph in a 45 mph zone. He was cited for speeding in a construction zone with workers present and not wearing a seat belt.

In April, he was cited for going 106 mph in a 70 mph zone in Osceola County, according to state driving records.

"What 17-year-old doesn't get tickets?" Linda Bollea said.

She added that she and her husband were upset when they heard about the tickets and told their son that anything that happens on the road can affect his career.

The much-publicized interview with Rides magazine where her son bragged about his bad driving record? It was exaggerated, she said.

She said she and her husband worked hard to instill good values in Bollea and his sister, Brooke, 19. The kids went to St. Cecilia Catholic School in Clearwater, where they were taught about respect and God, Linda Bollea said. She raised them in Clearwater instead of Los Angeles.

In school, her son earned A's and B's, she said. Nick was finishing his freshman year at Clearwater Central Catholic high school when Brooke launched her music career and the family started filming Hogan Knows Best.

Nick was home schooled after freshman year so he could be on the show and because his mother said she would rather have him home than at Clearwater Central Catholic, where she said students were exposed to drugs and fights. He later earned his GED.

The day of the accident, Bollea and his friends were headed to an Arigato Japanese Steak House to meet with representatives from a cable network who were interested in discussing a car show.

Since the accident, the Bolleas have been at the hospital every day. They're paying for a hotel room so Graziano's mom, Debra Graziano, has a place to shower and sleep.

"We've all been grief-stricken," Linda Bollea said.

She said Graziano, who suffered a head injury, has been taken off the medication keeping him in an induced coma. The Bolleas brought in their own doctors to evaluate him. She said doctors say Graziano is reacting as expected.

She said they hope Graziano will recover soon. Until then, Bollea is keeping a journal for his friend:

"You've almost been in the hospital for three weeks now," he wrote Thursday. "We've all been praying for you every day."