At 21, Casey Stoner sits at the top of his chosen sport, one race away from being crowned champion of the motorcycling world with the customary shower of champagne. Casey Stoner, met his wife Adriana Tuchyna, 18 at Phillip Island four years ago when Adriana asked him to sign her stomach.
In March, Stoner won the opening race of the MotoGP championship in Qatar, forcing Valentino Rossi, the sport's biggest name, to settle for second place.
It was no fluke. Stoner has now won eight of 14 races this year and enters the Japanese Grand Prix tomorrow (Midday, 12:00 pm Thai time) having virtually lapped the field. But if you're thinking he is an overnight sensation, think again.
At 18 months old, when most children are still walking with a wobble, Stoner had blisters from riding a motorbike on the family property at Niangala, near Tamworth, NSW. "We used to ride everywhere on the farm and I was sitting on the back, directing him," recalls his father, Colin.
"He was controlling the bike by himself by 18 or 20 months, and got his first throttle blister at 18 months. It was just something he wanted to do and he's never, ever dropped that desire."
Today that desire pumps through Stoner like fuel through his Ducati, but his emotions remain locked down tight.
"When you're a kid you think you can do anything, but then you get older and realise you can't, you know life's not like that, but for it then to look like it's happening... He trails off, clenching his fists. Dreams won't distract him, nor his competitors. He only needs to lead Rossi home today to claim the title.
"People do psych each other out but I try not to pay attention. Most of them are older and more experienced, but I keep away from all that and keep focused on learning."
Stoner's father, who also raced, said his son "learnt things on a motorbike by three or four that I know adults have a lot of trouble mastering".
Now he races an 800cc Ducati, a relative boy in a man's world - yet grown up, too, having married Adriana Tuchyna, 18, in January. They met at Phillip Island four years ago when Adriana asked him to sign her stomach. 'Being married has helped my racing. She keeps me calm,' Stoner says.
Tuchyna, the daughter of a motorcycle racer, radiates calm next to the wound-up Stoner but admits her stomach will be in knots tomorrow, not worried about where he finishes but that he comes home from work in one piece after hitting 330 km/h.
Motorcyclists are meant to be quick, just not this early in their careers. Most champions win their first title in their late 20s (Wayne Gardner and Mick Doohan, Australia's two world champions won at 28 and 29), but Stoner has years of experience beating older riders. He beat his father at six but Colin took it in his stride: 'He was very, very fast when he was that age. He could beat riders who were quite accomplished at a world level.'