Getting Personal is a Q&A with a local personality. Here, 44-year-old Champaign resident Parham Parastaran, the owner of Car-X Tire and Auto, chats with The News-Gazette's Melissa Merli. Parastaran, who also hosts the annual Car-X Crazy K, is married with three daughters. He's in the process of finishing a book and publishing it in late spring 2016.
You're originally from Iran. Do you have any idea what it was like there during the Revolution, when your family escaped?
Of course I do. I was around 9 and in fourth grade. It was horrible. A lot of people getting killed and a lot my family members being harassed or jailed. Some even tortured. This was because we were not Muslim, and the new regime treated non-Muslims very badly, including my father. So we escaped during the hostage crisis, and then the United States granted us political asylum. You'll read about it in my book.
Do you still have family there and do you ever visit?
I have almost all my family there except one aunt who lives in Nashville. On my mom's side, every single family member is still there. There is no chance that I will be able to ever visit unless there is a change in regime. Effectively, the U.S. will not be able to protect me from the rules there, even though I'm a U.S. citizen. Bottom line: It's very risky and not worth it.
I've really enjoyed Persian food. Do you or does anyone in your family cook Persian cuisine?
My mom is the best Persian cook I know; she's amazing. My wife can make a great Persian rice, and I can make a Persian salad. That's it.
Did your MBA from the UI help you in your business? What were the most important things you learned in that program?
It was the best thing I ever did. It took me to another level on so many accounts. Besides the confidence it gave me, it gave me a structured way to look at everything. Before my MBA, I had solely relied on gut feelings, as I still do, but now I have some quantitative analysis skills that complement that. The most important thing I learned was multiple regression in my stats class.
Was it difficult building your business up to nine locations?
I actually have 14 stores now. And, yes, it was challenging to grow. I don't like the word difficult. Nothing is difficult if you want it bad enough. I did experience a couple of setbacks that tested everything I had, including coming close to losing it all. But that battle turned out to be the most fun I've ever had as an entrepreneur.
Do you continue to play tennis competitively?
I don't play tennis competitively any more. But I play all the time. I have the bug again. Plus I'm getting old and can't stand the gym, so it's the only way to stay healthy.
Is your father still alive? What were the most important things you learned from him?
My father is still alive and healthy. He taught me two important things. One is to be honest with myself. And the other was to be humble.
How did you come up with the idea for the CarX Crazy K 5K? How has the event changed over the years?
The idea came from wanting to do something for charity that was fun to do. Frankly, I got bored with golf scrambles and silent auctions as a means to raise money. My motto was to create something that people would do regardless of whether it was for charity or not. And the fact that it was for charity was the icing on the cake. So I told my friends Adam LeGrande and Bob Schimmel about the idea and they loved it and decided to help create the obstacles. And here we are celebrating our fifth year.
What was the weirdest costume or other thing you've seen at the Crazy K?
Oh my, so many. The giant bubble head a few years ago was priceless. Last year, we had the baby faces; that was weird and funny. We have also had a couple get married there and have their reception at the Crazy K. Their entire wedding party ran the event in their suits.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
I get up usually between 5 and 6 a.m. I immediately have a cup of coffee and turn on CNBC and watch "Squawk Box."
What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?
Wow, that's a tough one. It sounds corny but building a family with my wife that is full of real love.
What do you regard as your most treasured possession?
Since kids aren't possessions, I would say my signed autograph and picture with Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys.
Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?
Oh, yeah, burgers and fries. Add a chili mac to that and now we are talking.
What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?
I read weird psychology books. I'm currently reading a book that is called "Identity of an Immigrant" ... boring stuff for most. One of my favorite books is "Open: An Autobiography" by Andre Agassi.
Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?
I don't think I have a single place that I'm dying to go because what happens if I do that next week. Then I have nothing to look forward to. I do love to travel and explore. I just simply like new places.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
I don't like pets. Sorry, I hope I don't offend anyone. But they don't like me either.
What's your favorite sports team?
By far and away the Dallas Cowboys. I just got back from taking my daughter to preseason training. I go to many games a year, and if you ask my friends and family, they will tell you I have serious issues regarding this love of the Cowboys.
What would you order for your last meal?
That's easy. Just plain old spaghetti with a nice basil red sauce and a glass of red Chianti.
If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?
If it's a human, then a Dallas Cowboy quarterback. If it's not human, a bird.
Who are your favorite musicians and why?
My favorite bands are Depeche Mode, Rush, U2. I love music and have a lot of other people I would mention. I love music that has meaningful lyrics. I love lyrics that speak to something more than words like "I love you baby, do you love me blah blah blah."
What's the happiest memory of your life?
Man, it's tough to single out one thing, and if it's something other than my kids being born, I would be in trouble. So the answer is becoming a father.
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?
Neil Peart, Tony Romo and Albert Einstein. I would serve spaghetti, a Persian cucumber salad and wine. Nothing for dessert.
Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?
I'm not a history buff, but I would have to say someone like Gandhi. I admire when people can find a cause and a passion bigger than themselves and further do something that is truly altruistic.
What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?
I hate people who are comfortable lying and who are fake. I hate that I can be too needy.
What's your best piece of advice?
Don't take life too seriously. Live life as fully as you can and don't be afraid of anything. We are a tiny little ant in the big picture of things.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
My first job was working at Yankee Doodle for my parents in Gurnee. I believe my pay was zero. I think I got housing and clothes for the effort.
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at it?
In 2001, after Sept. 11, I lost a lot of money and was close to bankruptcy. I decided to sell a bunch of stores and regroup. I arrived at that decision by simply being honest with myself and the structure of my company at the time. It was a weak company, and I refused to believe it for a long time.
Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?
I have many regrets. The big ones you can read about in my book, but the biggest is not pursuing tennis more and working harder at it. I could have started a business any time, but certain things you need to pursue when you are young. I was too worried about money.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I really don't get stressed very often, because if something is not going right, I just concentrate on a plan of attack. And when you focus on a plan, you aren't thinking whether something is stressful or not. And frankly, all I have to think about is people around the world who are suffering, and I quickly realize what a joke it is to be stressed.
Car-X Crazy K
Parastaran also hosts the annual Car-X Crazy K, happening Sept. 19. In the nontraditional 5K at the Champaign County Fairgrounds in Urbana, participants race over, around, under and through obstacles. The after-race party features music, food and beverages. Proceeds support local charities. Register at carxcrazyk.itsyourrace.com/register/.