Maximum AZ

Written by Niki D'Andrea, Leah LeMoine, M.V. Moorhead, Craig Outhier, Amy Saunders Category: Lifestyle Issue: October 2014
Group Free

The richest person. The strongest man. The hottest hot sauce. Find them all in this salute to Arizona’s most outstanding outliers.


Most Powerful Computer
Just as the ultra-wealthy have the Forbes 400, super-powerful computers have, a website that doggedly tracks – and ranks – the world’s most insanely fast computers. Arizona’s reigning champion: a little machine called El Gato at the University of Arizona.

Powered by 5,800 core processors, El Gato can perform 254 trillion computations – known as floating-point operations – per second (FLOPS). For visual learners, that’s 254,000,000,000,000 every second. So what do the folks at the U of A do with all that computational muscle? “Well, I’m an astronomer, so I’ve used it to model dark matter, run simulations, things of that nature,” says U of A assistant professor Brant Robertson, who helped secure the $1.3 million National Science Foundation grant that brought El Gato (for “Extremely LarGe Advanced TechnOlogy system”) to life. Since El Gato is available for any university student or faculty member to use, one imagines it could also run some pretty epic Call of Duty marathons. “I guess that’s possible,” Robertson allows. “But I’d hope they’d aim for something higher.”

Photo courtesy of Barrett-Jackson

Most Valuable Car
Although the car collection of Walmart chairman and part-time Valley resident Rob Walton is said to include a Ferrari GTO worth around $50 million, no “gently used” classic ride in Arizona beats the 1966 Shelby Cobra – aka the “Shelby Super Snake” – for which Chandler car buff Ron Pratte paid $5.5 million in 2007. The ’66 Super Snake is the surviving half of a pair of twins; the other was destroyed in a crash after a single drive by original owner Bill Cosby (immortalized in his “200 mph” routine). Pratte plans to sell the vehicle, along with the rest of his collection, at next year’s Barrett-Jackson auction. “We had the pleasure of selling the vehicle with Carroll Shelby on the block in ‘07,” says Barrett-Jackson CEO Craig Jackson, “and we look forward to selling it again in January.”

Most College Degrees
Even geniuses get outsmarted sometimes: Despite earning a staggering six degrees in seven years from Northern Arizona University, Alex Hatcher says her doctorate-holding cousins are the real smarty-pantses in the family. At the ripe old age of 25, Hatcher has three bachelor’s degrees and three master’s degrees – all in social sciences – and plans to join the doctorate club when her boyfriend finishes his degree. After supporting her through countless cram sessions, all-nighters and a thesis defense, “it’s his turn,” Hatcher says with a laugh. The Michigan transplant fell in love with Flagstaff after a campus visit to NAU. She’s been hiking, biking, running and, of course, studying there ever since. Hatcher is humble about her academic acumen and champions learning in any form. “I’ve done a lot of work to get my degrees, but I also don’t think that degrees are the only measure of knowledge or intelligence. We have a lot of great minds in the world that haven’t received a bachelor’s degree,” Hatcher says. “But I think that higher education can open our minds to some of the knowledge that we may not have known we were capable of unlocking within ourselves.”

Photo by Carrie Evans

Oldest Person
You don’t live to be 113 without earning a few pearls of wisdom. Bernando LaPallo has earned enough for a complete jewelry set, but the Mesa resident (by way of New York and, originally, Brazil) says his secret to longevity is simple: “Obedience and moderation. That’s it. You can have a drink, you can have a sandwich, red meat, what have you. But if you overdo it, you’re going to be in trouble.” LaPallo’s a longtime health nut who takes daily walks, drinks superfood smoothies and rubs olive oil into his skin after bathing. His supercentenarian status has drawn skepticism and controversy, which he refutes on his blog, What’s not controversial: his sunny outlook and common-sense health tips, which he shares in two books and on speaking tours that he says keep him mobile and enjoying life. “You only live one moment in comparison to the time you’re dead. One moment,” LaPallo says. “Enjoy your life, take care of your body, and enjoy it as much as you can while you’re still here.”

Most Prolific Olympian
With half a dozen gold medals on her mantle, swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen has got to be Arizona’s winningest Olympian. Sure, we have to share her with her birth state of Colorado, but she spends much of the year here, where her post-retirement gigs have included a stint as head coach of the varsity swim team at Notre Dame Prepatory High School in Scottsdale and part of the morning radio team at 98.7 The Peak. As an Olympian, she has the distinction of being one of few competitors whose medals are all gold (she won four golds at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, and two more golds in Sydney in 2000). In June, Van Dyken-Rouen suffered a severed spinal cord in an ATV accident in Show Low, an injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. But in what may be her most monumental victory to date, Van Dyken-Rouen underwent emergency surgery in Scottsdale, completed two months of rehabilitation at a hospital in Colorado, and took her first steps shortly after her release this past August.

photo by Carrie EvansStrongest Person
“You definitely want to be in the zone,” says Chuck Hudson of what it takes to succeed in his sport. “You don’t want to be too amped up.” Most of us would find this advice of little help when it comes to bench-pressing 727 pounds – the weight Hudson hefted to become World Champion of the International Powerlifting League last November, simultaneously setting a world record in his weight class. The Honolulu-born, Georgia-raised Hudson, who discovered competitive lifting after an injury ended a promising football career, acknowledges the dangers of the sport. He’s seen fellow competitors break their arms, and he dislocated his own elbow last February. Still, he’s slated to compete in the IPL Worlds in Vegas in November. Hudson, by day a telecommunications manager for Hospice of the Valley, says he likes the non-confrontational nature of lifting: “The nice thing is, it’s just you versus the weight.”

Illustration by Patrick Mcquade,

Richest Person
Bruce Halle didn’t set out to make billions; he just wanted to sell people tires at a reasonable price. “Discount tires,” you might say. Armed with that sticky catchphrase – and, if you believe the legend, a half-dozen retreads that he picked up at a swap meet – Halle opened his first Discount Tire in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1960. Five decades later, the 84-year-old Paradise Valley resident is the Croesus of Arizona. Estimated worth: $4.4 billion. According to the Forbes 400, that makes him the 103rd most well-heeled American, but tops in Arizona, well ahead of Campbell soup heir Bennett Dorrance and GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, who jointly rank 296 on the list with identical fortunes of $1.9 billion. The media-shy Halle has been even harder to nail down for an interview since a home invasion several years ago, but he might take comfort in the fact that he’s only the richest full-time Arizonan – part-time Valley resident Rob Walton of the Walmart clan is No. 9 on the list at a mind-scrambling $33.3 bil.

Biggest House
It’s 10 times bigger than Graceland, and twice the size of Bill Gates’ mondo-manse on Lake Washington. Even Donald Trump’s beachside monstrosity in Florida – at 62,500 square feet – hardly comes close. In fact, the 104,000-square-foot house currently under construction in Scottsdale’s ultra-exclusive Silverleaf community, upon completion, will be the fourth-largest dwelling in the entire United States. Exclude estates turned tourist attractions, like the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C., and it will be America’s largest private residence. The owner: Jason Hope, CEO of Scottsdale-based software company Jawa. Hope declined to comment through architect Erik Peterson, who wouldn’t discuss the house per a confidentiality agreement. However, previous press reports listed an IMAX theater and three-story nightclub among the property’s amenities, and an artist’s rendering on the builder’s website shows what appear to be turrets and a moat – ideal if Hope plans to ward off his creditors with burning oil and longbows (see Hot Topics, pg. 26). Until completion of the Hope property, the title of Biggest House in AZ goes to the McCune Mansion, a 14-bedroom, 23-bathroom Paradise Valley estate built in the 1960s by oil investor Walter McCune. Vacant for years, the home is listed as-is at $192 per square foot, well under neighborhood averages. At 52,000 square feet, that comes out to a mere $10 million.

Photo by Carrie Evans

Smartest Kid
Sure, every set of parental units should be proud of their honor roll students and spelling bee winners, but some kids are just exceptional. How many parents could put a bumper sticker on their car that reads, “My toddler tests better than your teenager”? Ian and Jackie Martin of Queen Creek could. This past February, when she was just three years old, their daughter Alexis scored among the top 2 percent of the general population on a standardized intelligence test, registering an IQ above 160 and becoming the youngest card-carrying member of the Arizona chapter of national “high IQ society” Mensa. Now 4, Alexis speaks Spanish, which she taught herself on her parents’ iPad, and is learning the periodic table of elements and anatomy. She’s reportedly already mastered geography. But despite setting a cerebral bar already way over most people’s heads, Alexis is still a child, after all. She started school this fall, and loves dancing, Disney princesses and modeling her mother Jackie’s clothing line for the family cameras.

photo courtesy of Mike Hallen

Largest Saguaro
On weekends, Mike Hallen doesn’t hunt deer or turkey. For nearly two decades, the 58-year-old Chandler resident has hunted saguaros. In 2009, Hallen and two friends nominated the cactus currently listed as the largest saguaro on the National Register of Big Trees: 54 feet tall and 83 inches in circumference, with “arms” spreading 15 feet. They had spotted it on a steep ridge near Dutchman Trail in the Superstition Wilderness. A faraway cactus could have been an illusion. But the group’s clinometer measurements, later verified by Arizona State Forestry, didn’t disappoint. “It just looks like the Eiffel Tower,” Hallen says. “It’s just amazing how big it is. Or it was.” To explain the past tense: Hallen heard a rumor through the saguaro-hunter grapevine that the big cactus may have fallen. But between recovering from foot surgery and the summer heat, he hasn’t had a chance to check on it. Searching for a new nominee, though, would be routine. Record saguaros are often more than 200 years old, and so frail that any day could be their last. Hallen has nominated about 15 saguaros for the registry. “You know there’s a bigger one,” he says. “All you have to do is go find it.”

photo by Carrie Evans

Most Prolific Tattoo Artist
No one on the planet has inked more tattoos in 24 hours than Hollis Cantrell. In 2008, a green-mohawked Cantrell qualified for Guinness World Records after a marathon day of inking at Artistic Tattoo in Downtown Phoenix. He’d been inspired to take the record from Kat Von D, who was starring at the time on reality TV show L.A. Ink – and about whom Cantrell, after two negative encounters, has some unprintable words. Enticed by flyers and the promise of future discounts, more than 500 people got inked with Cantrell’s signature “AZ” design. Recipients of multiple tattoos helped keep Cantrell’s average time under two minutes: One volunteer got 74 on his back alone. With a half-hour to spare, Cantrell stopped at 801 tattoos, doubling the record Kat Von D set — and adding one more on his own thigh to rub it in. Since then, Cantrell, 37, has opened his own shop, Iconic Tattoo and Piercing in Peoria. Guinness has informed him that 26 people have attempted and failed to break his record. Cantrell says he’s happy to share advice to help someone take his record – briefly. “Then I’d go smash the record and do 1,000.”

photo by Brian Goddard

Hottest Hot Sauce
Try Paul Ford’s hot sauce and you taste tomato, garlic, even a hint of rosemary. But not an insane amount of heat. “A minute later,” Ford warns, “that’s when you realize you made a mistake.” The name of this unholy elixir: God’s Wrath. Its claim: hottest hot sauce in Arizona. Hot sauces are measured on the Scoville scale, which counts the times a pepper must be diluted before heat can’t be felt. Not all hot sauce makers submit their products to expensive, time-consuming Scoville testing, but Ford – who bottles God’s Wrath under his Big Red’s Hot Sauce label in Anthem – was insatiably curious. Ultimately, the sauce registered an Arizona-record 800,000 to 1 million Scoville units – more than 15 times hotter than the Tabasco in your fridge. Its active ingredient: the ghost pepper, hailed by some as the world’s third-hottest chili pepper. But maximum heat isn’t a hot sauce maven’s only goal. That’s why Ford is proud of how the sauce tastes at first bite. “It doesn’t take too much talent to get just hot,” the 33-year-old says. “But it takes something to give it the flavor first.”