Oct. 7, 2010— -- At the age of 20, Nick Hogan has already enjoyed the highest highs and survived the lowest lows that life has to offer. Now he's aiming for the middle ground -- just trying to keep his life on track.
Nick is the son of professional wrestling icon Hulk Hogan. He made a name for himself as a race car driver while still in his teens. He appeared in the family's reality TV show, "Hogan Knows Best," which ran from 2005 to 2007.
His character on the show was a teenage prankster, a sort of real-life Dennis the Menace. Today he says the troublemaker fans saw on TV was not the real Nick. "I wasn't that person at all," he says.
In fact, the reality was worse.
Nick Hogan had a problem: a need for speed, and not just on the racetrack. He was a real menace on the roads of Florida, where the family lived, racking up multiple speeding tickets. Several times, police clocked him going over 100 miles an hour.
It was "absolutely reckless," he acknowledges now, in an exclusive interview. "It was being young and honestly just stupid, not mature."
At the time, he seemed to relish his image as an outlaw, boasting personalized license plates that read "COEHSP" -- an acronym for "Capable Of Eluding High Speed Pursuit."
His recklessness caught up with him on August 27, 2007.
Police say Hogan, then 17, was drinking as well as speeding that day, when he lost control of his Toyota Supra sports car and slammed into a palm tree in Clearwater, Florida. Nick denies he was street-racing.
His best friend, John Graziano, was in the passenger's seat, and wasn't wearing a seat belt.
Graziano survived, but suffered severe brain damage. He was an Iraq war veteran, a decorated marine, now destined to live the rest of his life in a semi-conscious state, needing 24-hour nursing care.
Graziano's father lashed out, saying, "What al Qaeda couldn't do to my son, [Nick] did in a matter of minutes."
Nick was stung by the accusation. "I remember hearing that for the first time, and I just remember wanting to stand up and just scream that I had no intention to ever hurt John," he said.
The Hogans later settled a lawsuit with the family, believed to be worth millions.
Death Threats and Jail Time
After the crash, Nick found himself the target of some anonymous, threatening phone calls – "really disturbing voicemails that were threatening my life," he recalled. "There's someone out there who's got a screw loose who's leaving me these voicemails that wants to do this to me." He admits he was scared.
He accepted a plea deal for reckless driving and was sentenced to eight months behind bars. Because he was a juvenile charged as an adult, he served part of his time separate from other prisoners, in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.
It provided a tough lesson. "I really learned a lot about detaching myself from my ego," he told ABC News, in his first interview since being released from jail.
He still breaks down in tears when he talks about the crash that nearly killed his friend. "It's hard to move on every day and be positive when there's something that's so horribly devastating," he says. "There's days when I can't even get out of bed. I pray every day that I will be able to deal with it. It's something that I carry with me every day."
But John Graziano's family isn't buying his story of contrition. The family issued a statement through their lawyer to ABC News, saying "Nick has done nothing to show remorse. We haven't heard a word from him.... We don't believe a word of what he says about being remorseful."
Nick's own words, in recorded jailhouse conversations, sometimes reinforced that impression.
The Pinellas County Jail complied with a public records request and released 36 hours of recordings of conversations between Nick and his parents. The family knew their calls were being recorded, but not that they'd be released to the media.
On the tapes, Nick can be heard asking his father to line up a new reality show for him to star in when he gets out of jail -- "I want to do it where I'll make the most money," he said.
"A lot of what was said on those tapes [was] recorded in the most challenging times of my entire life," Nick tries to explain. "I was in the middle of really, really going to the deepest depths of mental insanity being in solitary confinement."
He now admits, "It was arrogant and it was completely disregarding the magnitude of the situation."
Adjusting to Life After Jail
The jail term now two years behind him, Nick Hogan is trying to look forward. He's given up auto racing, at least for now, and is developing his talents as a music DJ.
He has also started a non-profit group called Keep It on the Track, dedicated to stopping street-racing and teaching young people about safe driving habits and the importance of wearing seat-belts.
He remains close to both his parents, despite their somewhat scandalous divorce last year.
Nick Hogan says even if they're dysfunctional, they're his family, and they still love each other.
"That's one of the blessings I have, is my family. Above everything, my family has always been there for me and I will always be there for my family to return the favor."