The Women Of The Road Kings Take The Wheel

(Photo by Ross A Benson)

The women of the Burbank Road Kings have become integral to the organization as it wraps up its 70th anniversary year. 

The Road Kings started in 1952 when Ralph Marshall founded the car club and served as the first Road Kings president. Another founder alongside Marshall was then-Treasurer Al Totleono. Dave Osterkamp became the group’s first vice president, and Margaret, Marshall’s wife, stepped in as secretary. 

The club gained fame throughout Southern California during the ‘50s as its members became well-known for drag racing, as well as their top-notch hot rods and street cars. During the 20-year period of 1965 to 1985, the Road Kings members only convened sporadically, and the club was considered inactive. John Key, Fast Eddie Salvatore, Bob Money and Mike Walsh, however, revitalized the club in ‘85, and a tradition of hosting car shows and giving back to the community has carried on ever since. 

As the group has evolved over the years, women have begun to take on leadership positions. One example of this is Karen Arellano. Since 1989, she and her husband, Gary, have attended the organization’s car shows, which is where one of their first dates occurred. Arellano was later encouraged by Road Kings Director of Communications Rochelle Sfetku to join the club, and she has remained a member since 2019. She and Gary are also the first couple to be Road Kings members. Two years ago, Arellano became the treasurer of the Road Kings, and in November 2022 she was voted the next Road Kings president, making her the first woman to earn this position. In 2023, Arellano will replace current President Bruce Borst, who will next fill the role of treasurer.

(Photo by Ross A Benson)

Arellano and Gary each own two cars, which she calls “equal and a good thing.” The Road Kings president-elect values the opportunity the club has offered to form new companionships while bonding over a shared passion for cars.

“[I enjoy] the friendships I have made, new people we get to meet and the wonderful stories we get from the members that have been around since the early days,” Arellano said. “Going to car shows as part of a club and seeing so many wonderful cars and people out there at the car shows is just so much fun!”

Sfetku progressively became more engaged in the group after her father came on board as a Road Kings member in 1993. Eventually, she fulfilled duties like leading the raffles at Road Kings car shows, and her participation has proven to be instrumental for women desiring likewise to get involved. 

“… I started pushing to change the rules of ‘men only’ and ‘sons can come in under their father’ to, ‘any child of a member can come in under their father,’” Sfetku said. 

A 2016 vote resulted in Sfetku becoming the first-ever female Road Kings member. While she has paved the way for women having a place in the Southern California hot rod scene, Sfetku says that she has looked up to several trailblazing women such as boat racer Mary Rife, race car driver Shirley Muldowney and professional racer Jessi Combs. As a result of the determination of figures like these, Sfetku has seen inclusivity expand in the world of racing and hot rods.

“It has now become the ‘norm’ for women to be racers, hot rodders and motorheads, and it is kind of great to finally have a seat at the table,” Sfetku said. “Though I will say there are still people set in ‘old ways’ that still think it is not OK for a woman to own her own hot rod, work on the motor and be ‘a part of’ [it]… but the number is getting smaller.”

(Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

Road Kings Secretary Laraine Lisa has been a member for one year, and Carie Centeno has been a member for two years. Lisa’s father was active in drag racing, and he made an effort to ensure that she felt accepted in this circle. For three decades Lisa has attended Road Kings car shows, and she too has noticed how women have steadily become more welcome in this atmosphere.

“Being a girl, [my father] didn’t teach me the mechanics but encouraged me to feel like I was part of his world in other ways,” Lisa said. “Just 15 years ago others frequently assumed my classic was owned by a man. Today, women feel they can enjoy what once was mainly a man’s environment. It’s exciting to see and experience.”

The Road Kings gatherings that Centeno appreciates most are functions with the elderly, children, local business owners and other professionals, and first responders, especially the annual car cruise in remembrance of 9/11. Her classic car is a 1970 Ford Mustang Fastback, which was her first vehicle. It is a conversation starter with other women who open up to Centeno about their “dream car[s]” during these events. 

“As a woman with a classic car, other girls and women are willing to approach and ask questions and share their ‘dream car’ stories,” Centeno said. “Any chance to share experiences that may encourage others to follow their hearts and pursue their dreams is very rewarding, whether that’s other women, our youth or anyone.”

Another recent Road Kings member is Teresa Garcia, who officially joined in 2022 and owns a 1956 Ford F-100 big window truck. Similar to other women who are members, she originally became a supporter of the organization through her father, as Garcia’s dad was a hot rod enthusiast who was friendly with members like Borst and Jimmy Miles. Salvatore volunteered to sponsor Garcia and bring her into the group, and she and her husband, Dean, have since been “having a blast being involved with the Road Kings.”

“I totally enjoy all the advice and camaraderie within the club!” Garcia said. 

“It seems like women are taking the initiative to purchase their own classic cars versus riding shotgun with their partner! It’s a nice change of pace,” she added.

As Arellano is gearing up to lead the club, Road Kings Community Relations Representative Don Baldaseroni notes that occupants of the role of president have historically played a significant part in fostering the growth of the Road Kings. Although he initially felt “skeptical” about women entering the group, Baldaseroni happily anticipates continuing to collaborate with these members who have shown dedication and provided valuable contributions. 

“I was skeptical at first with women coming in the club, but after seeing the quality and commitment our members have, I look forward to working with each and everyone,” Baldaseroni said. “They all are members and car enthusiasts. I’m proud to be a Road King. It’s hard to imagine running the club without them.”

As of September 2022, the work of the Road Kings has resulted in around $500,00 being donated to local charities such as the Burbank Temporary Aid Center, the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley, the Burbank Historical Society, the Burbank High School auto shop, and more. Arellano cites “being part of a group that helps other charities through our car shows and other events” as an additional reason she has found joy through her part in the club. 

Furthermore, the mission of the Road Kings includes informing others about the history of hot rods. Both the philanthropic aid and teachings about classic cars from the members of the Road Kings have made a lasting impact on Burbank over the course of seven decades.  

“I especially like the fact that the club gives back to the community financially while utilizing their hot rods for special events, such as parades, trunk or treats, and displays that allow others to learn the beauty of classic cars,” Lisa said.

The latest appearance by the Road Kings was at Holiday in the Park on Nov. 18, where they displayed 40 classic cars for the public. Next they will be the first participants in the lineup for the annual Granada Hills Holiday Parade, which takes place on Dec. 4. 

Learn more about the Road Kings of Burbank here.

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