Day Job/Night Job: Body Shop Office Manager Is Just Starting to Rev Her Engine
Written by Ed Attanasio, Autobody News
Published April 7, 2017
Five days a week and sometimes on Saturdays, Zenia Amezquita, 32, works at Cali Style Auto Body in Hemet, CA as the office manager.
But when she isn't processing claims and meeting with customers, she spends much of her free time pursuing her passion for car racing. She loves working on her family's shop, but what really gets Zenia going is driving fast in a powerful car. She's taken it from drift racing to road racing and is also a driving coach at The Porsche Experience in Carson, CA.
Cali Style Auto Body was started by Zenia's father, Javier, in 1997, so the collision industry has been in her life as long as she can remember. "I tell people I was born in it," Amezquita said. "I was helping my father doing side jobs when I was 10. I remember him handing me sand paper to keep me busy and entertained. I had my Quinceañera here at the shop and now I work here with my mother and father and my brother, so it's nice."
Zenia operates the front office at Cali Style Auto Body, but she isn't afraid to jump in and get dirty if needed. "I have zero problems getting in there and if everyone else is busy, I will tear down a car," she said. "My mother even tears down cars, so we're not afraid to do whatever it takes to get the job done. In a small shop, everyone has to contribute. We've realized after all these years that working together is the only way it's going to work and it's really nice. Some people find it hard to believe that a family can work well together every day, but we love it. We have breakfast and lunch together every day and I value the time that I get to spend with my family here at the shop."
Zenia couldn't wait to start driving when the time came. "I got my driver's license at age 15, before the California law changed to 16," she said. "My first car was a 1997 Honda Civic that my father bought from an auction and we worked on it together. We worked on it together. It needed a new front end and we painted it and he sent me on my way. I didn't know how to drive stick shift, but he told me I'd figure it out."
Zenia started racing as soon as she could, but it wasn't exactly the legal kind. "My brother Francisco is two years older than me, so he was already street racing when I was 14, so I would tag along, " she said. "So when I got my car, I thought, 'Wow, I can street race now.' That's how it started, racing with my brother and his friends."
Zenia isn't proud of that period in her life, but she wouldn't change it for anything either. "I admit that we did some racing in some places where it was very illegal" she said. "I was a wild child back then and as a result, I did get a lot of tickets, but I haven't gotten one in a long, long time. I'm a very safe driver now; I drive real slow. Kids go speeding past my house now and I yell at them-'Slow down!' So it's funny how much my life has changed."
To pursue a new rush (and avoid more tickets), Zenia found drift racing, or maybe it found her. "I had no idea what drifting was, but when I discovered it, I loved it," she said. "I got my drifting vehicle back in 2003 and I still use it today. It's a 1985 Toyota Corolla and perfect for drifting. It looks crazy and chaotic while I'm out there, but it's actually very safe when you compare it to other types of racing. A drifter has never been killed during an event."
If you're not familiar with drifting, it's a driving technique where the driver intentionally oversteers, loses traction in the rear wheels or all tires, and does it all while maintaining control and driving the car through the entirety of a corner. Drifting competitions were first popularized in the 1970s in Japan and today they are held worldwide and judged according to the speed, angle, showmanship and the line taken through a corner or set of corners, according to www.everythingdrift.com.
As an amateur drifter, Zenia kept busy competing in a lot of amateur events throughout California. "I have been doing this for 14 years, so I have probably been in 140 competitions at places like Thunder Hill and Angels Stadium in Anaheim," she said. "My best finish was 16th out of a field of 54, but for the last three years, I have been focusing more on road racing rather than drifting. In every race I'm in, I am usually the only woman and some people look twice when they see me out there, but they're always very nice."
Most recently, Zenia has taken her passion for race driving to another level by landing a coveted job at the The Porsche Experience Center, a 53-acre venue in Carson, CA that is also the new home of Porsche Motorsport North America. "I am a driving coach, for people who want to try the newer Porsches and learn about what the car can do and how it handles--it's pretty neat. The other day, one of my students was the actress Lisa Kudrow (Friends) and it was pretty exciting. It's a great gig!"
In addition, Zenia is working in the Ford Driving School for Life program in southern California, where she helps young drivers to be safe and better drivers. "It's funny because I used to race illegally myself and now I am showing these kids how to be safe and make smart decisions on the road. Wow, my life has changed a lot, and it's all for the better."
Still single, Zenia said she's married to racing at least for now. She loves working with her family at the shop and hopes to become a professional racer in road racing. "My father will probably be retiring at some point, so my brother and I have discussed taking it over," she said. "And I want to get a seat in professional road racing, because that is my ultimate goal."