"Before, it had been hard to go to a shop and ask for something. The auto mechanic would say, 'Are you here with your boyfriend, does your boyfriend need help?' " said Petzold. She has spent more than $25,000 on her bluish-purple 1995 Honda Prelude to add a custom body, paint job, a PlayStation and a DVD player.
"Even when I drove my car out, and there would be a guy in the passenger seat, people would like my car, but they would ask the guy, not me, about the car," said Petzold, who has won numerous show awards, the last one at the Import Showoff last year in Anaheim.
Companies see the recent influx of women as a new market. More mainstream sponsors like Castrol Oil and Mobil are going after drivers of imports, offering them thousands of dollars to put promotional stickers on their cars.
Import-car clothing companies have also sprung up, developing clothing lines just for women, and hiring them to promote the lines. Autocannon, for example, says it will come out with Racerette clothes to promote a new sense of girl power. The New Jersey-based Girlie girl line targets women with its racing-related Ts, tanks, halters and accessories, and hires women drivers to advertise its motto: "I'm a Quick Chick."
"The key is that girls bring more attention than any guy off the street," said Jerry Tsai, the 24-year-old owner of Pacific Rim in Pasadena, another company specializing in import-car clothing.
The GirlRacer team that June Shih belongs to was created by Tsai to appear at legal races and shows. It's made up of Shih and 10 other women who range from college students to 52-year-old "Mommy C," as the members call Charlotte De Vera, who was the first to make the team. De Vera owns a turbo-charged gold Honda minivan. Most members are from throughout the Southern California area, with two hailing from as far as Maryland.
"We didn't want the girls that bend over their cars, the ones with the super-short shorts," Tsai said. "We wanted to push a positive image to target girls and show that they could be more than just hoochie mommas."