Queens of the Road, Celebrating Women Who Drive Change in the Automotive Industry

The Women of the Custom Automotive Industry

We are honoring the women in our automotive industry this month, so we wanted to do something a little different to show our appreciation through these pages. Sure, it’s no secret that the custom automotive industry can seem like a “man’s world,” and it’s true that ego and testosterone abound. This can be intimidating for some, but there are plenty of women out there who have conquered and grown this industry in ways unimaginable. With their help and them pursuing careers in this space, this industry is certainly better off. 

Thousands of women out there in our industry are showing us just how it’s done—as many of them say (even on the personalized license plates of their custom vehicles read), “Chicks can, too!” Of course, we couldn’t feature them all here, but we did our best to track down some who have been influential to the custom classic truck scene in particular and honor and highlight them here in this issue. If you have a daughter like Bailey McKeska (cover truck owner/builder), be the dad (or mom) like Mike Mckeska by encouraging their passions to pursue a career in the automotive space.

Let’s get to it and take a look behind the scenes at some of the key players at automotive companies all across the US.


Operations – GSI Machine & Fabrication

Krysta Aranda was introduced to cars at a very young age. She grew up with an amazing father who shared this passion with her early on. In high school, she joined auto-shop class despite being a cheerleader and ballet dancer. She didn’t let that stop her. She wanted to learn everything she could and really enjoyed being around all things automotive and horsepower related.

Over the years, she has only had jobs in the automotive industry and has pursued growing that passion. At one point she was a service advisor and also worked as a parts manager at a speed shop. Currently, Krysta works for GSI Machine and Fabrication where she has continued her desire to learn everything she can in this industry. She has soaked up shop life like a sponge and learned all about the processes in manufacturing, machining, welding, and chassis design. It also helps that she really does have a huge passion for all things custom trucks, and even has a truck project of her own. Krysta is currently building a 1965 C10 with her husband. He has taught her much about these trucks, including LS swaps, air ride, the complete restoration process, and unfortunately, even wiring.

Krysta shared with us that she truly hopes her story and those of others will inspire more women to get out there and get involved!

“Ask anyone you know who has experience to teach you,” she shared. “Don’t be afraid to get dirty and make mistakes. You will learn how capable you are and you will enjoy every minute of it.”

We fully agree—get out there and show them what you’re made of!


Owner/Operations – McGaughys Suspension

Michelle Garcia-McGaughy is an absolute superwoman! Super mom, super human, and super business owner/operator extraordinaire—she really does it all with unmatched grace and humbleness. Michelle also grew up around cars her whole life and would eventually grow up to become partners in one of the largest aftermarket suspension companies in the US! Michelle and her husband Steve run and operate McGaughys Suspension as a small family-owned business, although “small” is not a word that would accurately describe anything about their now quite large operation.

No matter how big McGaughys Suspension has grown over the past few decades, the McGaughy family is truly the definition of the American dream, while still keeping family value intact. Sports, family, business, building custom cars together on the weekends—they do it all together! And like many women, Michelle is truly the glue that holds it all together for both the family and the company. The custom automotive aftermarket thrives in the States because of families and companies like the McGaughys. Michelle is truly one of the best examples of encouraging women in the industry to foster leadership roles, volunteer, give back, pursue their dreams, and continue to push further, setting a great example for others to follow.  We’re awfully proud to call her a friend!


Account Supervisor – Kahn Media

Diana Brennan is an established communications professional with broad and in-depth experience in both the automotive and motorsports industries. As an account supervisor with Kahn Media, she currently oversees the PR strategy and media outreach for clients including SEMA, the Petersen Automotive Museum, Rod Shows, Rolex, and the Mullin Automotive Museum.

For almost 20 years, Diana worked in media and community relations at Sonoma Raceway— Northern California’s premier motorsports facility. After beginning her career as an intern in college, Diana ultimately worked her way up to vice president of marketing, communications and community relations at the raceway. In that role, she managed a diverse team consisting of media and community relations, marketing, social/digital media, and an events department to orchestrate high-level, year-round motorsports events, including NASCAR, NHRA drag racing, and IndyCar happenings.

Diana’s background in the motorsports industry and a lifelong passion for cars helped drive her to Kahn Media in October 2022. Diana graduated from the University of the Pacific and currently resides in San Francisco’s East Bay with her husband and son.


President – TREAD Agency

Beth Brennan is a marketing leader and project manager with 10-plus years’ experience in the outdoor industry and is also currently the president of TREAD Agency. Prior to TREAD, she was vice president  of marketing for guidefitter and chief marketing officer for Go Fast Campers. Beth started in the industry as director of marketing at Tepui Tents from a startup through its acquisition by the Thule Group. Beth lives in Bozeman, Montana, and sits on the board of SEMA Businesswomen’s Select Committee, Overland Expo Foundation, Public Land & Water Access Association, American Fly Fishing Trade Association and volunteers for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

Beth has a passion for supporting women in their careers and helps with SEMA, Gear Up Girl, and Women & Leadership Forum to help advance women in automotive and other male-dominated outdoors industries. Beth’s lifelong love of adventure is what led her to the intersection of automotive and outdoor recreation.


Founder/Owner – Baja Forged

Theresa Contreras is a born-and-bred generational automotive lifer. Now a staple in this industry, Theresa hails from Southern California and is the founder of Baja Forged, but she has been a steady part of the automotive aftermarket for more than two decades already. Growing up at the shop with her dad, sister, and her now husband, the family business has always been automotive. Theresa was the head painter and helped run LGE/CTS in San Dimas, California, for 20-plus years before recently venturing out to begin her own line of custom truck parts that include bumpers, fenders, custom Bronco parts, and more.

Theresa has served on several SEMA/SBN councils, taken part in many Ford specialty builds, magazine covers, and has earned many various awards and accolades. Alongside Jessi Combs, Theresa helped launch The Real Deal to help encourage more women to pursue their passions within the automotive and motorcycle space through charity rides, events, and awareness campaigns. You’ll find Theresa surrounded by anything with wheels and a fun custom flare!


Senior Account Executive – Kahn Media

Anna Glennon is a world champion and eight-time national champion jet ski racer and digital media and communications specialist working as a senior account executive at Kahn Media. Before she could talk, Anna was making engine noises. She shadowed her father, a master mechanic and fluent gearhead, throughout her childhood and learned the ins and outs of engines and fell in love with going fast. Together, they restored a variety of cars, trucks, jet skis, and boats.

Anna’s experience in powersports media began as a side hustle to promote her budding jet ski racing career. It evolved into early jobs as a powersports journalist and photographer. Expanding outside of the watercraft industry, Anna kickstarted a career in motocross as a team media and sponsorship manager at Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross before she graduated from college. Anna uses her decade of marketing experience in personal watercraft racing, professional motorcycle racing, off-roading, and more to help Kahn Media’s off-road aftermarket and powersports clients navigate the changing marketing landscape. Specializing in influencer and digital media communications, Anna has worked to expand Kahn Media’s existing portfolio of influencer opportunities and connected clients with content creators with more online followers than many of the world’s leading media outlets.

In her spare time, Anna spends too much time keeping her 1987 Jeep Wrangler YJ running and trying to find new ways to make her 1500cc, 4-cylinder four stroke jet ski go even faster.


Sales & Marketing Coordinator – GSI Machine and Fabrication

Ashley Fritter is the sales and marketing coordinator for GSI Machine and Fabrication in Chandler, Arizona. Ashley grew up in Wilburton, a small town nestled in the heart of Southeastern Oklahoma. She shared, “growing up in a small town, there isn’t much that goes on aside from cruising or hanging out at someone’s shop—and my journey into the automotive industry was sparked by exactly that. I spent countless hours hanging out at the shop watching my friends bring their projects to life. Little did I know it was the inspiration that would lead me to develop a love for an industry and community that has now become a central part of my personal and professional life.”

Ashley currently works both remotely and on site at the manufacturing facility in Chandler. Beyond managing online sales and new merchandise development, she is also the creative force behind GSI social media content and all of the company’s email campaigns. Her role at the company has expanded her opportunity to travel and see new places, as well as meet new people while attending the numerous truck shows and events that GSI attends across the US.

In addition to her growing role with GSI, Ashley is also a mortgage consultant with Stride Mortgage, where she’s able to provide financing options for clients nationwide. Ashley’s passion for the automotive industry as well as personal growth has allowed her continuous opportunities to evolve and grow in this thriving industry.


Director of Marketing – Engaged Media

Nicole Hamilton is not only an extremely passionate person when it comes to custom automotive culture, but she’s also an integral part of behind-the-scenes operations with the largest and most widely distributed automotive publications in the country. A logistical mastermind is a simple way to describe the way Nicole’s mind works. If Motortopia were a circus (which, sometimes it feels like it is), Nicole would be the best juggler in the show replacing bowling pins with national brands. She is embedded throughout each and every automotive genre, and there’s not a style of custom ride that she dislikes. She has owned them, wrenched on them, and now takes part in publishing the most amazing rides in the country. If you’ve ever had a chance to meet Nicole at SEMA, you know how passionate she is, and how high her quality standards are when it comes to our brands. She always has a smile on her face and a mind focused on branding and marketing.

Moving into 2024, Nicole has taken on a new challenge by accepting the lead editor role of our newest title, Tesla Trends. It’s exciting to watch her grow professionally and fascinating to see her function day to day. If you have a chance, stop by our booth at SEMA 2024 and meet this master of success. Passion, process and much more than just a pretty smile – we are very proud and lucky to have Nicole on our side!


Controller & Human Resources – Switch Suspension

Ashley McAtee of Mesa, Arizona, entered the custom car and truck world when she turned 16. Growing up in Oregon, she had a 1994 Acura Integra two-door—a car that was very popular in the scene back then. She saved up her money to buy 18-inch wheels, a Wings West body kit, and a killer stereo, then topped it all off with a custom license plate: TZNYA.

Fast forward to today, and Ashley is the controller at Switch Suspension, where she’s been since its founding back in 2012. All of the money that goes in and out of the company goes through her first, making her a massively important part of the team. What once was a small shop that did installs and sold a few parts is now a multi-million dollar operation with Ashley taking care of the financials, employee oversight, payroll, and other HR related duties. And if that wasn’t enough, Ashley is also at every one of the many events that Switch attends, sponsors, or runs. She makes sure everything is set up properly, merch is on hand, and even conducts transactions on site, giving each customer a personalized experience along the way.

While Ashley doesn’t have that Integra anymore, she does have a ‘bagged 1970 Chevy Nova that’s pretty cool, and a few ideas for what’s next. Ashley loves her job and her place in the automotive industry and can’t wait to see what the future looks like for her and Switch Suspension. We sure know it’s a bright one!


CEO – Hellwig Products

Melanie White is known throughout the automotive aftermarket as a proven leader for both her own business accomplishments and her dedication to the industry. Hailing from a founding SEMA-member company that has exhibited since the very first SEMA show in 1967 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, she represents the fourth generation to join the family business established by her great-grandfather in 1946. Melanie started in Hellwig’s sales department cold calling 18 years ago and worked her way up to vice president before ultimately becoming the company’s first female CEO.

In 2022, Hellwig received certification from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council that the company is owned, operated, and controlled by a woman. Even while tackling those considerable company responsibilities, Melanie has always been an equally enthusiastic SEMA volunteer. In fact, her involvement with the association has included membership in six SEMA councils and networks. In addition to earning several service awards from her council groups, she was among SEMA News’ first roster of “35 Under 35” young and rising talents in 2012. She was named SEMA Person of the Year in 2018 and was awarded SEMA Businesswoman of the Year award in 2017. Melanie also served as chair of the Truck and Off-Road Alliance (TORA) and has been an outspoken industry advocate, participating in Washington, DC, rallies and joining other SEMA members on international business development trips. She currently is the chair elect on the SEMA board of directors, wife to her high school sweetheart, and mom to her 13-year-old son.


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