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Local women find their niche in car-show arena

July 29, 2018

What do a trucker, an auto-parts clerk and a former chain-saw bear carving assistant have in common?

They’re the proud owners of some pretty fancy classic cars, and Kalispell women who have stepped into an arena that has been traditionally - and perhaps still is - dominated by men. But make no mistake about it, these women know cars and aren’t intimidated in the least by their male counterparts.

“We decided us being women, we’re promoting our cars,” said Linda Larkey, who has been a truck driver for 37 years and owns her own trucking company. She also owns a dozen classic cars with her son, Donny T. Stevens.

“We wash our own cars, check the oil, the tires,” said Larkey, who also does her own car repairs.

Teresa Sears, an auto-parts clerk at NAPA in Kalispell for close to 25 years, is equally adept at car care, but doesn’t handle the repairs.

“I choose to give someone else the opportunity to repair my car (a 1967 Chevy Camaro),” she said with a smile, then added: “I don’t need a husband to make my car look good.”

Missy Hendricks, another classic-car enthusiast and friend of Larkey and Sears, has owned her 1984 Camaro for three years and won her first trophy at the NAPA car show staged a couple of years ago at the downtown Super 1 Foods parking lot.

She bought the car from her brother, who put parts of a 1983 and ’84 Camaro together when he restored it.

Hendricks worked 18 years at Jeff Fleming Bear Country, helping with various tasks in making the popular chain-saw carved bears, but quit recently and is now a roadie for local musician Sonny King. She said she was always a tomboy who preferred Matchbox toy cars to dolls. Her dad and brothers were mechanics, so the inclination toward cars was hereditary.

Larkey said it was her father, Charles Larkey, who got her interested in old cars.

“My dad made me change the oil and tires,” Larkey said. “It came in handy as a single mom.”

Larkey was involved in the Evergreen Show ’n Shine Car Show for years and even used to sponsor trophies for women and children’s classes.

“The children are our future,” Larkey continued. “True car people, they teach their kids and grandkids.”

Larkey has bestowed her knowledge on her own children and grandchildren, and gets a kick out of the grandkids who implore her: “Go fast, Grandma!”

Sears has had her 1967 Camaro for 36 years, and brought her oldest son home from the hospital in the prized vehicle after he was born.

Sears said she and her friends - “we’re all single girls these days” get a variety of comments at the various car shows where they display their classic cars.

“Most are just impressed that we don’t have a guy” making the cars look good, she said.

Added Larkey: “And they’re impressed we know what we’re talking about.”

Hendricks likes the children at car shows who exclaim, “I love your race car!”

The car buffs have some well-meaning advice for car-show spectators.

“Please don’t touch the paint,” Larkey advised. “Or let kids jump in the cars or ride bikes around them (because of the possibility of an accidental collision).”

For those who bring their dogs to car shows, Hendricks doled out this gem: “No peeing on the tires.”

Larkey said “we’re not trying to be grumpy, but we have a lot of money invested in these cars. We take care of our cars.”

The passion for old cars started early in life for all three women.

Sears said her Aunt Betty taught her how to drive in her 454 4-speed Chevelle in the late 1970s - “and I’ve been hooked ever since.”

With two sons and just one classic car, the ’67 Camaro, Sears said “they’re waiting to see which one gets it.

“I’ve always had the joke, whoever takes the best care of me will get it,” she said with a laugh.

Larkey said she likes to display her 1960 Ford Falcon at car shows because it’s a car many people can relate to.

“Everyone’s had a Falcon,” she said. “It’s amazing how each person reacts to each car.”

Larkey has turned a horse barn on her property into a horsepower barn that houses her 12 classic vehicles. Among her favorites are the 1960 Falcon, a 1962 Ford Ranchero and a 1970 Ford Torino GT convertible.

Sears likes to occasionally drive her Camaro to work at NAPA, and invariably customers will ask, “Which one of you guys owns the Camaro out there?”

Sears hung pink fuzzy dice from her rearview mirrow to declare female ownership, and still auto-parts patrons would wonder which of the guys owned the classic car, so she applied her name and a picture of a rose on the back of her car.

Larkey shakes her head as Sears shares her experience. She’s had her own share of men casting doubt on her ability.

“It’s a man’s world, but we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Larkey said.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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