Following in her father’s tire tracks

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By John Shindlebower


Quality time for many fathers and daughters requires dad pretending to enjoy tea parties and dolls. But for Steve Wente, making his daughter happy meant sharing his garage, his tools and his passion for cars.
Grace Wente said from the time she could walk, she would make her way out to her dad’s garage, joining him in one of his numerous auto projects.
“I was probably about two and just starting to walk and I would be outside with dad looking under cars,” said Grace, who is now a certified Toyota technician and employed at Oxmoor Toyota.
“It was kind of amusing really,” said Steve of Grace as a toddler tinkering with the cars. He refused to say it was annoying, but admitted he had to have patience as she asked questions about various tools, car parts and whatever job he was busy with at the time.

From the time she was a baby, she would join him on trips to car shows. He said he recalls one time going to the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville when Grace was four. He was looking under the fender of a car, and he looked up to find her checking out under the opposite fender.
Of course, Grace wasn’t a Barbie doll kind of girl. Her room was filled with Hot Wheels, which she said included a large garage and plenty of track. As she grew older, she heard a little flack from some of her male classmates at school, but it never deterred her.
She had other interests in school. She was in the band and played soccer, but at home, she could often be found under the hood of a vehicle.
Steve said he thought she might eventually outgrow her car craze, but her interest only increased, to the point where she started talking about pursuing it as a career.
“When she first said she wanted to do it, I kind of discouraged it a little,” said Steve. He said Grace’s small stature might make it difficult to do some of the heavy lifting, but she persisted.
She enrolled at Jefferson Community and Technical College and entered the T-TEN program, which would allow her to receive Toyota certification. Grace said she was the only female in the program. She finished and soon was working at Oxmoor Toyota where she is now a supervisor.
While Dad taught her all he knew growing up, Steve now admits his daughter is able to teach him a few things. With engines and mechanics becoming more technical and computerized, Grace has a better working knowledge of some of the modern mechanics, and she’s passing some of that along to him.
She and her boyfriend are engaged to be married next year, but she continues to work on projects with her dad. They’ve restored a couple of Toyota trucks recently, but their favorite project has been a 1978 Camaro. Steve bought the car new the year he got out of high school. For years, it sat untouched and in bad repair, but Grace always wanted the car for her own.
“I told dad I wanted that car,” said Grace.
Steve said he wasn’t too excited. “I probably wouldn’t have done it had it not been Gracie wanting it,” he said. “It was in bad shape.”
Together, the two went to work and completely restored the vintage car.
“We tore it down. We got an engine from a junk yard and tore it down and rebuilt it,” said Grace. It took a couple of years, but Grace has now claimed ownership with a license plate with her name on the front of the car, and she’s taken it to numerous car shows.
And while he’s given up the keys, Steve said the car remains very sentimental to him. “It’s kind of special to me,” he said.
Both Grace and Steve said their shared love of cars has helped them build a solid relationship. It’s afforded them a common interest and ensured that they spend hours together working on projects, solving problems and learning about each other.
Steve said his daughter’s love of cars has kept him involved in the hobby he loves.
“She wants to go to more car shows than I want to,” he said with a smile. “She pushes me to get up and go.”