Out of the Wreckage

Kristen Aslanian stands next to her Porsche 944 in Chatsworth Calif., on April 19, 2024. Photo by Ashley Shellmire

One weekend in 2021, Kristen Aslanian and her mother Ani met for a meal at Rosalind’s in the Little Ethiopia neighborhood of Los Angeles. 

Afterward, they headed back to their homes in the San Fernando Valley and got stuck in the everyday stop-and-go freeway traffic where Interstate 405 merges with U.S. Route 101. Kristen was sitting in the passenger seat and her mother was driving. 

Aslanian only managed to get out a few words when — BANG — they got hit by another vehicle at high speed.

The next day, Aslanian started to feel minor neck pain, but she thought that it would go away. 

A month after the accident, Aslanian’s pain worsened, spreading from her neck to her head and ears. She took pain medication and continued to work until she was unable to perform simple tasks that were a part of her normal routine.

One night, tired and wanting to go to sleep, not even prescribed muscle relaxers were able to alleviate Aslanian’s pain. 

“At that point, I decided that either of two things were going to happen,” Aslanian said. “Either I am going to go to sleep and my mom is going to lose a daughter, or I get my ass up and pack a bag and I go to the hospital and we get ready for this fight.”

Kristen Aslanian paints her pop art-themed Porsche 944 in Chatsworth Calif., on April 23, 2024. Photo by Myraneli Fabian

That night, at the hospital, she found out that she was suffering from a dissection of the carotid artery on the right side of her neck. 

But what she first thought was a personal tragedy became a wakeup call to appreciate life and follow her passions. Instead of working as a family photographer, quality assurance engineer and a COO executive assistant in the healthcare sector, Aslanian is now an award-winning scale modeler, business owner, aspiring race car driver and the first woman in her family to own a shop.

“Looking back at my accident and all I have overcome, it’s kind of crazy knowing that I was on a path of working three jobs and saving money without actually having a purpose,” said Aslanian, a former Pierce College Media Arts student.

While in the hospital, she asked the universe and God to not let her be paralyzed, as that was her biggest fear. A doctor performed a high-risk surgery that other doctors did not want to attempt, and Aslanian made a full recovery.  

“When you’re in a hospital bed at 28-years-old, and you are given the option of being dead or paralyzed, nothing becomes scarier,” Aslanian said. “I wanted nothing but to be dead because I knew that being paralyzed would be the biggest drawback for my parents having to overcome taking care of an adult child that is handicapped.”

Aslanian came from a family of mechanics. Her father, who died after her accident, got her into the car world as she spent her days working in his automotive business. Her parents, who are Ethiopian-born Armenians, owned a main shop on Topanga Canyon Boulevard and operated a smaller out of a swap meet.

“Being Armenian, culturally, women do not get to interfere with the automotive industry,” Aslanian said. 

Kristen Aslanian sets up her light before she paints her pop art-themed Porsche 944 in Chatsworth Calif., on April 23, 2024. Photo by Myraneli Fabian

Still, her father let women run the shop, even if it meant them getting a little grime under their fingernails. Aslanian was able to talk to customers and get good at sales. She answered phones, wrote checks, picked up items and ran the sewing machines for the custom floor mats.

“All girls were educated on how to change a tire or a bulb, but that was it. Those basics were the necessity,” Aslanian said.

Aslanian did not start working on cars until after her accident during her recovery when she capitalized on her Netflix and chill time. While recovering from her surgery with the assistance of her mother, Aslanian got hooked on cars.

“The only thing that could keep me happy and entertained was the F1 series on Netflix,” Aslanian said. 

Valencia also helped her get through the recovery period.

“I was given one of the most amazing gifts in life, and that was meeting Daniel,” Aslanian said. 

As a cancer survivor, Valencia taught her to stay calm under hard circumstances.

While recovering at home, Valencia brought a Formula 1 car for her to build at 1/24 scale, about the size of a shoe. He started teaching her his knowledge from his  race car background.

Aslanian started to enter her submissions into Model Car Shows.

She won second place with her first-ever model car at the International Plastic Model Society. She was also NNL West’s 2023 People’s Choice recipient.

At a bigger scale, Aslanian has been modifying an old, once bug-infested Porsche that had not been running for well above 20 years.

“I came to the car with vengeance,” she said. “Screw doing anything to restore the car. We are going full-race car with this because there was no way to restore that type of car.”

She and Valencia turned the beat-up Porsche into a race car with push-start ignition and a roll cage.

Her mother Ani is not a big fan of speed anymore, but acknowledges that Kristen is super excited about race cars.

“I think Kristen is less fearful than I am,”  Ani Aslanian said. “I think she has less fear of things.”

One of the things that Kristen wanted to do was continue her father’s business, but she did not get encouragement from her father to do so. Valencia, on the other hand, pushed her and encouraged her to commit to her goals. 

“I told her at one point ‘Have you noticed that all you do is wake up, go to work, you get paid and go back to sleep at night and do the same thing the next morning?,’” Valencia said.

He said after that conversation, Kristen realized she had to do things that she really enjoyed and wanted, rather than just work.

Now, Aslanian and Valencia have their own business, Danval Lionheart Race Group in Chatsworth, Calif., offering performance parts and services. 

Together, they modify cars and attend a variety of car events regularly. Aslanian, with her partner, is now working in an industry she enjoys.

Aslanian’s mom may have once wanted her Armenian daughter to marry,  have children and not touch cars, but that changed after she saw Kristen’s success in her car journey.

“My mom is seeing me so happy seeing my achievements, winning awards and my growth into the shop,” Aslanian said. “I think she is definitely happy.”