Recently with all the buzz surrounding Danica Patrick’s impending carrer in NASCAR we wanted to take a step back and acknowledge another woman in the same sport who deserves equal if not more credit and acknowledgement; Leilani Münter.
Leilani Münter was born and raised in Minnesota. She excelled in science and earned a Presidential Academic Fitness Award in high school, graduating with a 4.0. In her senior year of high school, she became a PADI certified scuba diver, a hobby she continues to this day. Leilani went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology specializing in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California San Diego. While attending college she worked as a volunteer at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center.
Leilani started racing cars in 2001 and has spent the last ten years working her way up the NASCAR ranks. During this time Leilani also worked as a race instructor and spent three years as a special correspondent for NASCAR.com. In 2003 she had her first start in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series at South Boston Speedway, she finished ninth. She made her first speedway start in 2004 at Texas Motor Speedway and set a new record when she qualified fourth, the highest qualifying effort for a female driver at the track. It was also her first
super late model race; she finished seventh.
Texas would turn out to be one of Münter’s favorite tracks. She returned to Texas Motor Speedway in 2006 and set a new record when she finished 4th, the highest finish for a female driver in the history of the 1.5 mile speedway. Later that year, Leilani became the first woman to qualify in the 45 year history of the Bettenhausen Classic at Illiana Speedway in Indiana. By the end of the 2006 racing season, Leilani had raced her way from the short tracks of southern California all the way to the most iconic NASCAR track of them all, the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. She completed her rookie ARCA test at Daytona and even though she was with a small underfunded team, she was 24th quick of 57 race cars testing at Daytona. Leilani was set to make the move into the ARCA Series in 2007, a stepping stone series into NASCAR’s top three series, but sponsorship funding still needed to be secured for her to make the move.
Shortly after her Daytona test Münter received a phone call from an Indy team to ask if she was
interested in racing open wheel cars. She completed her rookie test with IndyCar in May 2007 and later that year became the fourth woman in history to race in the Indy Pro Series, the developmental league of IndyCar. She impressed the open wheel racing world when she qualified 5th for her debut at Kentucky Speedway on August 11. She had trouble on a restart and dropped back to 13th but raced her way back to the front of the field. She passed five cars in a lap and a half and turned in the fifth-fastest lap of the race with a speed of 192.399 mph. Leilani was running in the top five when a multi car accident took her out of the race when a car in front of her cut a tire. Four-time Indy 500 champion Rick Mears, IndyCar driver Jaques Lazier, and many others in the IndyCar community spoke very highly of Münter after her debut.
Since 2007, Leilani has purchased an acre of rainforest for every race she runs to offset her carbon footprint and has been a long time vegetarian and eco activist. In fall of 2008, Leilani landed a national ad campaign as a Lucky Jeans
model, her caption read: “Leilani Münter, Race Car Driver and Environmentalist – Saving rainforests one race at a time.” Her ads appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, In Style, W Magazine and Lucky Brand Jeans stores across the country.
In 2008, as an Ambassador of the National Wildlife Federation, Leilani became politically active in the legislative fight for the environment. She made several trips to Capitol Hill to speak with Congress on behalf of climate issues with climate change scientists from the National Wildlife Federation. In June 2008 she spoke at a Climate Action Rally on the steps of Capitol Hill alongside Senators Barbara Boxer, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry.
In 2010 Münter was one of the first activists to visit the BP Oil Spill, she arrived in Venice, Louisiana ten days after the Deepwater Horizon sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. She spent a week at the spill, documenting her experience there. In July Münter returned to the Gulf and toured the oil-stained areas of Louisiana devastated by the BP Oil Spill as part of a Sierra Club sponsored event
involving 10 athletes.
Later that year she became involved in the fight against the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan and became a volunteer for Save Japan Dolphins. In September, Münter stood in Tokyo, next to dolphin activist Ric O’Barry who is featured in the movie, to deliver a petition signed by 1.7 million people from 151 countries asking for the dolphin slaughter to end. She returned to Taiji, Japan again for two weeks in October 2010 and documented two dolphin slaughters while she was there. She has stated she will continue to return to The Cove until the slaughter has ended.
Leilani’s accomplishments have landed her on 14 magazine covers and on the pages of USA Today, New York Times, Italian Vogue, Esquire, ESPN, Men’s Journal, Newsweek, Glamour, Reader’s Digest, Vanity Fair, Washington Post, and Sports Illustrated named her one of the top ten female race car drivers in the world. Glamour Magazine named her an “Eco Hero.” In 2010 Discovery’s Planet Green named her the #1 Eco Athlete,
beating out Lance Armstrong for the top spot. She was profiled on Discovery Planet Green’s new 2010 television series “Fast Forward.” She has also been featured on ESPN, Fashion TV, National Geographic, NBC Sports, and MSNBC.
Leilani is also an accomplished public speaker and writer, currently contributing to Discovery’s Treehugger.com and the green section of the Huffington Post, rated the most influential blog in the world by the Guardian and topping Time Magazine’s blog index.
Visit Lelani’s website to learn more about not only her but what you too can do to help protect our environment. http://www.leilanimunter.com