Leilani Munter is without a doubt the first eco race car driver.
She is an IndyCar racer for NASCAR and also an in-law to Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead.
Leilani always shows her eco side on the track sporting an earth looking helmet as seen below.
The most startling and really exciting to see was that Leilani is also the spokesperson for LED bulbs.
I had met her through my friends at Project Green Search that she was a contestant for and placed only second. Not bad if you don’t get it to get second!!
However, I had heard Planet Green wanted an interview and I was already in the middle of the one I was going to put on the Green Living Guy site.
By Seth Leitman
Briarcliff Manor, New York | Fri Feb 5, 2010
Leilani goes through NASCAR tech prior to running in the NASCAR Elite Division Southwest Series.
IndyCar Leilani Munter is one woman who is changing the world one race at a time. As an IndyCar racer for NASCAR and an in-law to Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead, Munter shows her eco side on the track. As a spokesperson for LED bulbs, recycling and racing Leilani recently shared some time with me for an interview.
GLG: When did you get your epihany for going green as the right thing to do?
Leilani Munter: Much like the bumblebee, I am a race car driver that doesn’t know I can’t be an environmental activist. So I just keep buzzing around.
Sometimes all the environmental challenges we are facing can feel overwhelming. And when I get discouraged, I remember these words from an old Apple “Think Different” commercial:
Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them but the one thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as crazy, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Before I was a race car driver, I was a biology graduate from the University of California in San Diego, and I am really just your typical recycling, composting, tree-hugging, vegetarian hippie chick that just happens to drive race cars.
While attending college I worked as a volunteer at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center. I picked up racing cars in 2001 and spent six years working my way up the NASCAR ranks. During this time I also worked as a race instructor and correspondent for NASCAR. Now, I am doing great things and loving every minute of it.
You know, I feel like I am an uncommon messenger in the environmental world I know, but Earl Bakken made some sense of it for me when he said:
By all reckoning, the bumblebee is aerodynamically unsound and shouldn’t be able to fly. Yet, the little bee gets those wings going like a turbo-jet and flies to every plant its chubby little body can land on to collect all the nectar it can hold. Bumblebees are the most persistent creatures. They don’t know they can’t fly, so they just keep buzzing around.
GLG: OK, when did you feel that you should connect the racing car industry to the green economy?
LM: Over the past 8 years as I raced my way up the racing ranks, I was becoming increasingly concerned, like the rest of the world, about the damage being done to our environment. As a driver, I knew I had an unusual opportunity to speak to the 100 million race fans across the United States. Auto racing is the number one spectator sport in America. It is number two on television, second only to the NFL. More people tune into watch racing than basketball, baseball and hockey combined. And 18 of the top 20 attended sporting events in the United States are auto races. Imagine 75 million NASCAR fans recycling their cans, 30 million IndyCar fans using energy efficient light bulbs, and 100 million US race fans using canvas grocery bags – no more paper, no more plastic. Small changes, multiplied by millions, make a big difference.
PG: Why do you not support one fuel over another and more importantly why do you not support electric drive in the car world? You could go longer and cleaner, reduce gasoline costs and not injest further toxins into the air?
LM: I am very interested in electric cars. In fact, I did a photo shoot during my recent Project Green Search competition for America’s next green model and spokesperson. While I love electric cars, I know that we need to transition away from fuels and that is a process. That is why I am now powering my car with renewable energy sources and believe that with my voice, I can help transition our NASCAR fleet to electric drive technologies. Check out my new ride, powered by renewable energy!
GLG: Tell me more about your interest in getting NASCAR green.
LM: I began speaking about the environment a few years ago and there were definitely marketing people that told me I should not be so vocal. I was moving into the upper levels of racing and my races were starting to air on TV and I felt like I finally had an audience of people I could reach out to and I wanted to talk to them about things that are important. Since then, I began to attract companies that are doing positive things for the environment. SMART Papers, a leader in the recycled paper industry, sponsored me in two Indy Pro races last year.
There was an opportunity to race this year that I turned down because the sponsor was causing severe environmental damage. Of course I want to race, but I cannot just let anyone sponsor my race car. I am in discussions with several forward thinking companies that are leaders in environmental responsibility and when I race with these companies on the side of my car, I can feel good about it.
GLG: What made you realize inside that you should then connect modeling to NASCAR? Was it Danika, and is she green too? Or are you really leading the charge in NASCAR?
In 2006 I added a section to my racing website dedicated to environmental news and in 2007, I announced my commitment to adopt and protect an acre of rainforest for every race I enter to offset my carbon footprint. Needless to say, my activism ruffled a few feathers in the racing garage but I am making progress. Last year I had a lifelong NASCAR fan ask me how I go about adopting rainforest because he didn’t know what to buy his wife for her birthday and thought protecting an acre of rainforest in her name might make a nice gift.
Race fans are an unlikely audience for an environmentalist. But this is how we move the needle. There is nothing wrong with environmentalists gathering to talk to each other at conventions and pat each other on the back for the good work we are doing but it is in fact the unlikely and difficult audiences that we need to be talking to. We need to spread awareness to those people who do not believe in climate change, the people who are not environmentalists, otherwise we are not making progress. It is a more difficult conversation to have but the one that needs our utmost attention.
GLG: Tell me about your interest in LEDs
LM: I am partnered with LED Savings Solutions; a ground breaking program that can provide lighting upgrades with light emitting diode (LED) lights that reduce electricity demand by up to 80 percent, allowing a business or property owner to reduce costs immediately as well as a means to reduce a facility’s carbon footprint. The partnership offers companies of all sizes a tremendous opportunity to save money, go green, and become sponsor on my race car — all without spending a dime.
LED Saving Solutions has created the ground breaking “Savings Share” program that gives the property owners and managers a $0 start up cost advantage since they only pay for the cost of the retrofit from a portion of the actual money saved each month. The program is cash flow positive for companies from the start. GREENandSAVE and I are proud to offer sponsorship exposure to companies that initiate the LED lighting retrofits. You will receive 5% of the purchase of the bulbs in vehicle branding and press release marketing with my race program.
GLG: What is the most daring thing you have ever done to make a green statement?
LM: There are a few.
I purchase an acre of rainforest for every race I run to offset its carbon footprint. I am politically active in the legislative fight for the environment and have made several trips to Capitol Hill to speak with Congress on behalf of climate issues. In June 2008 I spoke at a Climate Action Rally on the steps of Capitol Hill alongside Senators Barbara Boxer, Joe Lieberman, and John Kerry.
In fall 2008, I became an Ambassador for the National Wildlife Federation and landed a national ad campaign as a Lucky Jeans model, where it read: “Leilani Münter, Race Car Driver and Environmentalist – Saving rainforests one race at a time.” The ads appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, In Style, W Magazine and Lucky Jeans stores across the country.
PG: Do you ever look back at your recent experience with Project Green Search and say to yourself, “Argh! I almost had it!”?
LM: No, not at all. I was going out to California on a trip and applied for Project Green Search at the same time to meet some great people. I am really grateful to have met all of those wonderful women in the competition and had a blast.
I know you’ve been doing some video projects about going green at the racetrack. What’s coming up?
LM: That’s right — never underestimate a vegetarian hippie chick with a race car! I filmed with one of my favorite networks, The Discovery Channel, for a new TV series called “Guardians of the Earth” which will start airing on Planet Green in January 2010 so keep an eye out for this new show!
More about Leilani Munter and race car drivers making an impact
NASCAR Country Concert with Hank Williams Jr. Supports Gang (Camp for Kids)
NASCAR Champ Jeff Gordon in Greensburg
Mean Green Machines: Sun Fueled Showdown