Leilani Munter

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Leilani Münter
Münter in 2014 at Chicagoland Speedway
Nationality American
Born (1974-02-18) February 18, 1974 (age 41)
Rochester, Minnesota, U.S.
ARCA Racing Series career
Debut season 2010
Current team Venturini Motorsports
Car no. 55 / 66
Starts 7
Wins 0
Poles 0
Best finish 38th in 2014
Previous series
2007 Firestone Indy Lights
Last updated on: January 4, 2015.

Leilani Maaja Münter (born February 18, 1974) is an American race car driver and environmental activist. She drives in the ARCA Racing Series, and previously drove in the Firestone Indy Lights, the development league of IndyCar. She was born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota, earned a degree in biology from the University of California, San Diego and currently lives in Cornelius, North Carolina.

Personal life[edit]

Prior to becoming a race car driver, Münter earned a bachelor's degree in biology, specializing in ecology, behavior, and evolution from the University of California, San Diego. During her college years, Münter was also a volunteer at a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center. She is an almost lifelong vegetarian, and became vegan in 2011.[1] She once worked as a photo double for Catherine Zeta-Jones.[2] On March 17, 2009 Münter married Craig Davidson, an engineer, in a seaside wedding on New Zealand's Cathedral Cove beach. Her personal car is an electric Tesla Motors Model S, which she charges with solar panels on the roof of her home.

Racing career[edit]

Münter began racing in California in 2001 in the Allison Legacy Series. She debuted with a seventh place finish. In 2002 Münter made the move to Mooresville, North Carolina, widely regarded as the center for NASCAR racing. 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.[citation needed] It was also her first super late model race; she finished seventh. In 2006 she had her first full-time season in a race car. In her fifth race of the season, she had one of the biggest races of her career when she finished fourth, setting a new record at Texas Motor Speedway for the highest finish for a female driver in the history of the 1.5 mile speedway.[citation needed] Later that year, Leilani became the first woman to qualify in the 45 year history of the Tony Bettenhausen Classic at Illiana Speedway in Indiana.[citation needed] In 43 stock car starts, Münter scored 19 top tens and 9 top five finishes. At the end of the 2006 racing season, she was set to make the move into the ARCA Series in 2007, a stepping stone series into NASCAR's top three series. In December 2006 she completed her ARCA rookie test at Daytona International Speedway. She was 24th quick of 59 race cars testing that day in a race car prepared by Andy Hillenburg, a retired driver who owns Fast Track Racing School, where Münter once worked at as an instructor.

Shortly after her Daytona test Münter received a phone call from an Indy Car team to ask if she was interested in racing open wheel cars. By May 2007 she had completed her Indy Pro rookie test and made the move to open wheel racing. She got back in a stock car in December 2008, testing an ARCA car at Daytona International Speedway for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver James Hylton. In December 2009, she returned to ARCA testing at Daytona, driving the #59 NextEra Energy Resources Dodge for Mark Gibson Racing. In the final practice, Münter posted the seventh quickest lap with a speed of 181.77 mph, just 69 one-thousandths of a second behind Danica Patrick, who posted the fifth quickest time of the final practice. The two female drivers had previously worked together off the racetrack, in an ad campaign together in 2006 and 2007 for Hostess.

Leilani during practice at Kentucky Speedway in 2007

In 2007 Münter became the fourth woman in history to compete in the Indy Pro Series,[3] the development league of IndyCar. In May, Münter passed her Indy Pro Series rookie test at Kentucky Speedway. In August she signed a deal with three time championship team Sam Schmidt Motorsports. She qualified fifth for her debut at Kentucky Speedway on August 11. She had trouble on a restart and dropped back to thirteenth 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. She was about to pass for fourth place when she was involved in a multi-car accident. Four-time Indy 500 champion Rick Mears, IndyCar driver Jaques Lazier, and many others in the IndyCar community spoke highly of Münter after her debut.[4]

In the February 2010 ARCA Racing Series race at Daytona International Speedway, Münter was one of only three women to qualify for the race on speed alongside Danica Patrick and Alli Owens. She failed to finish the race, becoming collected in a ten-car accident.[5]

In 2012, Münter drove in the ARCA Racing Series, driving for Tony Marks Racing in the season-opening 200 mile event at Daytona International Speedway, driving a car sponsored by donations from fans and carrying an ocean awareness paint scheme, featuring The Cove. [6]

In 2014, Münter began racing in ARCA with Venturini Motorsports. She ran Daytona in the #55 Go 100% Renewable Energy racecar, where she was wrecked by a spinning car on lap 28 and finished the race in 28th place. Her second race of 2014 was her first race at Talladega Superspeedway where she finished 14th in the #55 Blackfish (film) race car sponsored by activist and creator of The Simpsons TV show, Sam Simon.[7] She then finished 12th on the lead lap at Chicagoland Speedway in the #66 PrairieGold Solar/The Solutions Project racecar.


Sports Illustrated named Münter one of the top ten female race car drivers in the world.[8] Glamour Magazine named her an "Eco Hero." [9] In 2012, Leilani was a recipient of ELLE Magazine's Genius Award.[10] She was profiled on Discovery Planet Green's new 2010 television series "Fast Forward."[citation needed] Münter has also appeared as a model for Lucky Brand Jeans.[11] She was featured in the issue of L'Uomo Vogue (Italian Vogue), and Fashion TV filmed a behind the scenes look at the shoot in Toronto.[12] Münter spent three years as a special correspondent for NASCAR.com and was one of three "Hostess Race Divas" to appear on boxes of Hostess Twinkies and Cupcakes alongside IndyCar's Danica Patrick and drag racing's Melanie Troxel.[13] In 2008, she did a live interview with NPR about her green efforts in racing.[14] Leilani did a live television interview from the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico with MSNBC.[15] She was also featured on the front page of CNN.com in 2010.[16] In 2012 she was featured in AOL's "You've Got" web series.[17] In 2012, Oprah ran a feature on Leilani in both her magazine and her online blog.[18]

Documentary Film[edit]

Münter is a volunteer for Ric O'Barry and his non-profit organization Ric O'Barry's Dolphin Project. Ric O'Barry was featured in the Academy Award winning film The Cove (film) and Münter began working for Ric after seeing the film. This led to Münter participating in the next Oceanic Preservation Society film, the 2015 documentary Racing Extinction [19] which made it's debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2015 and was then picked up by The Discovery Channel. Münter drives a specialized version of the Tesla Model S in Racing Extinction which is equipped with a 15,000 lumen projector, a high definition FLIR camera (forward looking infra red) that comes out of the "frunk" of the car which has a special color filter on it that makes CO2 and methane visible to the human eye. It is also the first car in the world with electro-luminescent paint. In September 2014 Oceanic Preservation Society did a public projection at the United Nations[20] in New York City to raise awareness about the "Anthropocene" or sixth mass extinction.

Environmental activism[edit]

Münter is well known for speaking on environmental issues. She blogs in the green section of the Huffington Post and became the first Ambassador for the National Wildlife Federation in 2008 and went to Capitol Hill to lobby for environmental legislation.[21] In 2010, she was named by Discovery Channel's Planet Green Network as the #1 Eco Athlete in the world, beating out Lance Armstrong for the top spot.[22] She was also featured in a series called Fast Forward on Planet Green Network, which highlights environmental heroes.[23] Glamour Magazine named her one of their "Eco Heroes." [9]

In March 2008, Münter went to Capitol Hill with the National Wildlife Federation to speak with members of Congress on behalf of the Climate Security Act.[24] That summer, Münter spoke at a rally in Capitol Hill alongside Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator John Kerry, and Senator Joe Lieberman in support of the Climate Security Act.[citation needed]

Münter graduated from the University of California, San Diego where she earned a Bachelor's degree in Biology specializing in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution.[24] She is also a long time vegetarian.[1]

In February 2009 Münter climbed to the top of a wind turbine at Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Abilene, Texas and autographed one of the blades. The turbine was consequently nicknamed "Leilani" by its owner, NextEra Energy Resources.[25] Later that same year, Münter signed a solar panel at NextEra Energy's SEGS in the Mojave Desert, the largest solar thermal energy center in the world.[26] Also in 2009 Münter met musician Jack Johnson, who later that same year gave Münter permission to use his music with her slideshow about her mission to bring environmental awareness to the racing world.[27]

In May 2009 Münter went to Norway to participate in the zero emission Viking Rally, driving a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Ford Focus.[28] Münter finished second in the hill-climb, just behind World Rally driver Hennig Solberg. Münter drank the water from the exhaust of the vehicle at the 24th annual Electric, Fuel Cell and Hybrid Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition in Stavanger, Norway.[29] She was also featured in the new TV series Fast Forward on Planet Green, which profiled her environmental efforts in racing.[23]

Münter was one of the first celebrity activists to visit the BP Oil Spill;[30] she arrived in Venice, Louisiana on May 2, ten days after the Deepwater Horizon sank to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the same day President Barack Obama arrived. She spent a week at the spill, documenting her experience there. On July 13, 2010, Münter returned and toured areas of Louisiana affected by the BP Oil Spill as part of a Sierra Club sponsored event involving 10 current and former athletes which included tennis star Chanda Rubin, Olympic skier Stacey Cook and NFL stars Ovie Mughelli and Mike Alstott.[31]

The Environmental Protection Agency tapped Leilani to record a "Pick 5 for the Environment" public service announcement in 2010.[32]

In 2013, she purchased a P85+ Tesla Motors Model S, becoming an advocate for electric cars, writing a blog for the Huffington Post titled "Why We Need to Fight for Tesla" in response to state legislators introducing a bill to ban Tesla sales in North Carolina.[33]. She also wrote an article in 2014 about the media attention around the Tesla fires called [34]

for The Huffington Post. Münter delivered a speech at the first annual TESLIVE gathering of Tesla owners in San Francisco, receiving a standing ovation from the audience, including Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.[35]

Animal activism[edit]

In 2010, Münter became involved in protests against the hunting of dolphins in Taiji, Japan and became a volunteer for Save Japan Dolphins. On September 2, 2010 Münter visited Tokyo with dolphin activist Ric O'Barry to deliver a petition asking for the hunting of dolphins to be stopped. She returned to Taiji, Japan again for two weeks in October 2010 and documented two dolphin hunts while she was there.[36] Münter recorded a video from Taiji for the project One Day on Earth on October 10, 2010.[37] She returned to Taiji in September 2011 with O'Barry; the effects of Typhoon Talas led her to report on Huffington Post that she understood water stress issues around the world in a much deeper way than before.[38] She recorded the first dolphin hunt of the 2011/2012 hunting season on September 7, 2011.[39]

On January 3, 2012 Münter announced that she was raising funds to drive a "The Cove" themed race car at Daytona International Speedway on February 18 to draw attention to dolphin captivity and killings. Her left rear tire blew early in the race and she wrote about the event on the Huffington Post.[40] In April 2012, she spoke on the National Mall in Washington DC on Earth Day.[41] She was also featured on MSN Causes on Earth Day 2012.[42]

In 2014, Münter began driving a race car modeled after an orca whale at the Talladega Speedway with a "Blackfish" theme to raise awareness about the controversial 2013 documentary criticizing Seaworld for placing orca whales in captivity. She raised $7,500 for the car through crowd-funding and had the remaining $107,500 given to her by The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon, who is also an animal rights activist.[43] During the autograph signing at the race, Münter passed out more than 100 copies of Blackfish DVD's.[44]


  1. ^ a b "Leilani Munter - Environmentalist-Vegetarian Race Car Driver | Weekend Cover Story". Midweek.com. 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2012-09-08. 
  2. ^ "Leilani Munter Interview". Ask Men. 
  3. ^ "Leilani Munter Interview". Sports Illustrated. 
  4. ^ "Leilani Munter Official Site Testimonials". 
  5. ^ "2010 ARCA Daytona Results". ARCA. 
  6. ^ "Münter, Tony Marks Racing Together for Daytona". Automobile Racing Club of America. February 8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  7. ^ "Blackfish at Talladega Superspeedway". Fox Sports. 
  8. ^ "Top Female Drivers". Sports Illustrated. 
  9. ^ a b "Meet Your 70 Eco Heroes". Glamour. 
  10. ^ "ELLE Magazine 2012 Genius Award Recipient Leilani Munter". ELLE Magazine. 
  11. ^ "Lucky Brand Picks a Few Dreamers for Fall Campaign". Women's Wear Daily. 
  12. ^ "L'Uomo Vogue Shoot Behind the Scenes Leilani Munter". Fashion TV. 
  13. ^ "Divas Race Onto Hostess Calendar". Sports Business Daily. 
  14. ^ "Driver Wants NASCAR to Go Green". NPR. 
  15. ^ "Video Leilani Munter Live with MSNBC from Gulf Oil Spill". MSNBC. 
  16. ^ "She's Racing to Save the Environment". CNN. September 2, 2010. 
  17. ^ "You've Got Leilani Münter". AOL. 
  18. ^ "From the Speedway to Earth Day". Oprah.com. 
  19. ^ "Racing Extinction Trailer". Vimeo. 
  20. ^ "Illuimations". Vimeo. 
  21. ^ Weeks, Linton (March 6, 2008). "Race Car Driver Aims to Put Brakes on Global Warming". Washington Post. 
  22. ^ "Planet 100: Top Five Eco Athletes". Discovery Planet Green. 
  23. ^ a b "Fast Forward". Discovery Planet Green. 
  24. ^ a b "UCSD Alumni On Track". University of California, San Diego. 
  25. ^ "Leilani Munter One Ups Stephen Colbert". Vegetarian Star. 
  26. ^ "Leilani Munter One Ups Stephen Colbert". Leilani Munter Release, NextEra Energy Video Link. 
  27. ^ Leilani's Eco Slideshow with music by Jack Johnson
  28. ^ "Viking Rally Rolls Out With Royalty and Race Car Drivers". AutoBlogGreen. 
  29. ^ "Viking Rally Updates from Norway". 
  30. ^ "Fox News BP Oil Spill". Fox News. 
  31. ^ AP Sports. "Athletes on Gulf tour lament scale of oil spill - Sports- nbcsports.msnbc.com." MSNBC.com. N.p., 13 July 2010. Web. 23 July 2010. <http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/38234925/ns/sports/>.
  32. ^ Rooney, Ben (July 15, 2011). "EPA Enlists NASCAR Star Leilani Munter". CNN Money. 
  33. ^ Münter, Leilani (May 23, 2013). "Why We Need to Fight for Tesla". Huffington Post. 
  34. ^ "It's On: Oil vs. Electric". HuffingtonPost.com. 
  35. ^ "Live Stream: Elon Musk, Leilani Munter, Jerome Guillen General Session Teslive 2013". TeslaMotorsClub.com. 
  36. ^ "Leilani Munter's Shocking Footage from the Taiji Dolphin Slaughter". Discovery Treehugger. 
  37. ^ "Save Japan Dolphins 10-10-10". 10-10-10 Global Film Project. 
  38. ^ Münter, Leilani (September 14, 2011). "The Cove Continues". Huffington Post. 
  39. ^ "Dolphin Slaughter Begins Again in Taiji". Save Japan Dolphins, Earth Island Institute. 
  40. ^ Münter, Leilani (March 15, 2012). "Like Taiji's Cove, Daytona Breaks My Heart, Again". Huffington Post. 
  41. ^ "Leilani to Speak on National Mall". ARCA Racing. 
  42. ^ "Leilani Munter: Saving My Corner of the Planet". MSN. 
  43. ^ Jensen, Tom. "Leilani Munter brings star power to Talladega Superspeedway". Fox Sports. 
  44. ^ Gluck, Jeff. "ARCA driver has Blackfish on her car for Talladega race". USA Today. 

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