Making a Difference
“Never underestimate the power of a vegetarian hippie chick… with a race car.”
On February 18, 1976, Manfred and Doris Munter became the parents of their 4th daugher, Leilani Maaja Munter; Leilani was born and raised in Rochester, MN, along with her three older sisters, Svenja, Nicolette and Natascha. Leilani gets her exotic looks from her father, Manfred, who is German, and mother Doris, who is Japanese, but was born and raised in Hawaii.
A she grew up, Leilani aspired to be a many things: from an ice skater to gymnast, a race horse jockey to a veterinarian. She was always active. She was a gymnast through junior high school and began to scuba dive as well as snow board in high school. To this day she continues to enjoy both.
But it was a strong interest in Marine Biology that took her to the University of California, San Diego where she earned a bachelors degree in Biology specializing in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution. While going to school she worked as a model, and started racing in her first series, the Allison Legacy Series.When Leilani is not in her race car she is out doing a lot of environmental work. Currently, she serves as the first Ambassador of the National Wildlife Federation, and travels all over giving speeches on issues pertaining to the environment and how we all can make a difference.
She makes trips to Capitol Hill on behalf of her work as an ambassador, speaking to members of Congress regarding environmental legislation. Very active in the green sector, she is using her voice as a race car driver to bring attention to the challenges we face in relation to our environment.
Washington, D.C. Speech
Leilani Munter has worked as a stunt woman and as a photo-double for actress Catherine Zeta-Jones in such movies as “Traffic” and “America’s Sweethearts”. While working in Hollywood, she spent her off time volunteering as a crew member for a NASCAR Southwest Tour team, and would wake up at 4 a.m. to hit the track.
In January of 2004, Leilani began working as a ‘special correspondent’ for the NASCAR.com program, Leilani Reports. Interviewing such Nextel Cup and Busch drivers as David Stremme, J.J. Yeley and Dale Jr. Leilani said this about her job as a NASCAR Correspondent,
“"It's a great job because I get to learn from the guys who are at the top of the game, where I hope to end up one day as a driver."
In 2007, Leilani earned the distinction of being the fourth woman in history to race in the Indy Pro Series. She was also named “One of the top ten female race car drivers in the world” by Sports Illustrated.
Before going any further, Leilani asked that you take a minute and check out a video piece regarding the BP Oil spill and what you can do to help. I don’t usually like to promote within the column but felt this was too important to ignore.
Video Credited to Leilani Munter.com
With a very busy schedule, Leilani took some time out to answer a handful of questions about her career, her passions and her desire to make the world more aware of our ever changing environment.
Lindi Bess(LB)-At what point did you know you wanted to be a race car driver?
Leilani Munter(LM)-“From the moment I sat in a race car for the first time. It did not seem attainable to really become a professional driver, it was more like a dream. I never thought it would become a reality.”
LB-What is your earliest memory involving motorsports?
(LM)-“I grew up riding horses, so I wanted to be a jockey as a child. It wasn’t until later in life that I got into auto racing. I went to a local race and fell in love with it right away.”
LM-“They are my biggest cheerleaders! They are very supportive. My parents have always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. They believed in me and that helped me to believe in myself. They all come to my races in person when they can. If they are not there, they are watching on TV, cheering me on.
My husband, Craig Davidson, is always by my side. He has only missed two races since we met and that was only because he was out of the country. I wouldn’t have made it this far without their support. I have a wonderful family and I feel lucky to have them!”
Photos taken in New Zealand where Leilani and Craig were married.
Leilani and her husband Craig Davidson, were married in March 2009 in a seaside wedding in New Zealand.LB-Do you have any female mentors/role models?
LM-“Female role models would be my three older sisters and my mother. As far as racing goes, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James have given me advice over the years and I really admire what they did for women in racing. They were pioneers and I hope that all female drivers remember how their accomplishments have helped make the journey for us all a little easier.”
LB-When was your first race? How did you do?
LM-“My first series was in August of 2001 at Cajon Speedway in El Cajon, CA in the Allison Legacy Series. I fought for the lead for most of the heat race. We were trading paint and I was going to his inside and outside trying to get by him, but we were so equally matched. Neither of us could pull away and we stayed door to door. Finally with a few laps to go, coming out of turn four, I was on his inside and he bumped my right front, I spun. I came back to finish 4th in the heat. The main event I finished 7th. I was hooked from day one. Within less than a year, I had moved to North Carolina to pursue my dream.”
LB-What has been your biggest career achievement so far and why?
LM-“I am proud of a few things in my career. I hold the record for the highest finish for a female stock car driver in the history of TMS in 2006. I ran as high as 3rd and finished fourth there in the First Convenience Bank 100. I am the first and only woman in the 49 year history to qualify for the Bettenhausen Classic Late model race in Indiana. When I made my debut in the INDY PRO SERIES at Kentucky Speedway, I ran up front and passed a lot of cars and a lot of people in the garage had some really nice things to say about my driving; Including 4 time INDY 500 Champion Rick Mears. It was quite an honor to hear people that I admire so much say such nice things about my abilities.”
LB-What are your racing goals?
LM-“Like most drivers, I imagine my goal is to make it to the top level of whichever division I am racing in and win. A couple of years ago when I was racing open wheel, I would have told you my goal was INDY CAR and the INDY 500. Now I am racing in ARCA so the ultimate goal would be the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. I love driving both stock cars and open wheel. I don’t care if the cars have fenders or not, I just want to race.”
LB-Do you have any female Pit Crew members?
LM-“At Daytona, I had a female rear tire changer on my crew. Her name is Randi Olsen and she’s been changing tires for three years now. I thought it was really cool to have a girl on my pit crew. Talk about Girl Power!”
LB-As a woman, what are some of the difficulties that you’ve faced in this male dominated sport?
LM-“My biggest challenge has always been sponsorship. It’s such an help expensive sport and that is the most difficult part of the equation for me. The opportunity to get into quality race cars is there for me, but I need to be able to bring the funding to the the car on the track.”
LB-Speaking of sponsors, who do you have working with you now?
LM-'”Currently, my sponsor is GREENandSAVE, an energy efficiency company. I am specifically working with one of their divisions called LED Savings Solutions. We help companies go green and save money each month with the simple act of changing to energy efficient LED lighting, which can cut energy costs by up to 80%. It’s the perfect fit for me because it combines my race program with the helping companies survive this tough economy by reducing their energy consumption and its also very good for our environment!”
Carbon-Free Girl Photo credited to Craig Davidson
LB-Tell us a little about the charities and causes you support……..
LM-“My life outside the race car is focused on environmental awareness. I am doing everything I can to reduce my carbon footprint such as recycling. Supporting local green power and companies that use recycled materials, using renewable energy, installing solar and rainwater collection, and adopting an acre of tropical rainforest for every race I run.
I will continue my work as the first Ambassador for the National Wildlife Federation which includes the trips to Capitol Hill to encourage Congress to pass environmental legislation. We need to get America off of fossil fuels and instead be using clean renewable energy made right here in the USA.”
LB-Do you see more media attention this season compared to previous yrs at the Daytona/Arca Race? Why?
LM-“Yes, Of Course! There was tons of press. I was on the front page of the sports section of the New York Times on race day! And we all have Danica Patrick to thank for that. Where she goes, the media follows!”
LB-What is the reason for the big influx of women in the sport?
LM-“Well, I think most of the women in the garage have been working towards this for a long time. So I don’t really think that there is a big influx. I think the female drivers are just starting to get better opportunities to get into higher quality equipment and so you are hearing more about us in the press.”
LB-What advice would you give to a young woman wanting to be a race car driver?
LM-Never Give UP! You never know when you get your break. Just keep working at it. Many drivers give up and go home because they can’t take all the disappointments. Racing is full of disappointments but you have to be determined enough and passionate enough to love it anyway. That’s the difference between the drivers who eventually make it and the ones who give up because its too hard.”LB-How does your schedule look for the 2010 Season?
LM-“I am planning on going to the 10 televised ARCA races. It started in Daytona with the most recent at Pocono on June 5th & 31st, MIS on June11th, Iowa Speedway on July 10, Chicagoland Speedway on August 27th, Kansas on September 30 and the finale at Rockingham Speedway on October 9th. All these races will have live or same day coverage on SPEED and we are looking for marketing partners to join us at these events!”
LB-How was off season testing?
LM-“The only testing I did was at Daytona in December and it went really well. On the final day of testing Danica and I were drafting together and I just thought it was really cool to have two female drivers drafting together. I don’t know if that has ever happened at Daytona, but there was this moment where I thought, “This feels kind of historic.” We were both fast- I think I was 7th quick on the grid and she was 5th quick. It was a whole lot of fun.”
Photo credits: NextEra Energy Resources, Doug Murray, Craig Davidson
LB-What do you do to relax?
LM-“I like to relax and chat with my sisters, girl talk is a necessity! I hang out with my husband and we travel when we can. He is from New Zealand so we have made a few trips there to see his family. It’s such a beautiful place! I am a vegetarian so we like to cook a lot at home. We both love adventure and adrenaline- scuba diving, snowboarding, and skydiving are things we do whenever we get the chance!”
Leilani and Kiwi in New Zealand, Jan 2006
LB-Where is your ‘Happy Place’?LM-“Anywhere my husband and my family are. And Hawaii! :)”
Leilani and Kiwi in Hawaii 2009, her happy place!
LB-Do you have a favorite philosophy or quote?
LM-“I have lots of favorite quotes, in fact, I have a page on my website where I have posted a lot of them. One of my favorite quotes that comes to mind is,
“Well behaved women seldom make history.”But my personal motto is,
“Never underestimate a vegetarian hippie chick with a race car.”LeilaniMunter
Photo taken a Grateful Dead ConcertLeilani’s sister, Natascha, is married to Bob Weir
Leilani Munter Website
Check out Leilani's article in the Huffington Post on Our Clean Energy Wake up Call. She links NASCAR with the need for Environmental Change.
Thanks to Leilani for her patience with this article. Its been a long time coming and we are both happy to bring it to the readers of Skirts and Scuffs.
As always, any opinions expressed or implied are those of the writer and not of the other contributors on this site.
We will be having drawings for Leilani Munter autographed posters. Just RT at top of the page and add the hashtag #kiwi’swife. You must be following both @skirtsandscuffs and @LindiB_NASCAR to enter. One poster for every 20 entries will be awarded.
roushyates1fan won the a-graphed poster from @LeilaniMunter. Congratulations! Please remember to send me your addy. As soon as I rec. the poster I will let you know when you can expect it.