Racecar driving may be the number one spectator sport in the country, but green it’s certainly not. Named one of the top 10 female racecar drivers in the world by SportsIllustrated, Leilani Münter is on a mission to change her sport for the better. I sat down with Münter while she was in Aspen to give a keynote speech at the 2011 American Renewable Energy Day Summit in August. Up for discussion was her rise to fame as a top driver and her equally important commitment as an environmental activist.
Münter is a natural eco-girl. A biology major in college and a self-described hippie chick (sister-in-law to Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead), she grew up horseback riding in the woods of Minnesota and loves nature and adventure. Prior to her racing career she worked as a photo double and stunt driver for Catherine Zeta-Jones, and her exotic looks can be traced to her parents’ Japanese and German roots. She’s quick to champion her vegetarian lifestyle and equally as passionate about adopting an acre of endangered tropical rain forest every time she races in order to offset her carbon footprint on the track. She’s petite yet fiery, and whether behind the wheel of a car or speaking on Capitol Hill, she means business. What’s more, Münter and a group of “green girls” are planning to join me when we hike Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, in February 2012. Our goal is to summit the tallest freestanding mountain in the world while raising awareness about climate change and species to benefit the Aspen-based nonprofit I founded, Climb for Conservation, Inc.
For Münter, being both a female and an environmental activist in the southern racing world hasn’t been easy. “I’m an island unto myself,” she explains. “In the very beginning there was much more negativity. Now I’m having a lot more positive reaction.” As she climbed the NASCAR rankings, Münter realized she was never going to fit the typical stereotype of a racecar driver, so she felt free to become more vocal about the environment. On the surface, there’s absolutely nothing green about racecar driving. Rather, burning gas and carbon are the antithesis of green. But Münter believes she has a unique opportunity to educate and inspire millions of NASCAR fans. She envisions a sport where racecars run on biofuels, spectators recycle their cans, avoid using plastic bags and bottles, switch to LED light bulbs, and support clean energy. And she’s hard at work putting her vision into action. In 2012 Münter will showcase her Eco Education Project. The group will be composed of 20 green companies in the renewable-energy business and environmental field. Its company logos will be equally displayed all over her car, with the hood reserved for carrying a rotating message urging people to reconsider their daily choices for the planet. Since 2006 Münter has dedicated a section of her website to environmental news. Time spent off the track includes speaking engagements on Capitol Hill on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation and completing a public service announcement for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Münter may be considered the “Hottest Woman in NASCAR” not simply because of her good looks, but also because she’s using her growing racing platform to promote a passionate message of environmental awareness.
Ginna Kelly lives in Aspen and is an attorney and program manager for American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY), a TV host for Green Girl Minute, and founder of the nonprofit Climb for Conservation, Inc. Visit greengirlminute.com to watch Kelly in action.