“Never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car.”
Biologist turned race car driver, Leilani Münter is an activist for the environment, animal rights, and is a vegan. She isn’t shy to promote the vegan diet at race events by giving away free samples of the Impossible Burger, a 100% plant-based take on the classic burger with the meat lover in mind. Some of her pit crew have even converted to the vegan alternative.
Leilani races both, stock cars (NASCAR Elite Division, ARCA) and open wheel cars (Indy Pro Series) already recording nine Top 5 and 19 Top 10 finishes in 52 starts.
As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Leilani realizes the immense impact she has as a racing star and is using it to benefit the entire planet. She races around the track at breakneck speeds and yet operates on a platform of promoting renewable energy, clean energy legislation, and animal rights. These have all been themes of her race cars. In 2012, she handed out a thousand DVDs of the documentary about dolphin hunting, The Cove. With her Blackfish-themed race car in 2014, about the captivity of killer whales, she did the same.
Finding sponsors that share her environmental awareness is not easy, and Leilani refuses to work with companies associated with fossil fuels or products made from the animal industry including leather, furs, meat, dairy and animal testing. She has also called out corporations by lighting up their CO2 and methane emissions, using a specialized filter making the toxic gases visible to the naked eye.
Her sponsors include A Well-Fed World and TRYVEG.com as she races the No. 20 VEGANSTRONG.com Toyota with a full season schedule for 2018. For nine years, Leilani has adopted an acre of rainforest for every race she enters in order to offset her carbon footprint. Furthermore, her personal car is a Tesla Model S which she charges from the solar panels on her roof.
As a pragmatist, Leilani states “I am making the biggest difference when I am at a race track and not when I am at an environmental event, preaching to the converted…If I was just a biology graduate running around telling people to buy electric cars and give up eating meat and dairy, not many people would listen to me.” With 75 million racing fans out there, in the US alone, Münter is using her platform to blast out her message.
The stereotypes in racing are being challenged too, with more women race car drivers. “It’s good for little girls watching to see me standing alongside [the girls giving out trophies] in a racing suit; hopefully it plants a little seed in their head.”
Münter always loved driving fast and dreamed of being a race car driver starting in her teens. After earning a degree in Biology, she turned her dream into a reality. Working her way through racing school, she raised money playing as stunt double for Catherine Zeta-Jones in America’s Sweethearts and Traffic.
Münter’s engagement in activism is touching a wide range of people. As proof of this, she received a communication from a male NASCAR fan, saying that she had inspired him to adopt an acre of rainforest to celebrate his wife’s birthday. She remembers that he fit the stereotypical NASCAR fan profile, with a beer in hand and beer belly to boot.
“I know that a lot of environmentalists would just write someone like that off and think there was no sense in reaching out to him, but that’s just not true. If you really want to have an impact you have to have the uncomfortable conversations with the people who may not be on our side yet.”
Münter’s vision is to see the race car industry using electric or 100% renewable fuel sources. Modern-day auto innovation has its origins on the race track. Leilani’s message encourages letting the innovators innovate and move the green car movement forward. “They have all these brilliant engineers who could also be working on making the sport more sustainable and environmentally friendly.”
Relishing the title No. 1 Eco Athlete in the World according to Discovery Channel, Münter serves on the board of the Oceanic Preservation Society and is in their documentary called Racing Extinction. She serves on the board of Empowered by Light and EARTHx Film and has been an Ambassador to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project since 2010. She serves as Ambassador to the National Wildlife Federation and if you want to read more check out her blog for Huffington Post’s green section.
Brewer, Kirstie. (2016, April 8) Meet the woman racing to save the planet. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com
Pollock, Nicolas. (2017, October 24) This Race Car Driver Is Defying Stereotypes at 200 Miles Per Hour. Retrieved from
Venturini, Billy. (2018, February 10) Leilani Münter and Vegan Strong Announce Extended ARCA Schedule Retrieved from http://www.venturinimotorsports.com
Wright, Micah. (2017, April 3) 10 Women Who Shook the Auto Industry. Retrieved from https://www.cheatsheet.com