Recently, Girls Can’t WHAT? caught up with racing superstar Leilani Munter for a brief chat about her challenges as a woman in the male-dominated world of race car driving. Leilani, a 32 year old Minnesota native, has a history of record-setting. In 2006, she finished fourth at the Texas Motor Speedway, which is currently the highest place held by a woman. In 2007, she was the fourth woman in history to race in the Indy Pro Series. And she’s just getting started. ;)
GCW: Leilani – what is your main passion and describe when you first became interested in it.
Leilani: I have two passions – racing and the environment. I am a biology graduate turned race car driver. I am using my voice as a driver to call to action 100 million race fans to make a difference and when I am not in a race car, I fight for environmental legislation in Washington DC. I do everything I can to set a good example by making responsible personal choices such as using canvas grocery bags, CFL lightbulbs, composting, recycling, using rainwater collection, solar energy and having a vegetarian diet. I keep an eco site documenting my steps towards going carbon neutral at http://carbonfreegirl.com.
GCW: That’s fabulous that you have more than one passion and you are finding ways to blend them together. Passion has been a popular topic on our site. Have you ever been injured or encountered any setbacks while pursuing your dream?
Leilani: Yes, that’s part of my job. I did have a crash at about 200 mph in 2007, but I walked away without any serious injuries. I have had plenty of days where I was very sore the next day, but thankfully never anything I didn’t walk away from.
GCW: That’s amazing! What is your favorite tool or equipment?
Leilani: My racing helmet, which is painted like the Earth. I adopt an acre of rainforest for every race I run in order to offset the carbon footprint of racing the car. I would love to see all the race cars running on clean renewable alternative fuels.
GCW: That is a great idea. I would like to see that in the near future as well. Do you have a favorite event or memory?
Leilani: Right after I set the record for the highest finish for a female driver at Texas Motor Speedway and I was on my cool down lap, all the track crew and safety workers came up to the side of the track to cheer for me as I made my way back to the garage. It really touched me to see how many people were pulling for me. Often times the people who are the most vocal are the ones who have negative things to say, so I cherish those positive moments.
GCW: That is so true. The negative voices are often the loudest and strongest. What are some of the highlights of your career?
Leilani: Qualifying fifth for my debut in the Indy Pro Series and becoming the fourth woman in history to race in that series. I was also running up front in the race until I was taken out in a multi-car wreck. After the race, four time Indy 500 Champion Rick Mears said nice things about my driving skills, that was quite an honor.
GCW: I remember that race. I was watching it specifically because there was a woman racing. I was rooting for you all the way. What challenges have you faced as a female in racing and how did you handle them?
I have faced many people who let me know that they didn’t think I belonged in the sport because I was a female, but you can’t let those people bother you. I just kept working on my goals, and as I continued to race, I earned respect one race at a time. Many people doubt that women can race because there have not been very many successful women in the past… but I am on a mission to prove them wrong.
GCW: And you are succeeding! Have you ever been told you “can’t” because you are a girl? What did you do about it?
Leilani: A thousand doors have slammed in my face. I have been told that I couldn’t do it from race teams, drivers, car owners, race fans, and corporate America. But because there were people who told me I couldn’t do it, I wanted to prove them wrong. I didn’t listen to them, instead I listened to my heart and because of that I am now one of a handful of women in the world who have driven on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
GCW: That is so cool! You are an inspiration to so many young women. How would you encourage other girls who are interested in your field?
Leilani: Believe in your dream, never give up. Understand that you will hear a lot negativity, and it will be a long road but if you have patience, perseverance, and determination and you never lose your passion, you will get there.
GCW: Great advice. You not only speak it but you prove it with your actions. What interests do you have outside of racing?
Leilani: Scuba diving, snowboarding, and horseback riding.
GCW: Thank you so much, Leilani, for taking the time to answer our questions. We here at Girls Can’t WHAT? wish you the very best in your racing career and your efforts to improve our environment. You are living proof that dreams can come true if we follow our passions and never give up.
To learn more about Leilani Munter visit her sites at http://leilanimunter.com and http://carbonfreegirl.com
For more interview highlights, check out this Ultimate NASCAR video featuring Leilani discussing her struggles to make it in this sport.
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