Leilani Münter, “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car,” Reacts to Winning Best Green-Sports Story of 2018

Leilani Münter drove her Vegan Strong car to eighth and ninth place place, respectively, in ARCA (NASCAR developmental series) races at Daytona and Michigan International Speedways earlier this year. 

But those results were mere (vegan) appetizers to her big win in December when Münter became GreenSportsBlog’s BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018. 

The “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car” spoke to us about what winning the award means to her and more.

 

Leilani Münter has long been on our radar BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018.

She’s had the “Green” part down pat. After all, Münter adorns her race car with vegan sponsors. She samples vegan food to ARCA series race fans. Her personal car is a Tesla that she powers with electricity generated by solar panels on her roof. And much more.

 

Leilani2

Leilani Münter (Photo credit: Leilani Münter)

 

But it was the “Sports” part that always held Münter back from winning GSB’s Best Green-Sports Story award. Her main problem was that she had a very difficult time getting the vegan sponsors to fund more than a one-race season.

Until 2018, that is.

She signed A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com to sponsor her ARCA car for an eight race campaign, by far her busiest season in that series. Thus the decision to give the award to Münter became relatively easy this yearespecially with her record of two top ten finishes, and the 30,000 vegan Impossible Burgers that were served in her name to 30,000 racing fans at five Fan Zones.

 

Leilani-Danica

Leilani Münter (r) with NASCAR’s Danica Patrick at Daytona International Speedway this February (Photo credit: Leilani Münter)

 

In accepting the award, Münter shared that it’s been a long road for her.

“I am completely honored to be recognized by GreenSportsBlog,” Münter said. “It was also an honor to be able to drive the Vegan Strong car, thanks to my partnerships with A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com. I pitched vegan sponsors for six years and am grateful they finally saw the value of reaching out to a non-traditional audience for them — auto racing fans — and getting them to try tasty vegan food in a fun atmosphere.”

Although the reaction was universally positive, even Münter was surprised about at least one racing fan who became a vegan food fan.

“So this was at the Media Day during Daytona 500 week,” Münter recalled. “Not surprisingly, the ARCA racers were ignored in favor of the NASCAR Monster Energy series (the top level of NASAR) drivers. Luckily, an AP reporter saw a tweet on Twitter saying that vegan burgers are being sampled out in the Fan Zone. So he went over there with a camera guy. When he gets there, he sees a guy in a Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap and an anti-PETA* t-shirt. And the guy LOVED the Impossible Burger!”

Don’t believe me? Check out this 50 second video:

 

 

GSB’s Take: Perhaps Münter is thinking too small with this whole “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car” thing. It says here that she might want to explore the idea of taking her Tesla, tasty vegan food, and pro-PETA messaging to Iowa and New Hampshire in advance of the 2020 Presidential primary season. Because maybe the best way to reach folks who are opposed to reducing their meat consumption (and thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and/or deny climate change is through their stomachs.

Run, Leilani, Run! Heck, everyone else seems to be running.

 

* PETA = People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. So an anti-PETA t-shirt means the wearer is for unethical treatment of animals? As my Grandma Lena used to say, “It takes all kinds!”

 


 

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The Best and Worst of Green-Sports, 2018

Eco-athletes became more of a thing in 2018 — and that’s a very good thing.

This statement is not data-based. I haven’t seen data on the number of athletes who engage on environmental issues.

Yet anecdotally, I can say that I spoke to more eco-athletes in 2018 than in any other year since starting GreenSportsBlog in 2013.

Given the dire climate news coming out of recent UN and U.S. government reports, the world needs this year’s eco-athlete “thing” to become a wave in 2019. But that is for another day.

Today, we bring you an eco-athlete-infused BEST AND WORST OF GREEN-SPORTS, 2018.

 

BEST GREEN-SPORTS STORY OF 2018

Leilani Münter, The “Vegan, Hippy Chick with a Race Car”

There are three great reasons why Leilani Münter, the “vegan, hippy chick with a race car,” is GreenSportsBlog’s Best Green-Sports Story of 2018. Münter…

  1. Signed A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com to sponsor her ARCA series car for an eight race campaign
  2. Earned two top ten finishes
  3. Sampled vegan Impossible Burgers to 30,000 racing fans (they loved ’em!)

 

Leilani Munter Scott LePage

Leilani Münter, GreenSportsBlog’s “Best Green-Sports Story of 2018” (Photo credit: Scott LePage)

 

Thing is, no one would have blamed Münter if she had decided to give up her career as a driver in NASCAR’s ARCA Presented by Menard developmental series before this year.

Her strong commitment to only work with brands that align with her lifestyle and the issues that animate her — most notably veganism, animal rights and the climate change fight — has limited her ability to secure the sponsors and thus the funding necessary to enter races. In some years, Münter has competed in only one race; in others none at all.

But Münter did not quit, although she came close several times. The Minnesota native kept selling the idea that auto racing fans would react positively to vegan messaging — and food. “Some of the vegan brands I called on said ‘the NASCAR fan is not the right audience for us.’ I said ‘you don’t need to talk to vegans; they’re already converted. You need to talk to people who are not already in your world.’ Auto racing fans fit that definition.”

Her logic and persistence — she pitched sponsorship of a vegan-branded car for six years — paid off in 2018 when two non-profit organizations, A Well-Fed World and TryVeg.com, signed on as her lead sponsors to carry the Vegan Strong message. The deal allowed Münter to run an eight race campaign, which included an eighth place finish at the ARCA race during Daytona 500 week and a ninth place result at Michigan International Speedway.

More importantly, Münter and Vegan Strong teamed up at five of her eight races to fund the sampling of vegan Impossible Burgers in the Fan Zones to 30,000 fans. The fans ate ’em up, literally and figuratively.

“Many fans were skeptical at first and didn’t want to try the Impossible Burgers,” recalled Münter. “But once they did, they loved the taste and texture! And when you tell them it’s better for their health and for the planet, they got more excited.”

 

Leilani at Tent

Leilani Münter takes a photo of skeptical racing fans trying Impossible Burgers at the Daytona International Speedway Fan Zone in February (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

I am excited to see what Münter will do for encore to spread her vegan, along with her animal rights and climate change-fighting messages. On the latter, she is a big advocate of electric vehicles — her personal car is a Tesla, powered by solar panels on the roof of her house.

Münter says to expect an announcement about her 2019 plans in early January.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: The Athletes of Protect Our Winters (POW)

2016: The Rio “Climate Change” Olympics Opening Ceremony vignette

2015: Pac-12 Conference

2014: Forest Green Rovers

 

MORE ECO-ATHLETES WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN 2018

I’m happy to say that Leilani Münter is not a lone wolf eco-athlete. She is joined by a veritable All-Star squad of sailors, skiers and more who spoke out and/or took action on the environment this year.

Team director Mark Towill and skipper Charlie Enright led the Vestas 11th Hour Racing Crew to a fifth place finish in the ’round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race. Sustainability is a core element of the team’s DNA. They communicated their ethos of a cleaner, healthier environment to thousands of fans at race stops via an interactive Exploration Zone.

Jessie Diggins, who along with teammate Kikkan Randall, won the gold medal in the women’s team sprint freestyle race at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Diggins also found the time to engage on the climate change fight. She supports a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend program (CF&D), similar to the bill that was recently introduced with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. Diggins told the New York Times, “Saving winter is something I believe in…and I feel like we’re actually really at risk of losing it.” 

 

Jessie Diggins NYDN

U.S. Olympic cross country gold medal winner and carbon pricing advocate Jessie Diggins (Photo credit: New York Daily News)

 

Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen talked climate change in a March interview in ESPN The Magazine: “One cause I’ll champion is the environment. It touches everything. I mean, the war in Syria started because of the drought and famine that destabilized the country and led the population to revolt against the government. I know global warming is a partisan issue for some stupid reason, but it touches everything.”

Sam Martin, punter for the Detroit Lions and an advocate for renewable energy, helped broker a deal that resulted in new solar installations at Ford Field and the club’s nearby Allen Park training facility. North Carolina-based Power Home Solar approached the team through a preexisting partnership with Martin and his Sam Martin Foundation,

Milwaukee Bucks point guard Malcolm Brogdon and four other NBA players announced the launch of Hoops₂Ojoining the fight for access to clean water in East Africa. Staying in the Beer Capital of the U.S., Brewers’ pitcher Brent Suter penned an OpEd urging action on climate in Fast Company. 

 

GREENEST NEW STADIUM OR ARENA OF 2018

Audi Field, D.C. United

It took D.C. United a quarter century to build its own, soccer-specific stadium. Audi Field sure looks like it was worth the wait as the 20,000 seat, $500 million stadium earned LEED Gold certification when it opened in July. Five months later, it added another honor by being named GSB’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2018.

Audi Field drew our attention for a number of reasons, including:

  • The rooftop solar panel installation that provides roughly one million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, enough to offset nearly one third of the stadium’s electricity usage
  • Nearby access to D.C. Metro system’s green line train
  • An advanced, energy-efficient building envelope/skin
  • A storage vessel that collects rain water underneath the building. When it rains, water drains under the pitch into the vessel where it is slowly released so it doesn’t go into the nearby Anacostia River.

 

Audi Field

A packed Audi Field during the national anthem on opening night (Photo credit: WTOP/Noah Frank)

 

Fiserv Forum, the new home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, deserves honorable mention. On track to receive LEED Silver certification, the downtown arena is the world’s first bird-friendly sports and entertainment venue, thanks in part to a collaboration with the American Bird Conservancy.

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United

2016: Golden1 Center, Sacramento Kings

2015: CHS Field, St. Paul (MN) Saints

2014: Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco 49ers

 

BEST TEAM ON/GREENEST TEAM OFF FIELD OF 2018

TIE: Philadelphia Eagles, Super Bowl LII Champions and Atlanta United F.C., Major League Soccer’s 2018 Title Winners 

The Eagles checked the on-field box for their Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field Court of 2018 award when they captured the franchise’s first Super Bowl in dramatic fashion, as backup QB Nick Foles outdueled Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, 41-33. Off the field, the Eagles became the first pro sports team to earn ISO 20121 certification for integrating sustainability practices into their management model. Among other things, the team:

  • Deployed edgy, humorous billboards that encouraged support for GO GREEN, the Eagles’ long-running fan-facing environmental program on Lincoln Financial Field’s concourses, ramps, and yes, even the restrooms.
  • Installed an interactive LED screen at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s practice facility down the street from “The Linc”. “It shows our employees how much energy our solar panels and wind turbines are producing every day, how much we recycle, and more,” said Norman Vossschulte, the Eagles director of fan experience.

And, just before we went to press, the Eagles announced that Lincoln Financial Field earned an upgrade from the US Green Building Council to LEED Gold status — it had qualified for LEED Silver in 2013.

 

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

Sustainability-themed signage on display at Lincoln Financial Field (Photo credits: Philadelphia Eagles)

 

 

Atlanta United secured its spot on GSB’s Best Team On/Greenest Team Off Field podium by winning the MLS Cup trophy in only its second season of play. The “Five Stripes” knocked off the Portland Timbers 2-0 on Saturday night.

The team’s green cred is also championship caliber. After all, they play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED Platinum pro sports stadium, sharing it with the NFL’s Falcons. Stadium management uses its massive, wrap-around scoreboard to share the green story with fans, 73,019 of whom showed for MLS Cup, the largest crowd in league history.

 

M-B Stadium

Green messaging greets fans of Atlanta United, the newly-minted MLS Cup champion, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

PAST WINNERS

2017: Golden State Warriors

2016: Cleveland Indians

2015: New England Patriots

2014: Ohio State University

 

GREEN-SPORTS GREENWASH OF 2018

Eco-Sailor Sir Ben Ainslie Signs Title Sponsor Deal with Fracking and Chemical Company Ineos

Sir Ben Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympics history. As skipper of Land Rover BAR, the British entrant in the 2017 America’s Cup, he also won deserved plaudits for making environmental sustainability, in particular ocean health, a core value of his team.

One thing Sir Ben did not win was the 2017 America’s Cup, despite spending in the neighborhood $135 million over the four-year cycle. By some estimates, it will cost as much as $175 million to mount a legitimate campaign for the 2021 Cup.

So when British fracking^ and chemical company, Ineos, and its founder Jim Ratcliffe, offered Ainslie $153 million to fund the lion’s share of his 2021 Cup quest, Sir Ben had a choice: Take the money and risk being labeled a greenwasher, or keep his good name and his well-earned global reputation as an eco-athlete among fans, competitors, sponsors and more.

He chose Ratcliffe’s fracking money.

 

Ainslie Ratcliffe

Jim Ratcliffe (l), CEO of Ineos, with Sir Ben Ainslie (Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters)

 

Not surprisingly, GreenSportsBlog chose Sir Ben for Green-Sports Greenwash of 2018.  

And it wasn’t close for second place.

 

PAST “WINNERS”

2017: Super Bowl LI, Houston*

2016: Super Bowl L, Santa Clara, Super Green But (Virtually) No One (Outside of the Green-Sports Ecosystem) Knew About It*

2015: College Athletics Departments That Talk a Good Green Game But Took Koch Brothers Sponsorship Dollars

2014: Sochi Winter Olympics

 

Fracking (also known by its more technical name, hydraulic fracturing) is a process by which large amounts of water and sand, combined with often hazardous chemicals, are injected, at high rates of pressure, into rock formations to fracture surrounding material for the purpose of extracting oil and gas. Its negative environmental and health impacts are legion, many of which would’ve concerned pre-Ineos Sir Ben. These include contamination of groundwater, large volume water use in water-challenged regions, methane pollution which exacerbates climate change, exposure to toxic chemicals, and fracking-induced earthquakes.
* 2017 and 2016 designation was titled “GREEN-SPORTS MISSED OPPORTUNITY OF THE YEAR”

 

 


 

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New Rules for Green-Sports, Part Three

Over the last couple of years, I’ve written two posts in which I imagined myself Commissioner of (Green) Sports. In that idyllic world (at least to my way of thinking), I gave myself powers to unilaterally enact any Green-Sports initiative I wanted. In a nod to the popular “New Rules” segment on Bill Maher’s HBO political-comedy-satire talk show, Real Time, I entitled the posts “New Rules for Green Sports.”

Maher’s show is currently on hiatus until August 3 — given the sad performance by the US President at the NATO conference and at the summit meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, that episode should be a doozy^. With that being the case, I thought now would be the perfect time to fill that void, put on my regal vestments and offer you, my subjects, er, readers, “New Rulesfor Green Sports, Part Three.”

 

For those of you who don’t have HBO and have never seen Real Time with Bill Maher, the host ends each hour-long episode of his show with “New Rules,” in which Maher gives himself autocratic powers to enact his own rules for politics and life in general. Here’s a sampler from April.

 

Video courtesy of HBO and YouTube

 

In the first two “New Rules for Green-Sports” offerings I (benevolently) ordered, among other things, that:

  • Fans who travel to games via mass transit, drive EVs or hybrids get a rebate, paid for from parking revenues. Fans who come by bike or walk also qualify
  • Every broadcast of a sports event must air at least one 30 second Public Service Announcement (PSA) themed to the climate change fight
  • Each stadium and arena will have at least one vegan-only food stand
  • Teams that broadcast their climate change-fighting actions receive a tax break

 


 

OK, enough with the preliminaries; now it’s on to the third edition of “New Rules for Green-Sports”

New Green-Sports Rule #1ESPN will give out an “Eco-Athlete of the Year” honor at the 2019 ESPY Award show. Tonight’s 2018 ESPYs show will highlight the great works of athletes and coaches in their communities. It will also honor the coaches who perished in the Parkland (FL) High School mass shooting. But ESPN, which last month won the Green Sports Alliance’s “Environmental Leadership Award,” doesn’t yet use the ESPYs to spotlight athletes engaged in environmentalism and the climate change fight. That will end with next year’s ESPY’s with the addition of the “Eco-Athlete of the Year” award.

If the ESPY’s would have had the foresight to award an Eco-Athlete of the Year for 2018, I have a great suggestion for the first honoree: Leilani Münter, the self-described eco “vegan, hippie chick with a race car” who is having a solid year on the track, including a fifth place finish at the Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona. Off the track, her work is even more important, as Leilani supports a booth, sponsored by two non-profits, that dispenses vegan Impossible Burgers during the week of each race she enters.

 

Leilani Munter Scott LePage

Leilani Münter, eco “vegan, hippie chick with a race car” will earn a 2019 Eco-Athlete ESPY, if the GreenSportsBlogger has his way (Photo credit: Scott LePage)

 

New Green-Sports Rule #2The Tour de France will use only EV — or at least hybrid — support vehicles. The biggest race in all of cycling has, over the past two decades, been severely tarnished by well-publicized doping scandals. One way for the Tour to improve its image would be to become a Green-Sports leader. Since cyclists use only human energy to get up and down the Alps, it already has a head start on greenness. To help nudge the Tour along its green path, our second Green-Sports “New Rule” says that, for 2019 and beyond, all team and race organizer support vehicles must be electric vehicles (EVs). If EV range is a concern, hybrids will suffice. It should be noted that the most of today’s EVs have range necessary to support the cyclists from beginning to end —the longest stage of the 2018 Tour is 143 miles.

EV and hybrid support vehicles will be a highly visible sign to the 10 to 12 million fans who annually line the route and the many millions more who watch on TV and other media platforms that the Tour de France is headed in the right, green direction.

 

Support Vehicles 2014 Tour

Support vehicles at the 2014 Tour de France (Photo credit: Times of London)

 

New Green-Sports Rule #3: FIFA will never again award a Men’s or Women’s World Cup to a country (or group of countries) where outdoor stadiums have to be air-conditioned. Russia was not my choice to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup — I tend not to want to reward a country whose government murders journalists, invades neighboring states and interferes in US elections with the world’s most watched sports event.

But I wasn’t in the “New Rules” business back in 2011 when FIFA awarded Russia with the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and Qatar — thanks in large part to a massive corruption scheme — was named host of the 2022 tournament.

The selection of Qatar was derided almost from the moment when then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced it had won the bid, with the country’s extreme heat, exacerbated by climate change, being among the top concerns for fans and players alike.

 

Sepp Blatter2

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA in 2011, announces the selection of Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup (Photo credit: Telegraph of London)

 

With June and July temperatures regularly reaching 110°F/43.3°C, FIFA decided to move the 2022 tournament to December*, when temperatures are more likely to be in the 80s Fahrenheit (27°-31° Celsius).

But, even in December, it can get bloody hot in Qatar. Organizers thus decided that all eight stadia that will be built for the World Cup will be air conditioned — despite all of them being open air buildings!

To say the least, the choice of Qatar to host the World Cup flies in the face of FIFA’s recent sustainability efforts.

But now that I’m on the case, FIFA will never again award the World Cup to a country that needs to build open air, air conditioned stadia. Not on my “New Rules” watch!

 

^ With two plus weeks between now and the August 3rd episode, there will likely be new reality show-style nonsense from POTUS that will make Helsinki and NATO seem like old news
* The switch to December will play havoc with domestic club league (English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Budndesliga etc.) seasons around the world but, gifting (grifting?) the World Cup to a country with no soccer tradition and no World Cup-quality stadia must be worth that small bit of trouble, right?

 


 

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Natalka Lindstrom: Leilani Münter, Green-Sports Super Fan

LEED-certified stadia and arenas increasingly dot the sports venue landscape. Zero-waste games are becoming more and more the rule rather than the exception these days. Eco-athletes can be found in most sports. What sports hasn’t had, at least to my knowledge, are Green-Sports Super Fans — fans who support and sometimes travel great distances to watch athletes and/or teams specifically because of their environmental advocacy and actions.

Until now, that is.

Natalka Lindstrom traveled last week from her home in Edmonton, Alberta to Daytona, Florida to see her favorite driver, Leilani Münter, the “vegan, eco, hippie chick with a race car,” compete in the Lucas Oil 200, the opener of the ARCA series.

GreenSportsBlog talked with Natalka both before and after her Super Fan sojourn.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 6: BEFORE LEAVING FOR DAYTONA

GreenSportsBlog: Hi Natalka! I am so happy to find a Green-Sports Super Fan, and one who is a devoted supporter of animal rights activist, plant-based diet advocate, electric vehicle (EV) devotee and climate change-fighter Leilani Münter makes it all the better. Let’s start from the beginning. Where are you from originally and what do you do when not traveling the almost 2,800 miles from Edmonton to Daytona for Leilani’s race in the Lucas Oil 200?

Natalka Lindstrom: Well, I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, moved to Regina, Saskatchewan and now am in Edmonton…

GSB: A woman of the prairie! 

NL: Yes indeed. I work for the Service Alberta division of the provincial government.

GSB: Provincial government worker; that sounds like a great alter-ego for a Green-Sports Super Fan! So how did you come to follow Leilani? Were you always an auto racing fan? Or were you an animal-rights devotee and plant-based diet activist first?

NL: When I was a kid, maybe eight years old, I visited my dad in Winnipeg — my folks were divorced — and he took me to a little raceway nearby. There was this bright yellow car, which I loved. Dad even took me down to the pit! It was so cool. But then I lost interest. I mean, I’d watch auto racing if there was nothing else on TV but I got into other sports like football, softball, baseball and curling.

 

Natalka at 8

An 8 year-old Natalka Lindstrom during her first visit to a racetrack (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: Curling? I love curling…Even tried it one time. I will curl again, you can bank on that! So if your interest in auto racing fell by the wayside, how did you end up booking a vacation to Daytona to watch Leilani race this weekend?

NL: It goes back to my love of, and concern for dolphins and whales at the hands of humans. I believe it was in 2009 or 2010 that I first heard of Leilani when I saw the DVD of “The Cove,” a powerful documentary film about the slaughter of dolphins off the coast of Japan. I started reading her blog posts, learning more about her activism, saw “Racing Extinction,” another documentary she was in about man-made mass extinction. I just became very impressed with her dedication and willingness to advocate on behalf of animal rights. I loved that she drove a Tesla; that she was using her platform race car driver for animal rights and electric cars was amazing to me.

GSB: So then what happened?

NL: For a few years, Leilani found it tough to get enough funding to race. But I continued to follow her on social media and online and told myself that, when she gets back on the track, I’m going to be there! And so last year, when Leilani was able to race at the ARCA Series season opener at Daytona, I went down.

GSB: Had you ever followed an athlete or celebrity on the road like that?

NL: Nope; this was a first.

GSB: How was that experience?

NL: It was great! I got to meet Leilani at the driver autograph sessions as well as her team, went to the vegan food tent Leilani was running, got some great photos — I’m an amateur photographer. It was all very exciting and great, aside from the fact that Leilani got run off the track and was unable to finish. But she is a fighter and I knew she’d be back in 2018. So I saved my money and when it became clear that she would be racing at the Lucas Oil 200, the ARCA series opener at Daytona this year, I booked my trip. And then last week I received an email from Leilani’s husband Craig — everybody calls him “Kiwi” — offering me a “Pit Pass.”

GSB: You hit the jackpot!

NL: I can’t wait…

 

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 14: BACK HOME IN EDMONTON

GSB: So, aside from it being a lot warmer in Daytona than in Edmonton, how was it??

NL: AMAZING!! On Friday, I met Leilani and used the pass to watch the qualifying runs that day for Saturday’s race from the pit. It was so cool. I was watching with Kiwi and her sister Nicolette.

GSB: How does qualifying work?

NL: So there are 40 cars in the race. Groups of four to six cars of the field of 40 race for a few laps — the track is 2.5 miles long — at speeds that sometimes top 180 miles per hour. The order of the start of Saturday’s race is decided by the racer’s time in the qualifying runs. Leilani won her group and she was in first place overall at that time. But there were several groups still to go. In the end, Leilani qualified with the fifth fastest time, a good position for her. And her Venturini Motorsports teammate Natalie Decker had the fastest time to earn the pole position. Two of the five fastest qualifying times by women drivers. How cool is THAT?!

GSB: Pretty cool, I’d say!

NL: We met Leilani back in the garage — she was very excited to get fifth. Kiwi welcomed me like I was part of the team, which was just great. And there were people from SpaceX there…

 

Natalka + Leilani + Vegan Strong

Leilani Münter and Natalka Lindstrom (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: …That’s right…SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration company, launched a rocket from nearby Cape Canaveral just a few days before the race, and Leilani drives a Tesla, a company also run by Elon Musk. That SpaceX was there makes perfect sense. So tell me about Saturday, race day!

NL: The race started at 4:30 but I got to the track at around noon and went to the vegan food tent, funded by Leilani’s sponsor, Veganstrong.com. A little while after that, the chef brought out Impossible Burgers for the fans to sample…

GSB: …I know about Impossible Burgers…they’re the vegan burgers that not only taste like beef but also have the look and feel of beef! Are they any good?

 

Impossible Burgers

Impossible (vegan) Burgers get ready for sampling last weekend at the Veganstrong.com tent at Daytona International Speedway (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

NL: They’re delicious! I can’t wait until they come to Canada.

GSB: They are in New York City…I need to check them out. OK, take us inside the Daytona International Speedway for the run-up to the start.

NL: The build up is intense. At around 4 PM, the drivers get introduced and enter the track, from last qualifier to first, back to front. Leilani, who had meditated before the race, came out looking very confident, waving to the crowd. They loved her. For me, being in the pit was incredible — I was right next to the tire changing crew!

 

Leilani Before Race Start

Leilani Münter enters the track at Daytona International Speedway before the start of Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: Then the race starts…

NL: …And Leilani is right in there with the leaders for much of the race. I really think she could’ve won. But she had a couple of challenges with her tires that put her near the back of the pack. That she was able to climb back from 30-something place to eighth is something. Leilani will I’m sure judge herself critically but I think it was one of her best races. We all went back to the garage — Leilani was burning up at first as it was incredibly hot in that car — and there were hugs all around. Her Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self ended up winning the race and pole sitter Natalie Decker finished fifth, so the team was very happy.

GSB: Sounds like a strong race for Leilani, terrific publicity for Vegan Strong…

NL: …Oh yeah, for sure! On Sunday I went back to the track as there was another race…

GSB: …That’s right, Leilani and her team have been at the Vegan Strong tent most of this week leading up to Sunday’s Daytona 500, NASCAR’s Super Bowl…

NL: Yes. So I hung out at the Vegan Strong tent where they were again serving Impossible Burgers.

GSB: How did the fans react?

NL: At first, most said things like “this can’t be plant-based. It’s too good!” It took awhile to convince them. One guy insisted, “I’m not gonna try it!” His friend brought him back later, he tried the Impossible Burger and loved it! And, this was really cool…there were some workers at the track who are vegans. They heard what was going on and came over to try the burgers. They could not believe how good and burger-like they were.

 

Leilani at Tent

Leilani Münter takes a photo of skeptical racing fans trying Impossible Burgers (Photo credit: Natalka Lindstrom)

 

GSB: It sure sounds like Impossible Burgers are aptly named! Did you meet or hear any detractors, climate change deniers…that sort of thing?

NL: I have to say that I did not hear or see anything like that during my time at the tent. But it is possible that people say the “right thing” but really think another. Still, as far as I could tell, nothing negative was being said.

GSB: Well, in a small way, this is progress. Which is what Leilani is aiming for. Progress.

NL: Exactly. And that’s the thing about Leilani: She won’t take no for an answer yet she’ll also listen. You will not find anyone more passionate about animal rights, plant-based diet and climate change. And that’s why I’m a fan.

GSB: Correction…that’s why you’re a Leilani Münter, Green-Sports Super Fan. Now we need to find more of you!

 


 

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