Leilani Münter needs to add that descriptor to her already adjective-laden tag line. Because while “Eco, Vegan, Hippie Chick with a Race Car,” is very clever and certainly stands out, it doesn’t quite do her justice.
Because she continues to hustle to find mission-driven sponsors to fund her races at Daytona and elsewhere. And because she continues to bring her vegan, plant-based diet mantra — along with food samples — to stock car racing fans, when conventional wisdom would say her efforts are being directed at the wrong audience.
OK; “Tenacious, Eco, Vegan Hippie Chick with a Race Car” is maybe a tad wordy, but you get the idea — tenacity is central to what makes Ms. Münter tick.
GreenSportsBlog caught up with Ms. Munter for a quick preview of her 2018 racing and activism schedule before she took off for Daytona in her Tesla from her Charlotte, North Carolina-area home.
GreenSportsBlog: Leilani, it’s great to reconnect. What’s new for you and your team for 2018?
Leilani Münter: We’re building on our 2017 “Vegan Powered” program. We have a new branding — Vegan Strong — with the website launching before our race at the ARCA racing series opener at Daytona on February 10. And we will have a vegan food tent with tasty samples that will be open for fans each racing day at Daytona Speedweeks, which includes the 10th, 11th and then from the 15th to the 18th, which is the day of the Daytona 500. Building on our positive experience doing this last year, our emphasis this year is going to be on the health benefits of a vegan diet.
Leilani Münter (Photo credit: Scott LePage)
GSB: How do you think racing fans at Daytona will respond?
LM: I think those who come to our tent will learn about why being vegan is good for your body — it’s the most efficient way to get nutrients — that’s one of the reasons we call our program Vegan Strong. They will also learn that vegan food tastes great! Not just good but GREAT! Last year we served vegan wings at Daytona and also at Talladega Super Speedway in Alabama that, compared to chicken, have half the fat calories, provide 100 percent of the protein and have zero cholesterol. This year we have something new up our sleeve.
Fun, must-watch video from Leilani Münter’s 2017 vegan food giveaway at Alabama’s Talladega Super Speedway (3 min 17 sec)
GSB: We look forward to hearing about it. Now I know that your on-track career, your ability to actually race, has been limited by the challenges of trying to find sponsors who are on board with your vegan, climate change mission and who are interested in reaching auto racing fans. I also know that if you are racing in 2018, you have some sponsors, including a new one. Fill us in…
LM: Getting corporations to sponsor us has been a challenge but we’ve found success with some great, mission-aligned nonprofits. In 2017, we were sponsored by A Well-Fed World and they are back again this season. We’ve also added a new nonprofit sponsor, TryVeg.com. These sponsors are essential to allowing us to race and to having our tent at Daytona Speedweeks as the costs are significant.
GSB: Congratulations on gaining the sponsorships. Why do you think they came aboard, aside from their belief in you and your mission?
LM: One big reason is that we had a successful 2017 in terms of media coverage of our efforts at Daytona and also at Talladega. Fox Sports covered us during the race and also ran features on us. That, along with other online and social media coverage, generated media exposure to the tune of 161 million impressions…
LM: Thanks. That’s really what helped us secure the funding for Daytona 2018. And we will be making an announcement at Daytona about the rest of our season schedule, so stay tuned for that.
GSB: We will for sure. Now, as you mentioned at the top, you’ll be racing in the ARCA Series event on February 10 at Daytona. Just what is the ARCA Series and how does it relate to NASCAR?
LM: Sure. ARCA stands for the Automobile Racing Club of America. It is a feeder division into the top three national series of NASCAR.
GSB: So is it fair to say ARCA is to NASCAR as Triple A minor league baseball is to Major League Baseball?
LM: That’s about right.
GSB: What will you be driving at the ARCA Daytona race?
LM: I’ll driving a number 20 Venturini Motorsports car with the new composite body,
GSB: What kind of result are you hoping for?
Leilani Münter, driving her Vegan Strong Venturini car during a practice run at Daytona (Photo credit: Jim Jones)
LM: There is absolutely no reason I can’t win it this year. Last year I was running in fourth place in the final stages of the race and then with just 15 laps to go I got taken out by a competitor. As long as I have a clean race, I’m going for the win!
GSB: I wouldn’t bet against you, that’s for sure…Now, in the ARCA Series, you’re driving a standard, internal combustion engine car that consumes gasoline. I, of course, get that that’s the price for bringing your vegan, eco message to auto racing fans — an audience that is assumed to not be open to such a message. So this makes perfect sense. On the other hand, have you looked into also racing in the Formula E, electric vehicle (EV) series that is gaining lots of fan interest?
LM: Actually, I’m involved with a new EV series that’s just getting started; the Electric GT Series based in Barcelona. When it launches, we’ll all be driving Tesla Model S that has over 1,000 lbs of weight removed and many other adjustments to make it into a real race car. And it’s the first electric car to win Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. I was the first American driver to sign up for the new series.
GSB: Why the Electric GT Series and not Formula E?
LM: The appeal of NASCAR is that it uses cars similar to the models driven by regular folks. Similarly, I love the fact that Electric GT will feature Tesla Model S, the car I’ve been driving since 2013 — and charging it with electricity generated by solar panels on the roof our house.
GSB:…And now Tesla’s started selling and shipping their Model 3 — priced at $35,000 range — by far their most affordable offering yet. Once they up their production run on the Model 3, many, many more people will be driving Teslas…
LM:…Which will make this series more relatable to racing fans. And I really believe in Tesla as a game changing, disruptive force in transportation — I love that Ferrari recently announced it wants to compete with Tesla…
GSB: How cool is that?!?!
LM: Very cool. And competition is good but my loyalty is to Tesla because they took the risk, powered through the times when no one believed in electric cars. So the Electric GT Series and I are a perfect fit.
GSB: When will the series launch?
LM: It’s not clear just yet. Starting a new racing series is not an easy task, especially as it relates to signing sponsors.
GSB: You know that better than most…
LM: Exactly! I know they are hoping to launch the series in the second half of 2018, and there are a lot of moving parts but eventually I think it will be a fantastic racing series. Meanwhile I’ll race in the ARCA series and hopefully make the next step to NASCAR. Stock cars is where the eyeballs are and I want to do what I can to influence fans to make their next car purchase or lease an electric car. And, while I’m at it, I will work to show them that eating a plant-based diet and buying solar power are also great life decisions. The more fans I reach, the more I impact…Simple as that.
GSB: That’s so great. How has the fan reaction been?
LM: Oh, they love it! At the vegan tent, I tell them, with a plant based diet, aside from the health benefits, there’s no animal cruelty and it’s better for our environment, and the food tastes great. They’re like “How do they make chicken out of plants?” Then they taste it — the first bite is the key — and they’re hooked. It’s the same thing as with driving a Tesla — once you try it, you’re hooked.
GSB: Well, I can’t wait to taste the vegan wings. In the meantime, all the best at Daytona, Leilani!