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.
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…
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 (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 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 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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