Leilani Munter - Environmentalist-Vegetarian Race Car Driver
The former stunt double for Catherine Zeta-Jones brings an eco-friendly message to racing fans, and to Congress. Leilani Munter is looking to use the popularity of NASCAR to teach fans about global warming
By Chad Pata
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Leilani Munter is looking to use the popularity of NASCAR to teach fans about global warming
Leilani Munter is an environmentalist race car driver. What’s next,the vegetarian hunting club? Solar-powered oil rigs?
Despite the obvious paradox, Munter is bringing the message of global warming to the NASCAR set. They represent one in three Americans and she feels it is her duty to play the role of the biblical Paul to the non-believers.
“While other drivers are selling their hats, shirts and little race cars,” says Munter,“we are going to have CFL light bulbs,canvas grocery bags and information on solar water heaters to reach out to the fans, ‘cause they have not really been reached out to about the environment. That has got to change.”
One might think you would have an easier time teaching sharks to eat salad, but this self-proclaimed “hippie chick vegetarian"has made it her goal in life. The Minnesota native is the product of an Island love affair when her Japanese mom from the Big Island met her German father while they were both working at the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe.
Her father’s medical career brought him to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where young Munter worked as a young lady before moving on to UC San Diego to study biology. It was this move to the Left Coast that brought together the amazing circumstances that propelled her into the racing world.
Because she was so close to Hollywood, she got a SAG card in case any work came her way, but in the meantime she focused on her studies and avoiding speed traps.
“I have always had a lead foot,” admits Munter.“I have always gotten a lot of speeding tickets, and I just had an inkling that I wanted to try driving a race car.”
Unfortunately racing cars is an extravagantly expensive habit, way out of the price range of the average college student, so the inkling didn’t grow into a possibility until Catherine Zeta-Jones needed a body double for the Academy Award-winning film Traffic.
Though four inches shorter than Jones, her thick black hair and good looks matched up so well that she also was used for Jones’next film American Sweethearts.
Now Hollywood people make enough money to try out driving race cars, so she left the shooting of Sweethearts a couple days early to begin racing school - much to the chagrin of Jones, who thought Munter was off her rocker.
After her first couple of lessons, a local race team owner came down to the track to ask Munter what she was doing there. When he discovered she not only was there of her own volition, but had paid her own way, he encouraged her to think about doing it for a living.
“He told me,‘Look around you for a second,’ so I looked around, and he said,‘You are the only female out here racing; there are not that many in the sport.Because you have that something that is a little bit dif-
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