Her tagline is “never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a racecar,” and trust us, you really shouldn’t. Since 2001, Leilani Münter has been racing cars professionally. As a woman making her mark in a field widely acknowledged as disproportionately male, it’s not surprising to learn that she’s a person who knows what she stands for and goes for it.
Earlier this month, Leilani became the first ARCA or NASCAR driver ever to travel to a race oil-free. She drove her Tesla Model S from her home in Charlotte, NC — where she charges it from solar panels on the roof of her house — to the Chicagoland Speedway where she raced under the sponsorship of Prairie Gold Solar.
The Solutions Project co-founder Mark Ruffalo was there to Grand Marshal for NASCAR, and of course to wish Leilani luck.
Her pit box was also the first to be powered entirely by solar, proving that renewable energy has a place in this very competitive sport. After driving an impressive race and placing twelfth, she gave us a call to talk about her experience.
“People were really excited,” she said. “We had different groups of people, a really wide variety. People who were race fans, people who drove other electric vehicles and hybrids, other Tesla owners. At the race it can be kind of hectic, so it was nice to have that kind of interaction where I actually had time to hang out.”
She recalled one stop where she arrived late in the evening to find a group of supporters.
“That stop definitely stands out because those people were waiting there for a few hours. It was really cool when I pulled around the corner, they all had their car lights on to guide me in. They all gave me hugs.”
One supporter drove three hours each way for a gathering, and another drove in on an electric motorcycle. “I was really honored and touched by how many people made that effort, traveled a long distance, left work early or went to work late to come and hang out with me and talk about solar power and electric cars and the transition to more sustainable energy,” Leilani said.
And the reaction from the racing community was equally supportive. “I was invited into the media center after the race and was asked a lot of interesting questions about how I was combining my efforts in racing with my environmental initiative. I had a few people come up to me after and say, ‘I feel really strongly about what you said in there, and really am happy that someone in our sport is talking about these things.’”
It’s a common misconception that electric vehicles aren’t a viable alternative to traditional cars when it comes to long-distance travel. Leilani and the scores of supporters who turned out along her trip beg to differ.