December 19, 2009
By Rebecca Gladden
Danica Patrick may be stealing the racing headlines these days, but there's another lady racer who could steal the show.
Her name is Leilani Münter, and if you're not familiar with her, I predict you will be soon.
The one-time Hollywood stunt double has been building her racing resume since 2001 in various series, including super late models and Indy Lights. This week, Münter announced plans to participate in the ARCA Series open test at Daytona with a new team and a new sponsor. The test session, which started Friday and runs through the weekend, will also feature fellow female racers Danica Patrick, Milka Duno, Alli Owens, and others.
Her time in the cockpit has been limited by recent sponsorship woes, but Münter has shown flashes of brilliance in the past. In 2007, she landed a ride in the Indy Lights Series and qualified fifth for her debut race at Kentucky Motor Speedway, where she turned the fifth fastest lap of the race at 192.399 mph. In 2006, she set a new stock car record at Texas Motor Speedway, scoring the highest-ever finish for a female driver in the history of the racetrack.
Though her last oval-track race was in 2007 in Indy Lights, Münter has continued to accept every available racing challenge. "This spring, I drove in a zero-emission rally across Norway in a hydrogen fuel cell Ford Focus and finished second in the hill-climb just behind World Rally driver Hennig Solberg," she told me. "I tested the Indy Lights car a couple of months ago and ran the Daytona ARCA test a year ago, driving for James Hylton." Münter expects to pick up where she left off in stock cars, noting, "I've had a lot of seat time in stock cars over the past nine years. I think it will feel natural."
Photo courtesy Leilanimunter.com
Leilani is excited to be testing for Mark Gibson Racing, which fielded cars for Parker Kligerman in ARCA last year. Kligerman won a series-high nine races and finished second in the 2009 ARCA point standings. "I am thrilled to be driving for Mark Gibson," Münter said. "We have been trying to put a program together for quite a while now. Mark obviously has great equipment and has had lots of success in the ARCA Series, so I am really looking forward to learning from him."
Known for her environmental activism, Münter is also enthusiastic about new sponsor NextEra Energy Resources and her partnership with LED Savings Solutions. "It's like Tony Stewart's (Burger King) commercial where he says, 'Endorse things you believe in,'" Münter explained. "The last three major sponsorships I've had have been with companies that are leaders in the environmental sector, just like my sponsor for this test, NextEra Energy Resources. I am very proud to carry the colors of a company that represents clean renewable energy made right here in the USA. When you believe in the product, promoting the sponsor becomes very natural!"
Leilani's green ideals are shared by at least one Cup Series driver and she hopes to inspire others as she moves up the racing ranks. "Brian Vickers is the only other driver I know of who is not only really interested in environmental issues, but is also being vocal about it - which can be a tough thing to do as drivers in this sport. We recently had a photo shoot together for Sporting News Magazine and it was so nice to talk to another race driver that is interested in the same kinds of things I am."
While striving to improve the global environment, Leilani remains equally focused on the open ARCA test and her racing ambitions. "My main goal of the test is to have a good run, get to know my new race team, and to get the word out about the race program Mark and I want to put together this year so we can hopefully sign some additional partners for the 2010 season. Right now, I would say that the odds are pretty good of putting together a 10-race schedule in 2010."
With Leilani, Danica, Milka and others all participating in this weekend's Daytona test session, could 2010 be the year that a group of talented lady racers finally breaks through NASCAR's glass ceiling? "There have been female drivers trying to make it in this sport for a number of years now," said Münter. "I think perhaps what has changed is that better equipment is becoming available to us - if we have sponsorship, of course. That is a big piece of the puzzle because if you're not in good equipment, you can't run up front. I think companies are starting to see the marketing value of sponsoring female drivers, so hopefully those of us who are ready will be able to make the most of those opportunities to get in fast cars."
But, what would Münter say to those who are skeptical of her latest venture into stock cars? "I would ask that, before they cast judgment, they give me a chance to race - and the same goes for the other girls at the test. I have been racing since 2001 and have worked very hard for this opportunity. Now it is time for me to make the most of it. Give me a chance."
And for those who are already onboard as Leilani fans? The talented racer has two words: "Thank you. I really mean that. There have been a lot of times that I have struggled and all I had to keep me going were the words of encouragement from the race fans.
"I don't know if the fans understand how hard this has been, and how much their support over the past nine years has meant to me."
(Note: Leilani Münter has a new partnership with LED Savings Solutions. Companies can go green, save money, and become a part of her race program without spending a single marketing dollar, simply by switching out their old light bulbs to more energy efficient LED lighting. Companies that are interested in finding out more information about this program can visit leilanimunter.com)
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