Driver Wants NASCAR To Go Green

Professional race car driver and environmentalist Leilani Munter's mission for 2009 — to get her sport to go green.

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SIMON SCOTT, host:

People seemed to be going green just everywhere these days - schools, offices, shopping malls, but on the race track?

(Soundbite of man talking)

Unidentified Man: Off the banking at the exit of turn number four, the 57 machine of the rookie, Leilani Munter, pulls with in a car link to set up a turn one.

SIMON: Yup, even on the race track, Leilani Munter is a professional race car driver and environmentalist. And she realizes those words don't often appear in the same sentence, but says she's on a race to save the planet. She's already gathered a lot of attention from being a woman in the nation's number one spectators' sport. Leilani Munter is the fourth woman in history to race in the Indy Pro Series, and two years ago, she set a record for the best finish for a woman driver at the Texas Motor Speedway. She has a Web site, too, carbonfreegirl.com, where she chronicles her racing career and encourages visitors to go green. Leilani Munter joins us now from member station WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. LEILANI MUNTER (Professional Race Car Driver; Founder, carbonfreegirl.com): Hi. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So, how do you become an eco-friendly race car driver?

Ms. MUNTER: Well, my background is actually in science. My degree is in biology from the University of California in San Diego. So, I've been an environmentalist really my whole life. I was always an animal lover. I've been a vegetarian for many years, and the race car driving kind of came actually after my degree, and I realize there's definitely a contradiction there. But the reason why I want to use my voice in the racing world is that, you know, it's the number one spectator sport in America. It's a hugely popular sport, and we want everybody in this eco-movement to go green, and you can't leave behind a hundred million race fans.

SIMON: Every race car team needs corporate sponsors. I wonder how yours have reacted to some of your eco-activism?

Ms. MUNTER: Well, you know, when I first started speaking out about the environment on my racing site a few years back, I definitely had a mixed reaction. You know, some people were telling me that they like to see that, and they wanted to see more people talking about some of our environmental problems on the racing circuit. But then, there were also others that were, you know, very negative and kind of saying I was brainwashed by Al Gore and because I was promoting "An Inconvenient Truth" on my site. But the important thing that I tried to look at is I was getting them talking about it, you know, to go into a NASCAR forum and see them arguing and talking about global warming and talking about climate change, and "An Inconvenient Truth" and greenhouse gases and those kinds of things weren't necessarily taking place in NASCAR forums before that.

SIMON: And you're putting together a team for 2009?

Ms. MUNTER: Yes. I'm calling it my Eco-Dream Team, and the concept of it is, instead of having one company sponsoring the car and having the primary space all over the car, I would instead break that up into smaller sponsorships from several companies, and the main spot on the race car would be a call to action message for the race fans. So, for example, one of the messages I wanted to send was about CFL light bulbs, and I would like to run a race car that has a CFL label on the side of it. And I can say I have this on my race car because I'm trying to call to action all the fans that are here in the stands and all the fans tuning in on TV to change out your light bulb, and then the next race we'd run something different. It might be a race car that says, no more paper, no more plastic, and then I can talk about the plastic bags and how many of them aren't getting recycled.

And I'd like to have a little eco-education center that's at the race track so, you know, where the other drivers are selling their hats and their shirts and their - the little race cars, I'm going to be selling CFL light bulbs and canvas grocery bags and just giving them tips on things that they can do to go green.

SIMON: Ms. Munter, thanks very much.

Ms. MUNTER: Oh, thank you so much.

SIMON: Leilani Munter, professional race car driver and founder of carbonfreegirl.com, joining us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

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