After struggling for more than a year to find sponsorship, Leilani is about to bust back onto the track for the Firestone Indy Lights race at Homestead-Miami this weekend. And she's super-geeded about it.
Check out what the super en fuego arch enemy of polystyrene has to say about her return to the track, modeling and being a self-described "vegetarian hippy chick":
pressdog: It's been a long road for you to get back in a car. Did you ever get to a point where you thought "Dude, this is so not worth it?" What kept you going?
Leilani: I get discouraged all the time but I never think it's not worth it because I love it so much. When I am in a race car, I couldn't be happier. It's my favorite place in the world. But there is too much time in between races for me and it's very frustrating. I need to be in a car full time if I want to progress in my career and I haven't been able to make that happen.
It really is like a tragic love affair. Racing keeps breaking my heart but I love it enough that I can deal with all the disappointments and keep going. I keep going because -- like Steve McQueen said in Le Mans -- "Racing is life, anything that happens before or after, is just waiting."
Anyone who races knows exactly what he meant when he said that. If you understand, there is no need to explain. If you don't understand, there are no words that can explain it.
pressdog: Has your husband, Craig, ever seen you race live? Do you think he will get all freaked out re: the semi-lethal nature of your activity? Are you preparing him for it?
Leilani: Craig comes to all my races. I started racing over eight years ago and so I was racing several years before we met so he knew what he was getting into! He has only missed a couple of my races over the past five years and that was only because he was in New Zealand. I think he might have been a bit freaked out when he first saw me race but he has been around it enough now that I don't need to prepare him for anything.
I think he was a little worried when I made the move to open wheel since our speeds and the cars make it seem quite a bit more lethal than stock cars. But he loves me and he knows how much I love the sport and so he puts up with both of us, I suppose.
pressdog: Is Craig in training for the days when you're leading and they cut to him in the pit and later has to be interviewed like Ashley Judd? Or will he take the Paul Hospenthal approach?
Leilani: I think his nature would be to take Paul's low-profile approach but I won't let that happen - I want to prance him around for the cameras like the trophy husband he is. Let's face it, he's hot -- with the dark hair, blue eyes and the New Zealand accent -- there's no reason I shouldn't prance him around the garage like the male drivers do with their girlfriends.
I was thinking of getting him a racing suit that matches mine so he can look cool when he walks me to the race car. He didn't go for it though.
pressdog: What's your favorite part of a race? Getting in the car, start, finish, middle, something else?
Leilani: I love all of it -- start, middle, finish -- every moment! I love being in a race car, period.
pressdog: When you're doing the modeling gig, is that harder than people think? Is there some acting or attitude projection or something that you have to master?
Leilani: I don't think it's hard at all, no. I would say that girls who say modeling is hard probably haven't had a real job. When you go to a photo shoot there hair stylists, make up artists, a photographer and lighting guys whose sole purpose is to make you look great.
It's not reality, but it's fun to play dress up once in a while. I'd much rather have no make up on and look like crap and be in a race car, though. Looking pretty is nice, but it is nowhere near as fun as driving a race car into a corner at 200 mph. No contest.
pressdog: Have you ever done any photos where afterwords you were like, "Dude, that may have been a bit over the line?"
Leilani: The only photos I have done that were on the "risque" side was many years back for FHM but it was nothing over the line. My shoot was very conservative compared to most. In fact, I actually got into a big fight with the stylist at the shoot because I refused to wear the skimpier clothing.
They actually threatened to cancel the shoot because I they didn't think I was showing enough skin. In the end, we continued with the shoot and FHM called me later when they were editing the photos to tell me it ended up being one of their favorite shoots. The magazine later sponsored me in a late model race at Texas Motor Speedway so in the end, it turned out great!
pressdog: Where does your super-hard-core friend-of-the-earth passion come from?
Leilani: I grew up with nature. I grew up riding horses in Minnesota. I love nature. I love the ocean. I love animals. I have been a vegetarian for years. I have been scuba diving since high school. I don't want to see the levels of CO2 in our atmosphere make the ocean so acidic that they destroy our coral reefs.
I don't want to see islands of garbage the size of Texas floating in our oceans (google the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), I don't want to see rainforest burned down to make room to raise cattle for hamburgers. I just think the world is beautiful place and humans seem to be destroying that beauty at an alarming rate.
pressdog: Is it true you have to be restrained from yelling "evil polystyrene!" and lunging at people who use Styrofoam cups?
Leilani: Yes, all the time. Ask Craig. I also give dirty looks to people who use plastic bags at the grocery store. I bring my own canvas bags and glare at everyone that doesn't have them while simultaneously high five-ing the other people with canvas. (pressdog: note -- she's kidding about the glaring. I think it's more of a mental glare.)
Plastic is evil, man. Most of that garbage floating around in our ocean is plastic from land because we don't take the time to recycle it. So don't let me catch you with a plastic bag, it will get ugly. I also find it quite offensive when people walk up to a garbage can that is sitting right next to a recycle bin and then they throw their plastic bottle and/or aluminum can into the garbage bin. I actually saw that happen last week and I just thought to myself -- seriously? How much of a gigantic, wasteful, lazy, super idiot do you have to be to do that?
pressdog: What are your expectations for Homestead?
Leilani: I don't have any specific expectations, I am just happy to get back on the track again. I will make the most of the opportunity.
pressdog: Finish this sentence "I'll be disappointed at Homestead if ...."
Leilani: I don't have a race car that can run up front. It's never fun to be in a race car that's not capable of winning so I just hope the Team 3G guys can give me a great race car!
pressdog: Do you plan to posse up with Pippa Mann and Ana Beatriz to get a ladies-first thing going or do you just want to pass them as bad as any of the boys?
Leilani: When I am not racing, I pull for the other female drivers to do well. In fact, some of my really good friends are other female race drivers. There is a camaraderie there. But when I am on the racetrack, they are just another car to pass.
pressdog: We know you're a big Office Space fan, is there any certain scene in the movie that's your favorite? (Mine is when they beat the crap out of the copy machine.)
Leilani: I have tons of favorites. I do love the scene where they beat up the copier. But I also love the beginning when Peter is stuck in traffic and Michael is rapping out in his car. I love Milton's mumbling. One of my favorite lines is when Peter says, "I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be." I relate to that because with all the work and traveling I do, sometimes when I am home I just want to sit on the couch and veg out with my red Swingline stapler. People underestimate how much fun it is to do NOTHING. It's one of my favorite things to do, really.
pressdog: What are three things most everyone can do to make the world greener?
Leilani: The easiest things are to:
1) Stop using plastic bags. We throw away between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags every year worldwide and only 1% of them are being recycled.
2) Change your light bulbs for energy efficient bulbs and unplug your electronics when you are not using them. Cost estimates for wasted electricity ranges from $1 billion - $3.5 billion per year.
3) Cut back on your meat intake. Grazing animals produce methane which is 21 times more heat trapping than CO2. In fact, a UN study found that 40 percent more global warming emissions come from raising animals we eat than all the world's cars, SUVs, planes, trains, ships and all other forms of transportation. If you need another reason to cut back on meat, how about world hunger?
If Americans alone reduced their meat consumption by just 10%, it would free up enough land to grow 12 million tons of grain - enough to save the six million children under the age of 5 that die every year as a result of hunger. One acre of land can produce 165 pounds of beef OR 20,000 pounds of potatoes. And it takes 23 gallons of water to produce a pound of tomatoes. By comparison, it takes 5,214 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef. Meat is super wasteful. I know not everyone reading this is going to become vegetarian, but just cutting back on your meat intake can make a big difference. Maybe just give up meat for one day each week. Small steps multiplied by many can make a big difference.
P.S. It's also a great way to lose weight!
4) Can I say four instead of 3? Thanks. Recycle! It's super easy to do and there's no excuse to not do it.
pressdog: You've done both open-wheel and fenders. What do you like most about each?
Leilani: I love the speed and responsiveness of the open wheel cars. I love the fender to fender three wide kind of drafting you can do in the stock cars. And the fact that you can hit people you don't like -- by accident, of course, -- when your car washed up the track.
pressdog: Any ideas on how the league can increase the popularity of the FIL (Firestone Indy Lights)?
Leilani: We need more drivers, more races (please add Texas!), more teams, more sponsors, more TV coverage, more promotion, more Americans. Oh, and stop cutting the ovals. Seriously. Stop that. (pressdog: testify, sister.)
pressdog: Your pitch to use racing to promote environmental awareness ... is that gaining traction, losing, a tough sell?
Leilani: It's definitely gaining traction. I have been talking about our environmental issues for years, but more and more companies are starting green initiatives every day so the interest in my efforts is increasing. I am hopeful for the future.
pressdog: Have you bought your piece of rain forest for this race yet? (Note: Leilani has said she'll buy an acre of rainforest for every race she's in. Here's the organization Leilani uses to do that.)
Leilani: I'm glad you asked because I am not just adopting an acre of rainforest, I am also adding coral reef to my carbon offset. Because of the incredible biodiversity that are sustained by these fragile ecosystems, coral reefs are often called the rainforest of the sea. From this race onward, I will be donating to both rainforest and coral reef protection.
pressdog: Flip the script! What's one question you have for pressdog?
Leilani: I have to ask two. What do you love about racing? What would you be if you weren't a brilliant satirical writer bringing humor to the open wheel fans of America?
pressdog: 1) I love the raw speed and excitement that comes from the potential lethality of open-wheel racing. I admire all drivers for having the surgeon-like skills and concentration required to drive these cars and not end up flipping down the track like a freshly beheaded chicken. 2) Maybe if I wasn't doing this I'd be administering anti-delusional drugs to Leilani Münter. I've known I wanted to write and get paid for it since I was 16-years-old, so it's hard to think of what else I would do. Maybe an auto mechanic like my father. Honorable job that requires a lot of logic and deduction and really helps people, as opposed to writing drivel for a blog.
Thanks for the super excellent answers, LM. Check Leilani's site HERE. Burn the building down at Homestead.