Auto racing was not part of her childhood. While earning a bachelor's
degree in biology from the University of California in San Diego,
Leilani Munter became fascinated with motorsports. Having won some
amateur car club races, she became more interested in the structure
of racecars than the structure of molecules. Unfortunately, like
many racers, her bank account did not allow for driving racecars
on the weekend so she put racing aside and finished her studies.
Working as a part time model during college, she was cast as a
photo double for actress Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movies "Traffic"
and "America's Sweethearts." But she knew she did not
belong in Hollywood. While her colleagues would discuss the ins
and outs of the movie business, Leilani was studying a copy of the
book "Paved Track Stock Car Technology." Her heart was
trying to tell her something. She listened.
|It's a great day when you discover
where you belong...
Leilani recalls the day when she found her racing passion, "It
is a great day, the day you discover where you belong. All my money
(and a bunch I borrowed) went into turning laps in any kind of racecar
I could find: shifter karts, stock cars, GT
on ovals and road
courses, I drove them all. And I started to feel like I wasn't half
People were encouraging her to chase "this crazy dream."
Getting in a racecar began to consume her every thought. She hired
a sports agent, put up a web site and started marketing in an effort
to find a sponsor. To pay her rent, she also worked full-time. She
was exhausted, but it began to pay off. NBC Sports did a story,
then FOX Sports. Finally, she landed a small sponsorship to go stock
When the day finally came that she sat on the starting grid and
heard the words, "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines,"
Leilani knew it was all worth it. Every penny spent, every late
night up working, every sponsor letter that was never answered,
every prejudice encounter, every last bit of it, "It was all
worth it when I heard those magic words." Before the green
flag waved, she felt that she had already won, just being on the
The night before her next race, she paid the track to turn the
lights on so she could practice after dark, under race conditions.
Leilani says that it was a magical experience. An empty racetrack,
lit up in the middle of nowhere, with hardly a soul around: just
her and the racecar finding each other. The car was perfect, and
together they were "flying." That race ended in a disappointing
wreck, but she felt she had conquered another obstacle. "Some
people say you're not a real driver until you've wrecked. It's a
test. If you're still fast after you wreck, then you've got it.
That "thing" that race drivers have. Lack of fear? Stupidity?"
Whatever it is, she knew had "it."
When she came home from that race, she put something up on the
refrigerator that is still there to this day. It is a sheet of paper
with two columns. At the top of one column is the name "Michael
Waltrip." On the other column she wrote "Me." Under
Michael's name, she put 463 marks--the number of Winston Cup starts
it took before he finally won. Not only did he win, but he won the
biggest race of all, the Daytona 500. Under her column, she put
two marks. Two down, 461 to go
Leilani currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and competes
in short track stock car racing in the region. She has competed
in the Panoz GT Series, holds a NASCAR competition license, and
competed on a limited schedule with the Allison Legacy Series. Her
2002 racing plans are to compete in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series
at Hickory Motor Speedway. If she had to choose between a career
in movies or auto racing, for Leilani it would be a simple choice.
"I belong at the track. When I'm driving, nothing else in the
world matters. All I want to do is drive."