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Women in Motorsport


Leilani Munter

NASCAR Weekly Racing Series

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 bad."

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 car racing.

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 starting grid.

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."

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