TIO At Mountainfilm: Open Letter To Leilani Munter
The party’s over. Time to call it wrap. Mountainfilm just announced the winning docs and causes. (Details here.) But the truth is everyone in the “tribe” won: over Memorial weekend, we all became a bit more enlightened, drew closer, and learned more about what activism really means. It could come down to a game of follow the leader. For prime examples of how to get the job done, Disrupter extraordinaire Dolores Huerta was in town; so was one of Dolores’ “daughters,” Leilani Münter.
Leilani Münter is vegan professional race car driver and environmental activist. Armed with a degree in biology, she uses her race car to share environmental messages about renewable energy and clean energy legislation, among others, with an audience of 75 million race fans in the United States. She has adopted one acre of rainforest for every race she’s run since 2007. Munter was featured in the 2015 documentary Racing Extinction (Mountainfilm 2015) and involved in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove (Mountainfilm 2009) through her role as a board member at the Oceanic Preservation Society, a nonprofit that uses film and photography to inspire people to save the oceans. A veteran of both the Indy Pro Series and NASCAR, Munter has many top five finishes to her name. Her motto is “Never underestimate a vegan hippie chick with a race car.”
What a Mountainfilm weekend! Thanks to Jeff Hauser for recognizing our mutual interest in Tesla and introducing us at the opening night dinner, and many thanks to you for agreeing to a private conversation the next day. Given your busy schedule as one of the festival judges, it was generous of you to have shared the time.
While the whole conversation in the hour or so we spent together was interesting, there were a few pieces of your story that particularly stood out.
Your description of enrolling in a race driving school to “fill out a bucket list,” being the fastest in your class, then catching the eye of a racing insider who encouraged you to pursue racing- that is the essence of pluck, raw skill, and serendipity all coming together.
Using your platform as a NASCAR driver to voice your positions on environmental and societal issues, in an arena where those views might not otherwise gain much traction, is an example for all of us. We don’t all have a race car to carry our message, but we all can influence those around us with our words and our actions. Your rainforest adoption program to offset the carbon cost of your racing is a beautiful illustration of one way we all can mitigate our effect on the environment.
As a Tesla driver myself, I look forward to talking to other owners at the Supercharger stations on cross country drives. But you have taken those interactions to a new level by sharing with your fans where your stops will be enroute from your home in Charlotte to your races. In addition you mentioned that you park your Model S in the fan area at your races to show the Tesla and to reinforce the idea that electric transportation is the future. This amid the powerful aphrodisiac of fuel smell and the sound of race-tuned engines! Good for you.
It was great to run into you often during the Mountainfilm weekend. The announcement you made as the representative of your group of judges in the presentation of the monetary award to the Syrian journalists group, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, was perfectly pitched and to the point.
Susan and I were also in the audience at the Downlow event Monday evening. The five stories told that night were all interesting, some humorous, some serious, all enlightening. It was easy to see why you are effective as an activist: you engage your listeners in a very personal way, you don’t preach, and you don’t mince words.
My only regret was you had to leave Tuesday morning. At 0945 that day I drove our Tesla to the back parking lot at Telluride High School to meet the science teacher, Rex Lybrand, and 22 of his students to talk about electric transportation. Rex and I did this for his science and chemistry students last year and it was so successful he wanted to repeat this year. You would have stolen the show. Instead, the Model S got all the attention. We opened the car up completely- doors, pano roof, trunk and frunk, and the kids crawled all over it, asked great questions about long-distance driving, maintenance, electric performance, you name it. I talked a bit about your involvement with Tesla and the Electric GT program, and as I took four at a time on a demonstration ride, left my iPad with your website open for the rest of the group to check out. They were impressed, and I even got my iPad back at the end.
The ride we did was necessarily short, as I had an hour total, and it took five trips to get everyone in. The last ride had only two girls left, so Rex got to go, which he didn’t have time for last year. It was all a great success. We drove the mile out to the Shell station and back, long enough to demonstrate the cruise control and Autopilot, and in each drive a short, but impressive unanticipated (for my riders) acceleration demonstration. They loved it! You would have loved the reactions. I expect we may have sold a few Teslas, as the young people really saw the beauty and the practicality of electric travel.
I hope we’ll have a chance to meet soon, somewhere along the track. Thanks again for the opportunity to meet and talk to you this weekend in Telluride. You really put the shine on a great festival.
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