Racing and environmentalism go together about as well as mashed potatoes and chocolate, or so the conventional wisdom holds. The NASCAR infield and the Green movement have, shall we say, divergent constituencies. But one driver, at least, is doing her best to bring the two sides together.
ARCA driver Leilani Munter, pictured above left with the Atlanta Falcons' Ovie Mughelli and former NFL'er Mike Alstott at the Gulf Coast, is hard at work trying to bring attention to environmentalism. It's a tough road -- NASCAR, with its vehicles driving hundreds of miles in a circle, is the lazy thinker's whipping boy for anti-environmentalism -- but Munter is doing her part to open a few eyes, as a current CNN profile of her efforts reveals.
Still, sponsorship has been difficult to come by. "It used to be that a woman with everything going on that Leilani has going on could get a bunch of sponsors," said ARCA team owner Mark Gibson, who wants to run Munter in several races next season. "But right now, there's a lot of uncertainty with the economy."
Another problem: Munter is, at present, a race-car driver in only the most generous sense of the term. She ran a few laps at Daytona this year before getting caught up in a wreck, and that's been that so far.
Munter's goal is to raise awareness by putting a message on her hood. But she got a taste of what it will be like when her Daytona sponsor, Native Energy, dealt with consumer criticism for its choice to sponsor a NASCAR ride. Thomas H. Rawls met criticism head-on, writing on the company's blog, "Ultimately ... I asked myself: How does Native Energy reach people who are not already converts on the issue of climate change? Anyone who is engaged in any broad effort to speak to the public faces this question: Do I talk only to friendly audiences, or do I face the doubters and the hostiles?" To his credit, Rawls -- and, of course, Munter -- doesn't simply preach to the choir.
Munter is taking several proactive steps -- she gives 10 to 15 speeches a year at environmental conferences, and purchases an acre of rainforest for each race she runs. She hopes to return to the track in late September in Kansas, but before then, she's got plenty of environmental preaching to do.
Good for her for bucking the tide; regardless of political affiliation, NASCAR fans have to at least admire someone who doesn't go along to get along. And if nothing else, this ought to show that NASCAR isn't a monolithic conservative bloc. That makes for easy stereotyping, but it's got little relevance to the truth.