...to crash into a wall at 190 mph
By As told to Steve Lange by Leilani Munter
Former Rochesterite Leilani Münter may be more well-known for her off-track than on-track success—she’s been dubbed “America’s Sexiest Race Car Driver” (by Men’s Journal in 2003) and an Esquire “Women We Love” (in 2002)—but she continues to show promise and make inroads on whatever racing circuit she gets a chance to drive.
Münter finished seventh at Texas Motor Speedway in her first super late model race. In her 2007 Indy Pro Series debut—her first foray into open-wheel racing—Münter had moved from 13th to sixth place in just nine laps before a crash sent her into the Kentucky Speedway wall.
The Kentucky 100 was my very first Indy Pro Series race. I had qualified fifth, a great start to my open wheel career. It was big enough news in my series that I made it into USA Today that day. So ... no pressure.
I had a bad restart and found myself all the way back in 13th place. But this gave me the opportunity to show I could race. My car had the perfect set up and I was going three wide through the corners on my way to the front. At one point, I passed five cars in a lap and a half. I was all the way up to sixth place now and I had just run down the guys that were battling for fourth. Sweet, I was kicking ass.
The cars in front of me were racing each other very hard, fighting for every inch of track they could get. Whenever you see that in front of you, as a driver you are thinking ‘I want to get past these guys as soon as possible.’ I knew right then that something bad was going to happen in front of me. Then I saw them bump. This is not NASCAR. You don’t bump wheels in IndyCar.
Our speeds at Kentucky are an average speed of over 190 mph. That means on the front stretch, I was running over 200 mph. All of a sudden, it was as if the car in front of me had just stopped. At that time I didn’t know he’d cut his tire. He was probably still going 170 mph, but when you are a few feet behind him going 200 mph, it seems like he had stopped.
Just before it happened my spotter, IndyCar driver Jaques Lazier, was saying “Outside, outside” so I knew there was another car to the outside of me and I had to be conservative when avoiding the slowed car in front of me. If I moved up the track suddenly, I could take myself out by running into the guy on my outside. I was trying to move slowly and deliberately up the racetrack so the driver on my outside could see what I was doing, and I just barely nicked the slow car in front of me—my front left tire hit his right rear tire. If I had moved up a few more inches I might have cleared him, but I was being careful. At those speeds in these cars, you are barely turning the wheel—my steering wheel going straight versus going through a corner is a difference of only a couple of inches.
So when I clipped the car I remember realizing I had no ability to steer and at that point, I was along for the ride. You’re supposed to let go of the steering wheel because it can break your wrists when you hit the wall, but I was still trying to steer and save the car as best I could. I remember seeing the wall come up fast and thinking ‘Okay, this is going to hurt.’ My right elbow was up against the body of the car and that hit pretty hard.
I didn’t feel any pain—my adrenaline was flowing. You don’t get emotional during the race, but when the EMS workers were trying to get me in their car for the mandatory trip to the infield care center, I guess I threw a little temper tantrum. This was my debut in open wheel and I was headed for what looked like a top five finish and it just felt like everything fell apart in that one moment. When I got out of the car I was yelling ‘What the hell was he doing out there?’ because I didn’t know he had cut a tire. It was not his fault, it was just a racing accident. Looking back, I can laugh, but at the time it was anything but funny.
Now, I’ve been racing for many years, but none of my races have been televised. So I forgot about the ESPN cameras being there and they had caught my temper tantrum from several angles. Lucky me. It ended up on the ESPN broadcast of the race and on YouTube. I had more than a few emails in my inbox titled, ‘Have you seen your temper tantrum on YouTube yet?’
So, I hit a wall going 190 mph and I only ended up with a bruise. That is a testament to the safety precautions IndyCar takes. As far as the temper tantrum goes, I have learned my lesson. Note to self: wait until you get into your motorcoach where no one can see you and then you can let it all out!
To see video of Leilani’s crash at the Kentucky Speedway, go to www.LeilaniMunter.com