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Verena Mei Gets the Lead Out, Cleans Up in Victory Lane

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Verena Mei with the Nissan she later converted to run on E85
Q: What's black and white and green all over?
A: Verena Mei's checkered flag. At the Media Leaders meetup at the Falcon restaurant in Hollywood last Wednesday, professional race car driver Verena Mei discussed how she did her part to help the environment and also feel good about auto racing. (We also learned why Prius owners are such aggressive drivers.)

"I wanted to set an example," explained Verena. "As a motor sports driver, I realize that motor sports isn't the greenest thing on Earth but I'm still going to do it. So I'm going to do my part to make it green."

After racing in the Formula Drift series from 2004 to 2007, Verena Mei converted her Nissan Z-series drift car to run on alternative fuel. Not only was the conversion successful, but her car won her racing class in its debut year.

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Verena's Nissan runs on E85. E85 is an ethanol blend made from corn. Graham Suorsa of the Impresario Group, a business incubator, explained why E85 is an intelligent choice on many levels.

When E85 burns, the only byproducts are alcohol and oxygen. "When the fuel for your next season is just another crop away, you're in sustainable mode." You're also keeping jobs in the U.S. and not dependent on foreign petroleum," added Verena.

The other cars in the circuit run on 110 leaded race gas. Verena's car burns 30% more fuel, but the cost of E85 is only $3 per gallon as opposed to $8 per gallon for 110 leaded. A slight complication is that E85 is currently only sold in a few locations in California. Verena's crew had to truck their own fuel to her races.

Verena won the 2008 Redline: Time Attack!! drift class, culminating at Fontana's California Speedway last November. Time attack racing is scored on absolute fastest lap times, unlike drift, which awards style points. The class Verena won was for converted drift cars. Although unlimited modifications are permitted, Verena is the only driver on the circuit running on alternative fuel. She gets about 430 horsepower with her modifications.

Currently, Verena's sponsors include BF Goodrich, Impact! racing suits and D&R Radiator. She's looking for sponsors to expand to wheel-to-wheel racing. "I love watching Indy car. I have never actually driven an open-wheel car like that but just watching, I can’t take my eyes off it. I love the sound of the engines, everything."

Verena also wants to be a positive role model for young women. Verena got her start as a model in the automotive industry. In 2002, she sent herself to stunt school, road racing school and drag racing school. In 2004, she bought her own car and started modifying it herself for drifting.

What's next for Verena? Californians can see Verena race in 2009 Red Line: Time Attack!! races in Buttonwillow, California in March, Willow Springs in May and Fontana in November. The story of Verena's fuel conversation was followed in "Racing Greener" on Octane TV. Another TV series is in the works for the 2009 Mazdaspeed Challenge series.

What about an electric car race series? "The batteries are heavy. But they have a lot of torque!" explained Verena. "It's funny to watch people drive Priuses around," added Suorsa. "They are so pysched about getting fuel economy. They love the torque so much that they just nail it."

Verena's thoughts on the new adminstration's energy policies are optimistic. She has gotten good input from the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities Coalition in the past. "When Obama was elected we all of a sudden had this hope. I'm looking forward to new energy plans in the future and seeing what comes of it."

So are we.

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Media Leaders at Falcon. Media Leaders founder Josh Ochs with Verena Mei at far left
You can watch Verena Mei's series, "Racing Greener" on OctaneTV.com.

Media Leaders is a monthly meetup for media and entertainment professionals to discuss current events and new ideas. The next Media Leaders event will take place February 3, 2009 at Shade Hotel in Manhattan Beach.

Photo of Verena Mei by Anthony J via flickr. Photo of Media Leaders by Andy Sternberg.