From Hollywood To Daytona: Frankie Muniz Is Setting Out To Prove He Belongs In Stock Cars
Story By: BRANDON WHITE / ARCA – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – When Frankie Muniz was 15-years-old, he had already become a household name through his work as the title character on the critically acclaimed Malcolm in the Middle tv show.
As he became engrained within U.S. pop culture, Muniz developed a passion for motorsports and eventually decided to put his acting career on hold in the late 2000s so he could pursue his dream of sharing the track with many of the best drivers around the world.
Muniz’ love for racing remains prevalent over a decade later as he prepares to fully commit himself to the sport with a full-time season in the ARCA Menards Series driving for Rette Jones Racing; an opportunity he intends to cherish every minute.
“I definitely have mixed emotions,” Muniz said. “We’ve talked about this for almost a year and a half and kept thinking I would be on track sooner than I was. I’m throwing myself off the deep end by joining [ARCA] and I wanted to have a team behind me that would teach me as much as I need to learn. I feel like I’m ready.”
Although Muniz’ only laps in an ARCA car stem from test sessions, he does enter his rookie season in the series with racing experience on his side.
The Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race served as the springboard for Muniz’ racing career. After finishing seventh and third overall in the 2004 and 2005 editions respectively, Muniz wanted to become more involved in motorsports and joined the Champ Car Atlantic Series in 2007, one year after Malcolm in the Middle ended.
Muniz spent the next three years in the Atlantic Championship gradually improving his race craft with the goal of joining the IndyCar Series during the 2010 season. When that deal fell through, Muniz took a sabbatical from racing to focus on other ventures like drumming and getting back into acting.
Now that he has a family of his own, Muniz wanted to set the best example possible for his young son and realized he still aspired to have a racing career. He finally made his stock car debut in a Pro Late Model at Kern County Raceway Park in 2021 before testing a car for Fast Track Racing at Daytona International Speedway a few months later.
Muniz expressed some frustration over his own decision to step away from racing, but he is now fully committed to working with everyone at Rette Jones Racing and show the entire industry he is capable of being competitive despite the prolonged absence.
“If you want to do anything successfully, you really need to give 100 percent,” Muniz said. “If you want to be a race car driver, you need to be that in everything from training to just being with the team. I wish I hadn’t waited so long [to get back into racing] because realistically I’m old to be getting started in the stock car world, but I don’t have time to waste, so hopefully [the motivation] helps the progression go a little quicker.”
Muniz considers himself fortunate to have partnered up with Rette Jones Racing, who have fielded cars for drivers like Spencer Davis, Jesse Little and Max Gutierrez during their existence.
The original plan was for Muniz to serve as a teammate to Amber Balcaen during the 2022 ARCA Menards Series season, but co-owner Mark Rette decided against this option so he could devote all the team’s resources towards ensuring Muniz was in the best possible position to excel in 2023 with Balcaen not returning.
Muniz also recalls how his other co-owner Terry Jones nearly won the 2017 Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona before getting passed late by Austin Theriault for the win. He believes having both Rette and Jones to lean on for advice will help him get more acclimated to the draft ahead of his first Daytona race.
“[On the drive down to Daytona], I learned Terry was a bit of a maniac behind the wheel,” Muniz said. “He was drafting the semi-trucks on the freeway and told me that’s what it was going to be like [during the weekend]. It’s been so cool to hang with Terry and Mark and hear some of their stories. I want to make them proud of their decision to put me in this car.”
One aspect of Muniz’ ARCA debut he is looking forward to comes down to the car he will be driving.
Rette Jones Racing utilizes chassis CGR-005 that Sterling Marlin drove for several races that included the 2001 Daytona 500, in which Muniz was able to ride in the pace car during the parade laps as a special guest for Fox.
Muniz still vividly remembers how thrilling it was to meet most of the Cup Series drivers and was particularly honored to receive a compliment from Dale Earnhardt moments before the green flag on how Malcolm in the Middle helped him bond with his daughter Taylor.
Being in the same car Marlin piloted that day comes as both a rewarding and poignant moment for Muniz considering how NASCAR and auto racing were permanently altered following Earnhardt’s death on the last lap.
“[My mom and I] were in Ken Schrader’s pit during [the 2001 Daytona 500] and I was wearing an M&M’s jacket,” Muniz said. “Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt both signed it. I told my mom the story about how I’m driving [Marlin’s] car and it was a really weird feeling because the memories of that day sunk in.”
Muniz hopes the speed CGR-005 showed with Marlin behind the wheel in the early 2000s carries over into February, but he fully expects to go through a stiff learning curve when it comes to maintaining track position at Daytona.
Gaining respect amongst his seasoned peers is the top priority for Muniz before he departs Daytona. He has been appreciative of the support many in the industry have provided him through the process and hopes their confidence in his driving ability is maintained as the year progresses.
Any triumph for Muniz would put him in a similar category to other actors who had successful auto racing ventures like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Patrick Dempsey, but Muniz said he wants the motorsports aspect of his life to be at the forefront while competing in ARCA.
“I want people to think of me as a race car driver,” Muniz said. “People don’t think of Paul Newman as a race car driver, they think of him as an actor. If people can take me seriously as a driver, that would be really cool for me, but I’m running my own program with my own goals.”
The goal for Muniz is to gain as much experience as possible since the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is the only track on the ARCA schedule where Muniz has competed at. He expects the two dirt track venues to be the most challenging having never raced on dirt in his life.
Muniz faces a lot of unknowns going into his maiden ARCA campaign, but he intends to give a maximum amount of effort as he looks to find his place in stock car racing.
“It’d be great to win races,” Muniz said. “Every time I get out of the car, I want to look back and say I did my best. I don’t want to look back and wish I had tried harder, put more effort in, spent more time with the team or trained harder. If [I do what I’m supposed to do], then I should have a pretty good year.”
With the lights not too bright and the cameras all focused on him, Muniz is ready for the action associated with the diverse ARCA schedule that kicks off at Daytona next month.