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NASCAR

Does ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ star Frankie Muniz drive in NASCAR?

The transition from child actor to adult actor is famously difficult, so Frankie Muniz asks, why not go into another field entirely? Like racing.

Update:
The transition from child actor to adult actor is famously difficult, so Frankie Muniz  asks, why not go into another field entirely? Like racing.
Instagram (frankiemuniz4)

Actors have long tried their hands at other endeavors. Johnny Depp and Keanu Reeves play in rock and roll bands. Sylvester Stallone and Viggo Mortensen have their paintings exhibited in galleries. Tony Danza and Mickey Rourke boxed professionally.

Frankie Muniz is a racing driver.

To be fair, he is not the first actor to have a love affair with motor sport, with Jason Priestly, Paul Walker, Gene Hackman, Steve McQueen, and even Caitlyn Jenner dabbling in auto racing. But what sets Muniz apart is that rather than being an actor who races, he wants to be defined as a professional driver.

When I became a man, I put away childish things. So tells us Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the Bible. Acting was a childhood activity. Muniz is now a 36-year-old man, and what that man does is drive a race car.

Growing up in North Carolina, motorsport, and particularly NASCAR, were always closest to Frankie’s heart. His fame, found at a very young age in the film Agent Cody Banks and hit television show Malcolm in the Middle never swayed his devotion to the sport and when he was sixteen years old, he was offered the opportunity of a lifetime for a NASCAR fan. He was allowed to drive the pace car for the Daytona 500. It turned out to be a portentous day, since only hours after meeting his childhood hero Dale Earnhardt Sr, Frankie watched in horror with the rest of the racing world as Earnhardt’s life ended in a crash on the final lap of the race.

The tragic events of the day did not dissuade the young Muniz, and he went on to participate just three years later in the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in Long Beach, finishing seventh. The following year, he competed in the event again and finished third, the top spot for a celebrity.

Thinking that he might buy into Jensen Motorsport as a part owner, he was given a test in the car and wound up being offered a two-year deal as a driver. He told his agent that he was done with acting, from now on he would devote himself to a career as a racing driver.

“I know people might have maybe a negative expectation of what I can do,” says Muniz. “I’m ready to prove them wrong.”

After fourteen races in the Formula BMW USA 2006 season, he finished 29th at the world finals in Valencia, Spain. “As an actor,” says Frankie, “I can put in my best work or what I think is my best work, but someone’s opinion could be that it’s not good. And that’s it, right? A critic says, ‘It’s no good,’ and you’re no good. I like the fact that if I finish in the top five, that’s huge. You can see that. Like you can’t say that I don’t belong.”

2009 was going to be a bumper year for Muniz. Sitting fourth in the driver’s table of the Champ Car Atlantic Championship, and with only two races to go, it all fell apart at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. A terrible accident at the Keyhole turn saw him fracture his spine and ribs, and he had to have his thumb pinned. An IndyCar contract that was in negotiation for the following season fell apart and his driving career was set back indefinitely.

After a slow rehab and decade-long break from racing that saw him set up a company and travel with his wife Paige, he decided to try a comeback, one that was hampered further by the worldwide covid pandemic, before Muniz mad the switch over to stock car racing in 2021, a move which brings him back full circle to his North Carolina roots.

“That’s my only regret: I wish I got back in a race car sooner,” says Frankie. “Because I didn’t realize how much I loved it until I started again. I’m not letting the opportunity pass this time.”

Now licensed to race in the ARCA Menards Series, he is hoping to get his foot on the bottom rung of the NASCAR ladder later this year.

While some may cringe at the idea of his celebrity name getting him a seat at the table, the reality in the sponsorship driven motorsport world is that his name brings in the crowds and media attention, both prerequisites to sponsorship money.

Frankie knows the game, he has been behind the curtain at the puppet show and seen the strings. And he is adamant that this is no flash in the pan. “I don’t just see this as a couple years of me driving,” says Muniz. “I want to be involved in this sport for the rest of my life.”

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