NASCAR Cup Series
‘Malcolm in the Middle’ star Frankie Muniz ready to show racing chops in ARCA Series
NASCAR Cup Series

‘Malcolm in the Middle’ star Frankie Muniz ready to show racing chops in ARCA Series

Updated Feb. 16, 2023 4:20 p.m. ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Frankie Muniz knows the jokes will come as he competes in the ARCA Series race Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

The actor at some point likely will be three-wide and if he’s in the middle, he already has T-shirt plans ready.

"I'm used to hearing the ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ references on everything I do in my life," Muniz quipped. "I'll be sure to make a ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ shirt of me, and I'm going to capitalize on that before someone else does for sure."

Spoken like a true racer, knowing the need for funding while also competing.


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The 37-year-old Muniz, whom most people know from his roles as Malcolm in the hit TV show from 2000-2006 and as the star of "Agent Cody Banks," will embark on a full ARCA schedule this year with Rette Jones Racing.

This isn’t just some hey-this-seems-cool fling. Muniz has always loved racing and nearly went IndyCar racing in 2010.

"I was a pretty serious racer, but it's been so long," Muniz said. "There also really wasn't social media as much back then, so maybe the word didn't spread that I was a race car driver in the past as easily as it does these days.

"I want to prove to people that I'm here to take it seriously. I'm not just here for a fluke. I'm not just here for publicity. I’ve wanted this my entire life. You know what I mean? I'm mad I waited 12 years after my last racing experience to get here. I want people to look at me and see me on track and go, ‘Wow, he belongs.’"

Muniz tested at Daytona last month and was hanging out at the NASCAR test at Phoenix.

If he seems all-in, he is.

"If you want to be the best or you want to do anything successfully, you really need to give 100 percent to that thing," Muniz said. "If you want to be a race car driver, you need to be a race car driver. And everything that you do in preparation, training, being with a team, you need to because you're competing against people that that's their lives.

"So it's hard to kind of balance doing multiple things that are difficult."

Muniz all-in on racing

Frankie Muniz discusses if he had trouble being taken seriously by teams and sponsors in his quest to be a full-time driver.

In 2009, Muniz was seriously injured in a racing accident in which he broke his back and an ankle and had a pin put in his hand. He missed an entire season and then opportunities came around other than racing.

"I got an opportunity to be in a band," Muniz said. "And I know that sounds crazy. I play drums and I ended up touring the world playing drums. A lot of things have just kind of taken over my life and I dove in 100 percent.

"I've always thought in the back of my mind I was going to go back racing. But as the years have gone on, it felt further and further away."

The birth of his son nearly two years ago had Muniz reflecting on his own life.

"It honestly made me go like, ‘What am I, who am I, who do I want to be to my son, what do I want him to see me doing and reaching a goal or trying?’" Muniz said. "I felt like I want to be a race car driver. That's what I've always said I felt like I was the most comfortable doing of all the things I've gotten to do.

"Now that I'm back racing, I go, ‘Man, why did I wait so long?’ Realistically I'm old to be getting started in the stock-car world. But in that same sense, it motivates me that I've got to take advantage of the opportunity I have today."

He wants to give his best, unsure of what that will be on the results sheet. 

The ARCA Series is a stepping stone to NASCAR’s top level but wasn’t absorbed under the NASCAR umbrella until a few years ago. It is more like an independent league baseball team with veterans and also young drivers trying to learn how to race.

"I didn't expect so many people to be interested in the story right now," Muniz said. "So I was obviously excited about that. I've had so many drivers reach out and send messages like, ‘Hey, any way I can help?’

"I didn't know if I maybe expected as an outsider, being an actor, if people would take it seriously or if they would kind of push me off to the side and think that it was just some kind of fluke. But so far a majority of the response has been extremely positive." 

Now he knows he needs to prove he belongs by his performance. 

"Obviously I have my past and people will maybe know me as being an actor or whatever else I've done," Muniz said. "But I want people to think of me as a race car driver. Do you think of Paul Newman as a race car driver? Do you think of him as an actor? Do you think of him as having amazing salad dressing?

"Those are all cool things. So in that sense, if I can be successful as a race car driver, and people take me seriously as a race car driver, not necessarily having that actor/race car driver title, that would be pretty cool for me."

Muniz has a little bit of a storied history at Daytona. He was riding in the pace car prior to the 2001 Daytona 500, the race in which Dale Earnhardt died in a crash on the final lap.

The ARCA car Muniz is now driving has a chassis that includes pieces from the car of Sterling Marlin, which was part of that fatal wreck. Many ARCA teams buy old Cup cars and put new bodies on them to race.

Muniz admits that it’s weird to think about his connection to NASCAR history.

"I was in the pace car as a guest of FOX and got to meet some of my favorite drivers growing up as a NASCAR fan that night," Muniz said. "And it's special to be here 22 years later and getting to do it myself. ... There's a video of me in the pace car, and the car right behind me is [Marlin’s] car, which I'm driving now."

Muniz says Earnhardt had a message for him about his show that day.

"I was on the pit road when Dale was getting into his car, and he came up to me and said, ‘I have to say that your show has brought me and my daughter so much closer together. I love your show,’" Muniz said.

"And it was insane to me that Dale Earnhardt is telling me that."

What To Watch For

All three manufacturers had tweaks to their noses of the cars as NASCAR gave teams an opportunity to make changes as the changes made just prior to the 2022 season to help with cooling the cars impacted the downforce numbers.

The cars are all within a certain downforce range that NASCAR required and then checked with wind tunnel testing.

But will any draft better than others at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta? Or will they be unstable in the draft?

Expect drivers to learn relatively quickly during the duels on Thursday.

Thinking Out Loud

This is the time of year for predictions, and it's the Daytona 500. So here's a prediction for the Daytona 500 without seeing cars yet in practice or the duels: Ryan Blaney.

Following the storyline of the Clash, where Martin Truex Jr., who went winless in 2022, won the season's preseason race, maybe it's fate for Blaney, who went winless in 2022 except for the all-star race, to win the Daytona 500 to officially open the 2023 season.

Blaney had a great chance to win it last year but his Penske teammate Austin Cindric threw a block that squeezed Blaney into the wall and allowed Cindric to hold on for the win.

Redemption for that moment will come a year later for the driver of the Team Penske No. 12 Ford.

Earnhardt's historic Daytona win

You Kids Don't Know: Bob Pockrass takes a look back at Dale Earnhardt's legendary win in the 1998 Daytona 500.

[Daytona 500 winners: Complete list of past champions, drivers with most wins

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They Said It

"He really has just said, ‘Be you, man.’ He’s like, ‘I’m vanilla during my time and that’s just who I was, but you’ve got to be you.’ ... He doesn’t want to hold me back from that [personality of mine]. I’m going to continue to be myself and have fun." —Noah Gragson on team co-owner Jimmie Johnson 

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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