Actor. Musician. Racer.
One of these things is not like the others.
But they all describe Frankie Muniz, at some point in his 36 years of life. And now he wants to mainly be known as the outlier of the group; racing is his sole focus. Really, he has always dreamed of the profession, ever since he was a kid growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina — about two and a half hours from Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he‘d attend NASCAR races with his family.
“I didn‘t really know how to become a race-car driver,” Muniz told NASCAR.com. “It‘s like saying you want to be an astronaut or something. To me, it‘s like a fantasy job for sure.”
Muniz is licensed to race in the ARCA Menards Series. He also has eyes on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the first rung on the NASCAR national series ladder itself. In fact, the goal is to enter one of the two‘s races at Phoenix Raceway in November. While not confirmed, Muniz‘s manager, Andrew Stallings of Athelo Group, said “things are looking very, very, very, very, very promising on that front.” Then, if indeed there, the hope is Muniz will be able to announce his racing plans for 2023.
Which would only mark the beginning of his NASCAR career.
“I know people might have maybe a negative expectation of what I can do,” Muniz said. “I‘m ready to prove them wrong.”
LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION.
In April 2004, Muniz strapped into his first race car as the driver. He drove the No. 10 entry in the annual Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at California‘s Long Beach Street Circuit. He finished seventh.
“My heart had never pounded so much,” Muniz said.
He raced in the exhibition event the next two years, adding results of third (celeb winner) and 11th to his resume.
At the time, Muniz was at the peak of his acting career, playing the hero in the FOX sitcom, “Malcolm in the Middle.” The show ran from 2000-06, during which time he also held main roles in films “My Dog Skip,” “Big Fat Liar” and “Agent Cody Banks.” When “Malcolm in the Middle” wrapped, Muniz‘s agents were ready to discuss what was next. Muniz told them he was done; he wanted to pursue racing.
“I don‘t think any of them believed me,” Muniz said. “Or they thought that maybe it was like oh, give him a couple of weeks. But then they were sending me these offers for movies, and all of a sudden, I‘m like, ‘No, no. I‘m serious. Here‘s my schedule. I‘m on the road every week.‘ ”
Muniz‘s venture into motorsports began with open-wheel single-seaters. He competed in the Formula BMW USA Championships that same year, then moved to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship from 2007-09.
During that second stint, Muniz saw year-over-year progress. His average finish, he recalled, was in the high teens, perhaps 20th that first season. The next, it was more so around 11th.
“It’s not somebody’s opinion,” Muniz said. “I mean, as an actor, 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.”
Muniz never saw a final 2009 average.
With only two races remaining in his final Champ Car Atlantic Championship season, where he sat fourth in the standings, Muniz wrecked in the 180-degree “Keyhole” turn at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He broke his back and basically ripped off his left thumb. The latter had to be pinned back onto his hand, limiting his ability to firmly grip anything for a year and a half.
As a result, the IndyCar contract that was in the works for 2010 was pulled.
“Every race-car driver has always got that story like, ‘Oh, I almost had this big deal,‘ ” ARCA communications manager Charlie Krall said. “But he‘s got no reason to tell you this grandiose story because he‘s already lived that grandiose life. He doesn‘t need to embellish anything.”
GO FOR SHOW.
In October 2021, Muniz got his first taste of stock-car competition. He raced with the No. 56 Pro Late Model in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series at California‘s Kern County Raceway Park. He came in 17th.
“I was so nervous, like honestly, I don‘t think I‘ve ever felt so sick to my stomach,” Muniz said.
Sure, Muniz had been a part of the 2011 and 2016 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Races. But those could no longer compare after real racing experiences.
This grassroots moment came after a 12-year break that included time as a drummer for the indie-rock band, Kingsfoil, and an Arizona-based business owner alongside his wife, Paige Price. Muniz had an existing relationship with Irwindale Speedway president Tim Huddleston, who also runs a driver-development team called High Point Racing, and reached out with the desire to return to racing in August of last year. He has been with the program ever since.
“You would never know that he comes from stardom,” said Ryan Partridge, one of Huddleston‘s coaches. “Just talking to him — if you didn’t recognize him, which is hard to do because he still looks the same — he’s very humble, which is awesome. I like that mentality. That really goes a long way when it comes to driving and racing a car because you put the helmet on and you might as well wipe the name off the top of the car. It really doesn’t matter what name you have. You have to prove it with skill.”
Two skillsets stuck out to Partridge as positives: Muniz‘s ability to sense a crash brewing and avoid it without losing major track position; Muniz‘s radio awareness and quick adjustments for his spotter, who just so happens to be Partridge. Both show Muniz pays attention inside and outside the car.
Neither Muniz nor Partridge knows how to describe Muniz‘s racing style yet. It‘s a work in progress. And that‘s OK.
“He has the mindset and the dedication to go all the way,” Partridge said. “A good example of that is there’s a combination of natural talent and refined talent. A lot of young kids have a lot of natural talent and they don’t have to work very hard for it. And there’s a lot of people with a ton of passion that don’t have quite so much natural talent; they just have to work extra hard to get where they want to go and to learn the skillsets they need to learn. I think Frankie is the place right in between.”
The key word there was young, though. Most racers begin go-karting before they even own a learner‘s permit. The average age of the current top 10 ARCA national drivers is 26 — a full decade younger than Muniz.
Even with his open-wheel history, Muniz is essentially playing catch-up.
“That‘s my only regret: I wish I got back in a race car sooner,” Muniz said. “Because I didn‘t realize how much I loved it until I started again. I‘m not letting the opportunity pass this time.”
DRIVERS, START YOUR ENGINES.
In January 2022, Muniz turned his first laps on a NASCAR top-level oval. He powered the No. 01 ARCA body on the second day of testing at Daytona International Speedway. He ran between 20-25 laps.
“That‘s something that I‘ll keep as a memory forever,” Muniz said.
Out of the 64 drivers between the two sessions, Muniz fell 53rd on the overall leaderboard. His best marks around the 2.5-mile superspeedway were 51.796 seconds and 173.759 mph. That placed him 19th among the Saturday crowd.
Muniz‘s participation was impromptu. The invite came Friday. He flew in overnight.
“He kind of had this aura around him,” Krall said. “It was fun to watch, just see him mold in with the team that he was with there. And he was very quickly one of the guys rather than Frankie, the Hollywood star.”
The famous background helps Muniz‘s cause, though. His name alone draws attention, attention pulls in sponsorship, and sponsorship leads to rides. Muniz has to work the system, and that‘s where Stallings comes in. Stallings‘ Athelo Group already backs NASCAR‘s Corey LaJoie and Parker Kligerman, along with many other athletes.
Muniz and Stallings met back in February. Muniz had already returned to the motorsports world at that point but needed further guidance toward a part-time or full-time role. Perhaps even outwardly.
“There’s something to be said about learning in public, and that’s our goal next year,” Stallings said. “Whatever we’re doing, we’re not expecting to go win championships and win every single weekend. We know that we absolutely want to do that and that is our goal and intention to do that. But we know very much so that we’re going to be learning every single step of the way collectively, and we want every single person around us to come along for that ride.”
Though admittedly ever-changing, there is a plan in place. The non-negotiables are training (Muniz has a personal trainer), gaining reps (practices, tests and races in any series) and understanding the innovation and technology side of the industry (OEM relationships; simulator advancements). Everything else is on the table if it leads Muniz to a future in NASCAR, including moving from Arizona to North Carolina.
And yes, Muniz does have a 1-year-old named Mauz Mosley. The munchkin is being considered throughout this process. Muniz wants to inspire his son: That fantasy job can become a reality.
“I don‘t just see this as a couple years of me driving,” Muniz said. “I want to be involved in this sport for the rest of my life.”