MARNE, Mich. – Best known for starring as Malcolm in the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, Frankie Muniz has become a professional racecar driver. The 37-year-old rookie in the ARCA Menards Series is learning, improving and striving to constantly better his race craft in the No. 30 Ford for Rette Jones Racing.
After six races of the 20-race season, Muniz is second in the point standings, trailing only Jesse Love by 20 points. While both are rookies, Love entered 2023 with two main series wins and two ARCA Menards Series West championships. Muniz? He began 2023 with four pro late model starts, his only experience on an oval in a stock car.
In 2022, driving for High Point Racing, Muniz made four starts, snagging three top 10s. For reference, High Point is owned by Tim Huddleston. His son Trevor Huddleston drives the No. 55 full time in the West series.
Naturally, almost everything is new to Muniz in ARCA competition.
“The racing is just so different from what I had ever done,” Muniz told Frontstretch prior to the ARCA race at Berlin Raceway. “Keep in mind, I haven’t raced anything in 14 years until this year. So it took my brain a while to get back into the world. The racing is different because it’s so much closer. I wish I did this 20 years ago because there’s nothing as exciting as racing these cars. I love open wheel racing. I thought that’s what I wanted to do and I enjoyed it when I did it. But after the start, everyone gets single file and you’re kind of waiting for people to make mistakes. The wheel-to-wheel action of this is insane.
“Just learning the race craft. The first four races, I sucked at restarts. Just spinning the tires, I’d lose like 10 positions that I’d have to get back from those restarts. At Charlotte [Motor Speedway], I did good with those. But then even in practice, this track is so little, you’re kind of always passing like a slow car. Learning how to just get by them and using the high line and being comfortable getting off the line that I want to be on [to pass them]. I just haven’t done it a lot. Every single feeling I feel in the car is brand new. It’s not like I have a lot of when I can think of, ‘Aw, this is similar to that time.’ Everything is still so new.”
Berlin presented two firsts for Muniz. It was the longest race of his career in terms of lap count as well as it’s his first true short track race in an ARCA racecar.
“I felt good and comfortable out there,” Muniz said about his practice session. “We ran 42 laps in practice which was a good amount. I think my 30th lap was my fastest. Long run, we’ll be good. But it’s another time of tight racing on a track that is insane. It is insane out there. It is like Daytona [International Speedway] on steroids because everything just comes at you so fast. I know the race is going to be exciting. 200 laps intimidate me a little bit. Just because I’m in good shape, but I’m not fully in race shape yet. I call it race shape just because I haven’t been in a car that much and it’s different. I can train in the gym all I want. It’s different being in the car – the mentality of not making mistakes that long. Obviously, I want to finish in the top five. I’m happy we were fourth in practice, but I want to finish in the top five.”
Berlin also is a unique short track. The 0.438-mile racetrack has no backstretch wall and it is not scanned by manufacturers for team simulators. The track does not host NASCAR national series events. As such, Muniz’s preparation was a little different from the advice of NASCAR Cup Series driver Chris Buescher.
“We did North Wilkesboro Speedway because Buescher said that North Wilkesboro reminded them of Berlin,” Muniz noted.
Muniz finished sixth, matching his career-best finish. But he was not thrilled with his outcome.
Still very raw in terms of racing experience, Muniz has received help from other NASCAR drivers.
“I’ve had a lot of people that have offered to be really helpful,” he added. “I’ve spent a lot of time with Joey Logano. Us both being in the Ford family, both HairClub spokesmen; we just filmed a commercial a few weeks ago. Ryan Preece came to the simulator the last time I was there to run laps with me to give me like a ghost car. He’s an amazing driver who’s good at short tracks. That was helpful. Noah Gragson drives for RJR in its super late model. He’s been super open book, does track walks with me when he’s around so that’s been cool. I’m taking all the advice I can when I can get it. As of right now, I’m not their competitor so people are willing to help me. Maybe one day I’ll be racing against them.
Because Muniz has racked up five top 10s in six races, the amount of advice from his fellow competitors has diminished. Why? He’s now racing against them.
“When I showed up to the Daytona test, everyone was coming up like, ‘Oh, if you need any advice,’” he continued. “And then as soon as we started having decent results, people have been less inclined. When I first entered, I thought I would do ok here. I thought it was going to be a steep learning curve about how to do it. If I had to do it, I had to throw myself off that cliff. But I’ve proved to myself that I belong in this series.
“I’ve noticed that my competitors respect me more as a driver too. I feel like I see it with the way they approach me. And on track so far, knock on wood, we’ve raced cleanly. That’s why I’m second in points because I’m the only person that has completed every lap this season. That’s how I want to race. I want to be respectful and people to trust me when racing side by side. And now I believe that I’m going to keep improving. I truly believe that I will be competing for wins by the end of the season, I hope, and then hopefully competing for the championship. That’d be the coolest thing ever for me. Cause I went in going, ‘I don’t know what my expectations are. I just want to try hard and feel like I tried my best.’”
In the season opener at Daytona, Muniz finished a respectable 11th after running inside the top 10 for most of the race. At Phoenix Raceway, he rebounded from an early spin to finish sixth. Then, at Talladega Superspeedway, he finished ninth after recovering from a mishap when the kill switch was accidentally hit on his racecar during a pit stop. As a result, Muniz’s own expectations changed.
“At Talladega, I finished ninth, and I was mad because I pushed Andy Jankowiak into the lead,” he said. “And right as we were about to go down [into the bottom lane], he popped a tire. And I lifted and went back to 20th. So we were there! It’s weird to me how at Daytona, I was like, ‘I just want to finish,’ and now when I finish eighth, I’m pissed.
“You’re never satisfied. I’m competitive; I’m trying really hard. Like I’m doing everything I can off track. I wish I was in the car more. That’s the biggest thing. I see Love. He’s leading the championship. I’m in second. He’s in a Truck, he’s in a super late [model], he’s in a dirt car; every single week he’s in something. The only time I’ve been in a car has been the five ARCA races this year. I feel I could be improving if I was in the car more to be learning.”
RJR has a late model team so why isn’t Muniz driving it? Money. In fact, his own ARCA ride is not even fully funded for 2023.
“I don’t think everyone knows that,” he commented. “We’re trying to find partners to finish.”
The back half of his season still needs sponsorship. Muniz prefers not to spend his own money to stay full time.
“I came into this with the intention of, ‘I’m doing this for my family. I’m doing this for my son,’” he continued. “I’d rather not spend my money to finish the season. Our partners have been happy with what we have, with what we’ve done and with the attention we’ve gotten and the performance and stuff like that. I think people think that we’re good because I’m not out there asking for it. To be honest, we need help.”
Muniz wants to be taken seriously as a racecar driver. While he earned his fame in acting, he treats this as a career too.
“It’s not a hobby. I don’t want to waste my money,” he added. “I love this, but it’s very expensive. We’ve had a lot of attention on us this year. I feel like it would be beneficial to companies to come along for the ride with us.”
Muniz is also here to stay. He already has an idea of his racing plans for 2024, too.
“We already know pretty much what we’ll be doing next year,” he said. “But I want to win this championship, and it would be a shame if we didn’t get to finish because of funding. It is a never-ending battle of being a racecar driver. There are so many factors that come in and that’s definitely a major one.”
About the author
Mark Kristl joined Frontstretch at the beginning of the 2019 NASCAR season. He is the site's ARCA Menards Series editor. Kristl is also an Eagle Scout and a proud University of Dayton alum.
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