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Q&A with Frankie Muniz on his Rise in ARCA

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Josh Mull

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By Joseph Wolkin

Despite achieving great success as an actor on both the big and small screens, Frankie Muniz has long dreamed of being a professional race car driver.

At 37 years old and after becoming a household name through his performances in “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Agent Cody Banks,” Muniz has made a drastic career change and is finally living his dream by competing in the ARCA Menards Series.

Driving the No. 30 Ford fielded by Rette Jones Racing, Muniz recorded five top-10 finishes in the series’ first seven races. The New Jersey native stood second in the series standings heading into summer.

How have you adjusted to competing in the ARCA Menards Series?

I knew going into it that it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew I was going to have to put in a lot of work. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions. Showing up at Daytona, we announced we were running the full season. Most people going into this would slide in under the radar and make sure it was going well before people started to notice. But I put pressure on myself to perform well, which I do anyway, especially knowing I have eyes on me.

It’s definitely been a crazy learning experience. I’ve been thrilled with how everything has gone so far. Every single time I’m in the car, it’s a learning experience. Unfortunately, because it’s such an expensive sport and I can’t be in the car all the time testing, the only times I’ve been in the car have been for race weekends. It’s hard to continue to get better unless you’re in the race car, which I’m trying to do. I’m excited for this part of the season, when we start going almost every weekend.

How are you preparing for races with such little experience and no testing?

Obviously, I’m trying to train in the gym. It’s so much more physically demanding than I think people who don’t race anticipate. Mentally, it’s exhausting. I’m trying to stay fit in the gym with lots of cardio and lifting. I’m watching all of the races from previous years to see if I can pick up on things people were doing or if they make a mistake, figure out what happened.

I look at my competitors and I feel that the only place I’m lacking in terms of preparation is time in race cars, which is a huge thing. Jesse Love is racing trucks, late models, etc. He’s always in race mode. For me, it’s just been racing on ARCA weekends, and it’s the only thing I wish I had more of. I hope by the later part of the season that I’ll be winning races.

You’re running consistently in the top 10. What are you missing besides track time to compete for wins?

We struggled a little bit at Charlotte with setup stuff. We pitted three times during the race because it changed a lot from practice and qualifying. We finally got it solid toward the end of the race, and I was running the fastest or second fastest laps at the end.

The issue for me is race craft. I’ve never been in a situation where I get close to someone on the track, the car is going to do this or that. I’m learning as I’m doing it. It’s something that people perfect with years of doing it. I’m not too far off from a speed standpoint. When I have to lap cars, it takes me longer than it should and I hesitate because I don’t know if they’ll stay in their lane.

I was racing with Connor Mosack and I lost 10 car lengths by being too cautious. I’m learning every time I’m in the car. I know I still have a lot of room for improvement, so I’m happy with where I’ve been, but it’s not going to be where I end up. The small things that add up to finishing sixth or seventh will hopefully get smaller and I’ll keep closing that gap.

You’re still acting, as you mentioned. So how are you managing your time?

When I went into the racing world, I said, “This is all I want to focus on.” This movie, I was sent a year ago, and the script was phenomenal. In terms of acting, I don’t do much. I do things here and there – if the time permits this type of situation. We were supposed to film this movie after Daytona, when we had the five or six week break before Phoenix. It got postponed, and the last break I have for the whole year was the break between Charlotte and Berlin.

They fit it in where I left Charlotte after the race – it was filmed in North Carolina – drove up there, had a wardrobe Saturday and started filming on Sunday. This film was definitely one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done and in a good way. I’m really proud of what I did. It was so emotional. It was hard to switch off those feelings and the crazy schedule and go back to being a race car driver.”

What are your long-term goals?

I know it’s a very lofty goal for me to set, but I want to race in the Cup Series. I’m pretty sure every driver probably says that, but I really do. I’m 37 years old, and I’m getting into the sport of stock car racing. I definitely plan on moving up, and the plan is to move up to Xfinity or the Truck Series next year. As of right now, it’s contingent on how the rest of this season goes. I don’t want to move up too fast. I don’t want to be a 30th-place guy; I want to show up and feel we have a chance.

It has to do with sponsorship, too. You need to be six months ahead. We’re trying to figure everything out. I’m fortunate to have an amazing relationship with Ford, and they want me to be in a Ford next year. We’re having meetings to figure everything out and get ahead of the ball. We went into this not knowing what to expect. For potential sponsors and partners, they probably thought, “Is he going to run 35th?” People didn’t know what to expect, and people are accepting the fact that I belong in the series and that I can be competitive. I’m the only person who’s finished every lap this season, so that in of itself is a positive.

I’m doing what I can to be the best racer I can be, and we’re trying to raise the funds to show up every week. It’s a never ending journey of a race car driver.

From “Agent Cody Banks” and “Malcolm in the Middle” to being a race car driver, how did this happen?

I was always a massive fan of racing, but I didn’t grow up in a family that was around racing. Most people I’m racing started when they were 5, 6 or 7 years old. I got an opportunity when I was 18 or 19 to do the Pro Celebrity Race in Long Beach. The greatest feeling in my life was winning that race. I knew I was hooked, but how do you become a race car driver?

One Champ Car team was like come down to Houston, we’ll do a test and it’ll be fun. I was pretty fast, so they signed me to a two-year development deal. The next thing I knew, I was racing a Formula BMW in 2006 and I jumped up to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship, which I drove in 2007, 2008 and 2009 until I got hurt.

I have a decent amount of racing experience, albeit not in stock cars. I always knew – even back then – that I wanted to go stock car racing. I got pretty badly hurt in 2009. I broke my back, broke a bunch of ribs and had pins in my hand, and it took me a long time to heal. That temporarily stopped my racing.

It’s been the most incredible experience so far, and I don’t want it to end. We have to find some partners to keep the ball rolling.”

What would it mean for you to win a race?

I actually can’t even imagine the emotion that I would feel. One of my favorite things about being a race car driver is that it’s not subjective. As an actor, I can go in – like I just did – work so hard, put every ounce of my effort and being into this role, and people can go, “Eh, it’s OK.”

As a race car driver, if I put in the work, you see the results in black and white. If I’m good and if I’m fast, I’m at the top. If I’m not, I’m at the bottom. It’s not subjective.

I would cry. This is something I want so badly, and it’s something I’m working really hard for. This is a huge challenge for me. I am stepping out of my comfort zone. I could just continue being an actor and continue doing other things that are easier, but I want this and I want to prove this to myself and everybody. This isn’t a fluke. Hopefully, people are starting to realize that with what we’ve done so far. I’m not just there and in the way. I can be competitive. To win would be insane.

I’m sure you’ll see some of the names in the ARCA Series in the Cup garage eventually. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to do a lot of cool things, but that would be the coolest.

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