Acting can be a tough career. For some, there is nothing but the dream of working regularly, whilst for others there can be appearances in the likes of Coronation Street, Emmerdale and This Time, With Alan Partridge without ever being able to break through to become well-known in the industry. Sometimes, someone is cast in a role at a young age and then goes on to enjoy a long and prosperous career, such as Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe or Kieran Culkin. Whilst other times they decide to do something else entirely.
It is the latter that has happened in the case of Frankie Muniz, who made his name as the eponymous character in Malcolm In The Middle. In his later life, he made the decision to become a NASCAR driver, moving into the field when he joined the ARCA Menards Series. That is a semi-professional league that is something of a feeder system for the world of professional NASCAR racing, with Muniz saying that he’d wanted to pursue a career in racing ‘ever since childhood’. The question is, how did it happen and, more importantly, is he any good?
Frankie Muniz’s Acting Career
Born in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey, Frankie Muniz is the son of a nurse called Denise and a restaurateur called Francisco Muniz III. He was home-schooled, taking on his mum’s Irish and Italian heritage and the Puerto Rican of his dad. He began acting in a performance of A Christmas Carol, in which he played Tiny Tim for three years. His performances garnered award nominations including the ‘The Hollywood Reporter Young Star Award’ and the ‘Young Artist of Hollywood Award’. He was raised in Knightdale, North Carolina and his first acting job came in a movie called To Dance With Olivia.
He notched up performances in some well-known TV shows after his 1997 debut, including two episodes of Spin City with Michael J. Fox and an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch. His big break came in 2000, though, when he was cast as the leading role in the TV series Malcolm In The Middle, playing the role of the title character alongside Bryan Cranston, who played the role of his father. He played the role for six years across 150 episodes, going on to star in the Cody Banks and was still acting into 2023.
The Move into Racing
A quick look at Frankie Muniz’s acting CV shows that he has continued to enjoy acting long past the days of Malcolm In The Middle were over and done with. That being said, it is also fair to say that he has struggled to hit the heights that he managed during the days of playing Malcolm and Cody Banks, with bit-part appearances in other shows and voice actor jobs being the most common variety of work that he’s done since. It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that he decided to look for another thing to do with his life, with his grandad reportedly teaching him to become a good golfer in his youth.
After earning himself a career in the world of NASCAR, Muniz declared, “I’ve wanted this for so long, and now it’s finally sinking in that I’m a real racecar driver.” In other words, it had been a long-held desire of his to race cars long before he actually managed to do it. He went to races in both NASCAR and IndyCar when he was growing up, but he finally got to live his dream in 2004 when he was invited to be part of a celebrity race at Long Beach that he won. That was, he said, ‘the coolest feeling on the planet’, giving him a taste for what life as a racing driver would be like.
It was looking at his two-year-old son that gave him the kick he needed to do something more with his life. He wondered what his son would think he did, knowing that he’d say that he ‘used’ to be ‘really cool’ and in a TV show. He said, “I wanted him to grow up and see me working hard towards a goal.” That goal was to be a racer in the NASCAR Cup Series, potentially even winning the Daytona 500. If he was going to do it, he thought, then it had to be sooner rather than later as he turned 37 and realised that life was going past him quicker than he wanted it to.
Acting or Driving?
The move into racing wasn’t necessarily an easy one, but he did get lucky insomuch as drivers took him under their wing. One, Noah Gragson, who was 17-years-old at the time, showed him notes and videos that he’d made. Muniz was quick to take advantage of the fact that they weren’t competitors at the time, trying to learn everything he could before they went up against one another and the generosity stopped. The big question was whether he’d stop acting, but getting cast in a project that was filming between two races meant he didn’t have to choose immediately.
If he was forced to make a choice, Muniz made it clear that acting would not be the priority. He said, “I want to do both, but my focus is the racing career.” If he fails to perform as a driver one year then there won’t be a second, so he wants to ensure that ‘acting doesn’t interfere’ with his preparation for races. The problem is, most of the other drivers are using the simulators at the weekend to practice their craft, rather than going off to be in a film, so it’s possible that there will come a moment when he needs to choose what it is that he wants to focus on more readily.
Ironically, it might well be the thing that made him famous in the first place that forces him to make the choice. There are any numbers of reboots being made nowadays, with Bryan Cranston in particular keen to make Malcolm In The Middle one of them. Cranston is reportedly helping the writers come up with ideas that make sense, but the notion of making Malcolm a racing driver isn’t one that Muniz thinks would work. He said, “He’d be too neurotic for that… although I’m kind of neurotic, too.” When re-watching the episodes with his wife, she reportedly declared that he wasn’t even acting, saying, “You are that character.”
Malcolm at the Front
It might well have been Malcolm In The Middle that helped Muniz to make his name, but it’s more like Malcolm At The Front now. After three races in the ARCA Series, the actor-turned-racer was leading the standings in the series. That put him in a really good position to make the grade in the NASCAR system, even though he is more than aware of how difficult it will be for him to manage it. Despite taking the points lead before the fourth race of the season, he said that he wanted to remain ‘focussed on continuing that and learning’.
He had already enjoyed some racing when he was younger. He took part in 14 races in the Formula BMW USA series in 2006, moving up to the Champ Car Atlantic Series the following year. He carried on racing for another two years but then ended up in a crash that left him with injuries severe enough to persuade him to walk away. It was late 2021 when he rode in a late model at Kern County Raceway Park in California. That led to Rette Jones Racing announcing him as the driver in the No. 30 Ford car full-time for the season, enjoying success immediately.
He didn’t win any of his three races, but his accomplishments in the races earned him the most points. That was largely thanks to the fact that he was the only driver to finish all of the 316 laps that he was part of, pipping 18-year-old Jesse Love to the front of the standings on points after the opening few races. Mark Rette, his team’s co-owner, said that it was a ‘great achievement’ for him, but also reminded both Muniz and the watching public that it was still early days. That being said, he was also quick to praise the fact that he was ‘incredibly focused’.
His Greatest Professional Achievement
One of the big questions around Frankie Muniz is whether or not he is actually any good. The fact that he was leading the points standing after three races is all well and good, but that isn’t much an achievement when you consider that he managed it without actually winning a race. For the man himself, he admitted that winning one would be his ‘greatest professional achievement’. By July of 2023, he had taken part in eight races but failed to win any of them, putting himself second in the standings. Here is how the top ten looked at the time:
|Racer||Position||Races Competed In||Wins||Top 5 Finishes||Top 10 Finishes||Pole Position||Laps Completed||Miles Raced||Points Achieved|
|Andres Perez De Lara||3rd||8||0||4||6||0||928||937.89||288|
Obviously the standings at the time you read this piece will be entirely different, but it is handy to see how things were after eight races in order to answer the question about whether Muniz is actually any good. On the one hand, he was second in the standings after eight races, suggesting some ability. On the other, he failed to achieve any pole positions and racked up his points thanks to the fact that he consistently finished races. Perhaps only whether he achieves his long-term aim of winning races in the NASCAR series will answer the question about his ability, but for now we can all enjoy the madness of him racing at all.