Actor-turned-NASCAR driver Frankie Muniz inspires Arizona youth with racing career

Frankie Muniz, former child star of ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, inspires young minds during a reading event held at Sam Garcia Western Avenue Library in Avondale. (Photo by David Bernauer/Cronkite News)

Phoenix Raceway and Sam Garcia Western Avenue Library in Avondale worked with actor-turned-NASCAR racer Frankie Muniz to host a reading event to expose kids to motorsports. (Photo by David Bernauer/Cronkite News)

AVONDALE – The young children who listened with rapt attention to driver Frankie Muniz read from the picture book “Race Car Count” last Thursday at the Sam Garcia Western Avenue Library probably had no idea about his previous career as an actor, most famously as the titular character on “Malcolm in the Middle.”

And to Muniz, that was perfectly fine.

It’s the latest chapter in his life that Muniz hopes will inspire the kids. He was there as a real-life, budding NASCAR driver, not the fictional child prodigy, Malcolm.

Reading to the kids and answering their questions gave Muniz a chance to leave an impression that he hopes will encourage them to pursue their own goals one day.

“When Phoenix Raceway invited me to come out to reach the kids here, I was super excited,” Muniz said. “If I can come here and (the kids) get to meet a race car driver, and get a story read, and it puts a smile on their face, I want to do that all the time.”

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The event was a collaboration between Phoenix Raceway and the Sam Garcia Western Avenue Library in Avondale. Brenda Soto, the library’s program planner, reached out to the raceway with the idea, and the two sides found it beneficial for the community.

“It gives the families an opportunity to actually learn about racing,” Soto said. “I myself wasn’t a big fan of the raceway or the races, but now that all these activities and this partnership came up, I became a race fan.”

Phoenix Raceway wants to become more well established in the community and entice people to become fans of motorsports. Events such as this at the library can go a long way toward telling the story of NASCAR and the track, creating new fans along the way.

Bringing in Muniz, who lives in the Phoenix area, was a logical starting point.

“We just thought it would be the perfect mix: Phoenix Raceway, Avondale and Frankie Muniz,” said Chantel Carlson, Phoenix Raceway’s senior director of business operations.

Among some of the questions Muniz answered were:

How fast do the cars go? (Depending on the track, up to 200 miles per hour.)

Does he ever get nervous before races? (Of course, who wouldn’t?)

And what is it like when you crash? (It hurts a lot more than it looks like.)

While posing for photos with the children and parents, Muniz signed everything from paper helmets that were given out to some NASCAR-styled Crocs. Signing autographs is nothing new for him, but it’s been rewarding to sign them as an athlete rather than as an actor.

“The kids were smiling, they were high-fiving me, hugging me, had some interesting questions, and took lots of pictures with them,” Muniz said after the event. “I bet they don’t know me from TV, but if they can look up to me as a race-car driver, hopefully I can inspire them to go after their dreams.”

Frankie Muniz signs a pair of NASCAR-themed Crocs after a reading event at the Sam Garcia Western Avenue Library in Avondale. (Photo by David Bernauer/Cronkite News)

Carlson saw it as an opportunity to reach the next generation of racing fans.

“Engaging with children is of the most importance for Phoenix Raceway,” she said. “These kids are the future of NASCAR, they are the future of Phoenix Raceway. They are future drivers, future team owners, our future crew chiefs. But they’re also our future Phoenix Raceway staff members. It takes a village for us to get there, and it’s important to tell our story and share motorsports.”

Muniz also hopes to inspire his son, Mauz, who he credits with inspiring him to get back into the seat after leaving full-time racing in 2009.

His son does seem inspired to race. He might have some actor in him as well.

Most nights before bed, Mauz will make a little racetrack around his bed and enlist his dad as the flag man. When the younger Muniz is finished running laps around his bed, making car noises or pretending to crash, he’ll conduct a “post-race interview” before being tucked into bed.

In the Every Dig. Every Time. 200 Xfinity Series race Saturday at Phoenix Raceway, the elder Muniz didn’t get the result he was looking for, posting a 30th place finish before about 50 guests he had invited to watch.

For Muniz, it’s all a learning experience early in his NASCAR career, and as long as he can inspire others to chase their ambitions, then he feels he’s done his job.

“Kids are our future,” Muniz said. “I know it’s cheesy to say, but investing in our future is always important. The fact that I can have an impact on kids who live here in the Phoenix area means a lot.”

David Bernauer DAY-vid BER-now-er (he/his/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

David Bernauer expects to graduate in May 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Bernauer has previously worked in the Phoenix Sports Bureau and TV Production & Graphics Lab, as well as interning with the Florida Collegiate Summer League. He is a contributing writer with The Sixth Man Show.