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Frankie Muniz Recalls Seeing Dale Earnhardt Daytona 500 Crash: 'I Had Never Cried That Hard'

Fankie Muniz is best known for "Malcolm In The Middle," but he's had a deep connection to the world of NASCAR since the tragic 2001 Daytona 500. 

By Tyler McCarthy

Frankie Muniz surprised many last week when he announced he is getting into the world of professional stock car racing. However, the “Malcolm In The Middle” star has always been passionate about racing and recently revealed a eerie connection his new vehicle has to his very emotional first experience with NASCAR at age 15. 

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The actor, who previously raced before an injury sidelined him for years, appeared on the SpeedFreaks show where he told the hosts the very somber story of when his popularity on the early 2000s sitcom allowed him to drive in the pace car at the 2001 Daytona 500. As motorsports fans know, that particular race went down in infamy as the one in which famed racing legend Dale Earnhardt died. 

Muniz remembers that day as being both the hardest he’s ever cried in his life, as well as the day he fell in love with NASCAR. 

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“In 2001, I was in the pace car for the Daytona 500. Sterling Marlin, who drives the number 40 car, he was either on pole or first or second, so he was right behind me in the pace car. So there’s actually a video of me in the pace car and the only car you see is that number 40 Coors Light Sterling Marlin car,” Muniz shared. 

“That day, I was in Kenny Schrader’s pit, so he gave me the M&Ms jacket. I have three signatures on that jacket, Kenny Schrader, Sterling Marlin and Dale Earnhardt,” he continued. “So Dale Earnhardt, he came up to me at the driver’s meeting, actually, and he told me ‘I just have to say, I’m a huge fan, your show has brought me and my daughter so much closer.’ I was 15 at the time, I was the hugest NASCAR fan. I was in awe that a hero of mine was saying he was a fan of mine.”

At the time, Muniz felt on top of the world watching the biggest race in NASCAR while sporting a jacket signed by his three heroes. However, he noted that all three men would soon be involved in a crash that ended in one of the biggest tragedies to befall NASCAR.

Muniz said the mood changed at the race quickly. Roughly one hour after he was overjoyed seeing the race with Schrader’s pit crew in his headphones, he was back in his hotel hearing the news that his hero, Earnhardt, didn’t survive the crash. 

“I had never cried that hard in my life,” he said.

Despite the memory being a bittersweet one for him, Muniz's new foray into racing comes with a somewhat eerie connection to that day. The stock car he’ll be driving is made of the chassis of Sterling Marlin’s car that he was driving all those years ago in 2001 at the Daytona 500, where Muniz first fell in love with the sport and realized the immense highs and lows it can bring someone. 

“At first it kind of, I don’t want to say creeped me out, but it was a little eerie when you put all those pieces together,” he explained. “But it made me actually feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in my life. The fact that, really one of my first NASCAR experiences was that race in person and that. … Now my first NASCAR arc experience as a race car driver is in that same car, it’s actually a pretty crazy story. It’s remarkable to me.” 

Muniz who welcomed his first child in 2021 with wife, Paige Price, says he hopes that getting involved with NASCAR will not only show his son those same highs and lows but will also bite him with the racing bug as it did his dad. 

“I’m not going to lie, that’s a little bit of why I want to get back into it too,” he said. “I’m hoping it motivates him in that direction, you know what I mean? Because I want to be involved in motorsports for the rest of my life in some capacity. Whether it's me driving for the next five to 10 years and then becoming a team owner in some capacity or something, but I would love it if he’d race. My wife on the other hand is like, ‘No way is he getting into racing!’”

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