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Muniz gets 2nd in Atlantics debut
Former Malcolm in the Middle star actor turned race car driver Frankie Muniz got his Atlantic career off to a good start by finishing 2nd today in the SCCA Florida Nationals at Sebring. Muniz is graduating from Formula BMW to the Champ Car Atlantic series in 2007 with Jensen MotorSport.

“I’ve always wanted to race, but I never knew what the first step would be,” Muniz said. “I did the Toyota Pro-Celebrity Grand Prix of Long Beach, where they have a pro-celebrity race, for three years and I won all of them. It was fun, but it wasn’t real racing. So when the show was coming to an end, I was actually starting a NASCAR team that I was going to own.”

Instead of becoming a NASCAR owner, the 21-year-old decided to get behind the wheel. His opportunity came in February at the same course he raced on last week, when he was seeing if he had what it takes to get into the business.

“Eric Jensen, who owns my team, knew I wanted to start driving and start racing and offered to let me have a test drive,” Muniz said. “Now I am back here nine months later, racing in the Champ Car Atlantic series.”

With Jensen Motorsports, Muniz is on a two-year program to learn the intricacies of car racing. After spending last season in the Formula BMW USA circuit and reaching speeds of 140 mph, Muniz has moved up to the Champ Car Atlantic series.

“I train every single day physically by lifting two hours a day and running five miles a day,” Muniz said. “Right now, I am only at 30 percent at the physical level I need to be for April when the season starts.”

Muniz said he has come to understand that the only way he can be successful in the sport is with determination and dedication.

“This is my life now,” Muniz said. “I am no longer an actor and I am just focusing on this 100 percent and enjoying myself. I knew that I couldn’t do both, acting and racing. I had to dedicate my life to either one to do well at them. Since March, I’ve only been home 20 days because every other day I’ve been on the road with racing.”

The New Jersey-born Hollywood star started acting at the age of 8 and proceeded to star in movies such as “Big Fat Liar,” “Agent Cody Banks,” “My Dog Skip,” “Racing Stripes” and “Stay Alive,” his most recent movie.

Though he still is young, Muniz said he knew a career change was the right move.

“I never feel like I am my age, but I’ve always felt like I didn’t have a lot of time left in my life,” Muniz said. “I’ve been working since I was 8, so I felt like I was 50 and thought I had 20 years of life left to do whatever I wanted to do. I’ve never been able to sit and relax because I’ve always been running here, running there. I’m lucky because most 21-year-olds are still at home and I’ve kind of retired and started another profession.”

Jensen has turned out to be Muniz’s mentor, manager and driving coach, all rolled into one.

“We’ve done everything correctly so far and we are seeing he is competitive at a pretty high level,” Jensen said. “Considering it’s only been 10 months, it is kind of shocking. But he is competitive at the Atlantic level, which is only one step below Champ Car Formula I. It was a good thing for him to get hooked up with people who knew what they were doing to try to teach him all the right things along the way.”

Some of the cities Muniz could be racing in next season include Denver, San Jose, Cleveland, Houston, Montreal and Portland.

“I like being in control of my destiny, which if I train hard enough and work as hard as I have, it will show in my results,” Muniz said.

Simon Pagenaud of Australia won the Champ Car Atlantic Series in 2006. Muniz someday wants to fill those shoes, and Jensen believes he can go pretty far.

“Sky is the limit for him because he is still young and look what we’ve done with him in 10 months,” Jensen said. “As a team, we have nine race cars and a full-time staff, so he can be out there racing every week, which means practice, practice, practice, like any sport.”

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