All professional athletes started as a youngster with a dream. Every hall of fame-worthy career, whether it’s a baseball player, golfer, or racecar driver, started with that intangible desire to compete and succeed, and dreams of glory. For many, they have the ability to chase that dream from an early age, and for some, their talent and drive to succeed is evident at an early age.
But everyone isn’t able to pursue those dreams, at least while they’re a youngster.
The season-opening Daytona ARCA 200 at Daytona International Speedway, the 60th ARCA Menards Series race at the famed World Center of Racing set for Saturday, February 18, will feature two drivers who both had that dream. One was able to pursue it from childhood and one’s experiences and success in other fields has allowed him to finally chase the dream of becoming a winning race driver.
Menlo Park, California’s Jesse Love is the prototypical young racer. Starting in quarter midgets at the age of five, Love continuously progressed up the ladder earning numerous championships along the way before moving to full-size racecars. He earned wins in the USAC midget division in California and was named the INEX Legends car rookie of the year, all before the age of 15.
In 2020, once he did turn 15, he earned a ride with the highly successful Bill McAnally Racing team in the ARCA Menards Series West. Love finished second in his first series start at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then earned his first win on the demanding road course at Utah Motorsports Campus.
Love’s rookie season was one for the record books. He ended the year with three wins in eleven starts and the series championship.
He followed with his second West championship in 2021, but he also ventured into the ARCA Menards Series national tour for the first time, winning at the legendary Salem Speedway in his tenth series start.
Now 18, Love will pursue the ARCA Menards Series championship for the first time in 2023, paired with the powerhouse Venturini Motorsports team. The team, owned by two-time ARCA Menards Series champion Bill Venturini, his wife Cathy, and their son Billy, won the 2019 series championship with Christian Eckes at the wheel and has won the last five ARCA Menards Series races at Daytona, including the last two with Corey Heim.
“This is something all of us dream about our whole lives,” Love said. “I’ve thought about it since I started racing, what would it be like to be on the sport’s biggest stage? But now that it’s here, I have to tell myself it’s just one race out of twenty. You don’t want to let yourself get distracted by it all.”
Love isn’t feeling the pressure of making his Daytona debut, thanks to the success of the organization he’s driving for.
“You could easily add all of that pressure on to your shoulders and it could be a huge negative,” Love said. “But I respond well to that pressure. And when you look at the record Venturini Motorsports has at Daytona, it actually replaces that pressure with confidence. Now all I have to do is go out and do what I expect to do, and that’s run up front and compete for the win.”
For Frankie Muniz, the dream to be a racer existed as long as he can remember. Even while he was nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes as the titular character in the Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, Muniz dreamed about racing.
It was a visit to the 2001 Daytona 500 when those dreams went into overdrive. Muniz spent time in the garage area, getting autographs from many of the biggest stars in the sport’s history, including Ken Schrader, Sterling Marlin, and even Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who would ultimately lose his life in a last-lap crash later that afternoon.
Muniz, now 37 and a resident of Scottsdale, Arizona with his wife Paige and son Mauz, rode in the pace car prior to the race, leading the field off pit road. Just behind him, in the silver No. 40, was Marlin. Twenty-two years later, Muniz suited up and made laps at Daytona in the same racecar, now owned by team owners Terry Jones and Mark Rette and reskinned as a Ford Fusion, during a pre-season practice session at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
When he climbs aboard the team’s new Ford Mustang for the race on February 18, it will be the culmination of years’ worth of effort, but not the culmination of the dream itself.
“I have wanted to race my entire adult life,” Muniz said. “I raced in the Celebrity Pro-Am at Long Beach and did really well. I won the celebrity division and was competitive against the professional drivers. I have had some opportunities in the past and even came close to landing an Indycar ride but a bad crash put that old hold.”
From there, Muniz did something others may dream about: he went on a world tour as a drummer with the band Kingsfoil. He has done more television over the years too, and was the runner-up on Dancing with the Stars in 2017.
But everything he did, every experience he had that others could only dream about, led him back to racing.
“I fully recognize I have been able to do things most people only dream about doing,” Muniz said. “I have been really fortunate throughout my life and it’s put me in a position to be able to finally chase my dream of being a racecar driver.”
Muniz, registered to compete for ARCA’s Bounty Rookie Challenge, is now one of the new kids on the block. It’s perhaps the ultimate “flip the script” moment from his days portraying a gifted teenager on Malcolm: he now is the adult asking talented teenagers, including Jesse Love, for advice.
“It’s strange because I am old enough to be their dad and here I am asking them questions and looking for advice while driving 200 miles an hour,” he said with a laugh.
Love, Muniz, and 38 other drivers will square off in the Daytona ARCA 200 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, February 18. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on FS1 starting at 1:30 pm ET; the race will also be broadcast on select affiliates of the MRN Radio network nationwide. For complete event information, including live timing & scoring, please visit ARCARacing.com for up-to-the minute news and updates, please follow @ARCA_Racing on Twitter.