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Headlines for Friday, May 5, 2023

Colorful image of old-time radios introducing today's news headlines.
Kansas Public Radio

Kansas Loses Legal Fight over Voting Law Passed in 2021

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has lost a legal fight over one of the voting laws that its Republican-led Legislature passed in the wake of the 2020 election.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Vratil ruled Thursday that it was unconstitutional to make it a crime for groups to include voter’s name, address and other information on advance ballot applications.

Two national nonprofit groups, VoteAmerica and the Voter Participation Center, sued after two voting laws were passed in 2021 over the veto of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. One of them included the restriction on prefilling ballots, even if the voter provided the information and requested an advance mail ballot application.

The groups, whose mission is to promote voting among traditionally underserved groups, including young and minority voters, argued that there is a higher response rate when the group prefills the applications. Nearly 70,000 Kansas voters submitted an advance mail voting application provided by the Voter Participation Center to their county election official in the 2020 general election, the lawsuit said.

But the state countered that the groups’ mailing efforts led to a flood of duplicate applications during the 2020 presidential election. Election officials testified that the flood of applications led to confusion, with many voters repeatedly requesting mail-in ballots.

Vratil acknowledged in the ruling that some election officials likely felt “overburdened” as the pandemic sent mail-in votes soaring. More than three times as many Kansans voted by mail in 2020 compared to 2018.

“Because of the highly contested nature of the election, in addition to the pandemic, many voters were concerned that their mail ballots would not be received and counted, and requested duplicate ballots for peace of mind,” Vratil said.

She said that in that environment, the surge in duplicate ballots couldn't be solely blamed on the prefilled ballots that voting groups mailed out to try and spurn turnout.

In fact, she wrote, having the ballots prefilled might even prove “more helpful than harmful to overburdened elections officials” and found that the restriction infringed on the group's First Amendment free speech rights.

Whitney Tempel, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Scott Schwab, said the office didn't immediately have a comment.

Another law passed in 2021 also is being challenged in court. In March, the Kansas Court of Appeals reinstated the suit filed by Loud Light, the League of Women Voters of Kansas, the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center and the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

They challenged provisions of a law that limit how many advance mail ballots individuals can collect and require election officials to match the signatures on an advance ballot to a person’s voter registration record. A Shawnee County judge originally dismissed it after finding the restrictions were reasonable.


Kansas Governor Announces New Rail Safety Guidelines

TOPEKA, Kan. (WDAF) - Governor Laura Kelly has announced major safety improvements are on the way for railroad workers in Kansas. The governor has directed the Kansas Department of Transportation to require railroads to have at least two crew members in lead locomotives at all times. WDAF reports that the rule makes Kansas the ninth state with the requirement. The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) supports the rule. Implementing the new regulation will have little increased labor costs in Kansas as most railroads in the state already operate with two-person crews. Kansas had five deaths and 14 injuries at railroad crossings in 2022. That puts Kansas in the top 25 states for crossing collisions.


Kansas Senator Moran Sponsors Bill to Boost Service to Regional Airports

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Republican U.S. Senator Jerry Moran is one of the sponsors of new bill that would bolster commercial service at regional airports.WIBW reports that Moran and Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana teamed up to introduce legislation to attract new air service to smaller communities across the nation. Moran says the program will help increase connectivity across the by allowing small airports to draw carriers to their runways and help rural airports offer more flights. “Every flight counts in small communities with limited access to air travel," Moran said. "Each flight can have a significant impact on drawing new businesses and families to a region.” The bill, known as the Small Community Air Service Enhancement Act, would improve existing programs by increasing available funds and prioritizes rural airports that have experienced a significant reduction in air service.


Wichita School District Seeks Changes to Disciplinary Measures

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - As teacher contracts are renegotiated for the coming school year, the state’s largest school district wants to limit teachers’ ability to remove disruptive students from classrooms. The Kansas News Service reports that current rules in the Wichita School District allow teachers to send a student to the principal’s office for up to a half-day if the student is substantially disrupting the classroom environment. Attorneys negotiating next year’s contract for the Wichita district want to do away with that. They say kicking kids out of class for even a few hours could violate federal special education guidelines. Katie Warren is president of the union, United Teachers of Wichita. The union opposes the change. Warren says an unruly student can stress out the entire class, so teachers need to separate them from other students. “Sometimes the kids just need the teacher to talk with them, make sure everyone’s calm, that we feel safe again,” Warren said. School districts across Kansas are negotiating teacher contracts. The agreements cover pay, workload and other issues.


Renowned Earthworks Artist Stan Herd to Create Dole Centennial Artwork

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - An acclaimed earthworks artist, based in Lawrence, will carve a large portrait of political icon Bob Dole into the ground on the University of Kansas campus this summer to celebrate Dole’s 100th birthday. Artist Stan Herd will use grass, rocks and mulch for the design. The portrait of Dole will sit near the Dole Institute of Politics on the KU campus. Dole served more than 30 years in Congress and was the Republican nominee for president in 1996. He also served critical roles in developing food stamp policy and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Herd says Dole’s bipartisan efforts were very important to American democracy and says he’s honored to design the artwork. He expects to complete the piece by Dole’s birthday on July 22. Dole died in 2021.


Kelly Announces Program to Increase Broadband Access

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Governor Laura Kelly has announced a new program to increase high-speed internet access in communities across the state. Kelly announced a plan Wednesday to provide $30 million in competitive funding opportunities to build the infrastructure needed for broadband access in more homes and businesses. Governor Kelly said the Lasting Infrastructure and Network Connectivity (LINC) program aims to increase access, reduce internet service costs, and improve performance. WIBW reports that internet service providers, tribal governments, cooperatives, and non-profit organizations are all eligible to apply for the funding. Projects in higher-cost, rural areas are eligible for greater public matches. She says robust broadband access is crucial for attracting new businesses and workers to Kansas. Kelly said the Kansas Office of Broadband has been holding meetings across the state to solicit feedback for its five-year broadband access strategic plan.


EPA Will Allow Sales of EF-15 Fuel in Kansas

TOPEKA (KSNT) - The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to a request from Kansas officials to allow the sale of gasoline blended with 15% ethanol, known as E15. The blend is about $0.25 cents less expensive per gallon than regular E10. KSNT reports that the federal agency announced Wednesday that it will allow the sale of the cheaper blend this summer. The EPA previously allowed the sale of E15 when the country was experiencing record-breaking high gas prices during 2022 and says that helped U.S. motorists save at least $57 million in fuel costs.


Lung Association Report Says Air Quality Poor in KC Area

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS) - A report from the American Lung Association gives poor air quality grades to parts of the Kansas City metro area, including Wyandotte County, Kansas, and Jackson County, Missouri. Those counties received D grades and are the worst of any counties in Kansas and Missouri. Bill Barkman is an environmental health specialist for the University of Kansas Health System. He said the pollution in the metro area is mostly an issue for people with pre-existing lung or heart conditions. “In the summer, you want to track the ozone if you have asthma,” Barkman said. “If you're gonna exercise, you want to be sure you do it at the proper time and not when the levels are highest.” The American Lung Association says about 43,000 children and 195,000 adults in the Kansas City area have asthma.


'No Child Deserves That,' Says Godmother of Slain 6-Year-Old

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Relatives are demanding justice for a 6-year-old boy who was killed outside his Kansas home in a drive-by shooting that police said doesn't appear to be random.

Kansas City, Kansas, police spokeswoman Nancy Chartrand confirmed Friday that the boy was Sir’Antonio Brown and said there was no new information to share about the search for suspects.

“I just want the people that did this brought to justice," his godmother, Shyneisha Hill, told KCTV-TV. "Sir deserves justice. No 6-year-old deserves that. No child deserves that. No parent deserves what my cousin is going through.”

One or more shooters opened fire on Sir on Wednesday as he played in the front yard of a home, killing him. Police announced Thursday that they had found the vehicle used in the attack and asked for tips.

Chartrand told The Associated Press that police believe that the suspects came to the neighborhood with the intention of targeting someone, although she didn't know the reason behind it.

“This wasn’t like they were just joyriding in the area without intent to basically shoot and kill somebody. That’s what they came to do," Chartrand said. "Unfortunately, Sir, was there and he was the one that was shot and killed.”

She said that sometimes a stray bullet fired in a shootout a block away claims the life of a child. But she said this was different.

“When they pulled up and let loose with gunfire, they saw that child there. We don’t believe that there’s any way that they didn’t," she said. "And they shot anyway, showing no regard for his life, much less whoever it was that they were intending to be shooting at.”

The loss was reverberating around the community. Sir's kindergarten teacher, Amanda Mynatt, told KSHB-TV that she joked that Sir was her “school son.”

"He was so charismatic, he never sat still, he would be doing cartwheels across the carpet, and everyone loved him,” she said.


KU Researchers Develop App to Treat Eating Disorders

LAWRENCE, Kan. (KNS) - Researchers at the University of Kansas have created a smartphone app that can help treat eating disorders. The app uses existing eating disorder resources, but gives participants more control over when to access those materials. It also includes virtual check-ins with trained providers that can be difficult to schedule in-person due to long waitlists or transportation challenges. Research team member Kara Christensen says university health centers are already overwhelmed and a lot of them don’t have someone trained to treat eating disorders. The app provides a new treatment option. “When students are identified as having a disorder, they're referred out. And that typically means they don't get care,” Christensen said. “We're hoping that this could be a program that could fill some of those gaps.” Christensen says the next step is testing the app on other college campuses across the country. TheNational Eating Disorders Association says 30 million Americans will have an eating disorder during their lives.


Critics Warn of Possible Repercussions from New Anti-Trans Laws

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - One of the country’s most sweeping laws limiting transgender rights will take effect in Kansas in July and critics are worried it will cost the state business. The law, called the “women’s bill of rights” by supporters, will force transgender people to use bathrooms and other public spaces that align with their sex assigned at birth. It will also prevent them from changing their gender designation on state ID and other official documents. It’s one of the most far-reaching laws of its kind in the country, and critics say it could have a negative impact on the state’s economy. They say the new laws could make it harder for Kansas to compete for employers and workers. Suzanne Wheeler is with the LGBT Mid-America Chamber of Commerce. She says many large companies are staying away from states with aggressive restrictions targeting the LGBTQ community. “Our Legislature keeps doing things to chase workers away from our state instead of enticing them to come to our state,” Wheeler said. Supporters of the law say those concerns are unfounded. There’s a long history of businesses boycotting states with controversial laws, ranging from gay marriage to voter suppression but it’s unclear how companies will respond to laws restricting transgender rights.


Kobach Announces $2 Million in Funding for Substance Abuse Services

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has announced an additional $2 million in funding to support substance abuse and addiction services in the state. WIBW reports that the funding comes from money recovered by the state through opioid legal settlements. The funds will be available for agencies and nonprofit organizations that deal with addiction treatment, recovery, and harm reduction associated with substance abuse. Organizations may apply for the grants through a Request for Proposal grant application process. Applications will be accepted starting May 8. Kobach says the Kansas Fights Addiction (KFA) Grant Review Board will prioritize prevention, providers and first responders. Federal officials estimate that in 2021, more than 107,000 people died of a drug overdose in the U.S., with opioids involved in 75% of those deaths. In Kansas, the number of overdose deaths has risen steadily since 2019. Kobach says Kansas has reached multiple settlements with major pharmaceutical companies as part of efforts to bring accountability to those that fueled the opioid-addiction crisis and to provide funds to support addiction services. He says the state has secured more than $340 million in settlements to be paid to the state over the next 18 years. Learn more about the KFA board and the opioid settlements HERE.


$42 Million Catholic Church Opens in Tiny St Marys, Kansas

ST. MARYS, Kan. (KPR) - After several years of construction and 45 years of fund-raising, a new $42 million Catholic church was consecrated Wednesday in the small northeast Kansas town of St. Marys. The Society of St. Pius X hosted the consecration ceremony for the new Immaculata Church. With a seating capacity of more than 1,500 people, it is the largest church in the world built by the Society. James Vogel, communications director for the Society of St. Pius X, says they've been raising money to build the church since 1978, when the last one was destroyed by fire. "This magnificent Romanesque church is the result of 45 years of prayers from around the world and around $42 million in donations from all 50 states and over 35 countries,” Vogel said. About 3,000 people were expected in St. Marys to attend the consecration. Photos of the church can be viewed online at: anewimmaculata.org.


ACLU Lawsuit Takes on a Kansas Highway Patrol Maneuver

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (KNS) — A trial is underway in Kansas City, Kansas, in a lawsuit challenging a Kansas Highway Patrol maneuver for detaining out-of-state drivers. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas argues that state troopers violate constitutional rights by subjecting drivers to unwarranted drug searches. The lawsuit alleges the Kansas Highway Patrol uses a maneuver where a trooper will complete a traffic stop but then quickly return to the driver to initiate a consensual drug search. A man from Colorado testified that troopers used it to detain him and his family. The subsequent search of the family’s RV found no drugs. The ACLU of Kansas wants the procedure permanently banned. The Kansas Highway Patrol argues the search was legal because a police dog alerted troopers of drugs.


Iowa Couple Charged With Abandoning Child During Road Trip to Kansas City

DES MOINES, Iowa- (KCCI) - A couple from Des Moines, Iowa is accused of leaving their 7-year-old behind while on a road trip to Kansas City. KCCI in Des Moines reports that 31-year-old Chancee Mariah Raelynn Daggett Buford, and 30-year-old Jacob Morrill reported the boy missing Tuesday morning when they returned to Iowa. They told police the boy wandered away at a gas station while they were on their way to a funeral in Kansas City May 1st. Passing drivers found the 7-year-old walking along near a busy intersection near the Des Moines International Airport. The couple has now been charged with child endangerment, public intoxication and possession of drug paraphernalia. The 7-year-old and other children in the couple’s custody are now staying with relatives.


Leavenworth Man Sentenced for Threatening Officers with Sword

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (KCTV) - A Leavenworth man has been sentenced to more than three and a half years in prison for threatening police officers with a sword in December. KCTV reports that a judge ordered 56-year-old Lonnie Bailey Jr. to serve 43 months in the Kansas Department of Corrections after being convicted of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Bailey was arrested while officers were on patrol in downtown Leavenworth. They say Bailey was carrying a large sword and when they ordered him to drop it, he became agitated and started threatening the officers with sword. He was taken into custody and has been held in jail since the incident. He will receive credit for the 152 days he he has already served.


Senators Back Solar Tariffs, Oppose Prairie Bird Safeguards

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate approved a measure Wednesday that would reinstate tariffs on solar panel imports from several Southeast Asian countries after President Joe Biden paused them in a bid to boost solar installations in the U.S.

Lawmakers also approved a separate plan to undo federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken, a rare grouse that’s found in parts of the Midwest and Southwest, including one of the country’s most prolific oil and gas fields.

The two measures are part of efforts by newly empowered Republicans to rebuke the Democratic president and block some of his administration's initiatives, particularly on the environment. Republicans control the House and have strong sway in the closely divided Senate, where California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein remains out for health reasons and conservatives such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., often side with the GOP.

Congress voted earlier this year to block a clean water rule imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and a separate Labor Department measure that allows retirement plan managers to consider the effects of climate change in their investment plans. Biden vetoed both legislative measures.

The solar tariffs measure was approved, 56-41, and now goes to the White House, where Biden has vowed to veto it. Nine Democrats supported the measure, while Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was the only Republican who opposed it.

The measure to undo the bird protections was approved 50-48 and now goes to the Republican-controlled House, where there is strong support for the plan.

The Senate action follows a House vote last week to reinstate fees on solar panels imported from Asia. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns about what many call unfair competition from China.

Some U.S. manufacturers contend that China has essentially moved operations to four Southeast Asian countries — Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia — to skirt strict anti-dumping rules that limit imports from China.

Biden paused the tariffs last year amid complaints from the solar industry that the threat of up to $1 billion in retroactive tariffs and higher fees had led to delays or cancellations of hundreds of solar projects across the United States. Solar installations are a key part of Biden's agenda to fight climate change and achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035.

The White House said Biden’s action was “necessary to satisfy the demand for reliable and clean energy” while providing “certainty for jobs and investments in the solar supply chain and the solar installation market.″

A Commerce Department inquiry last year found likely trade violations involving Chinese products and recommended steep penalties. Biden halted tariffs for two years before the Commerce investigation was completed. The White House has said Biden will not extend the tariff suspension when it expires in June 2024.

The U.S. industry argues that solar panel imports are crucial as solar installations ramp up to meet increased demand for renewable energy. Less than 30% of solar panels and cells installed in the U.S. are produced here, although that number is increasing as U.S. manufacturers take advantage of tax credits included in the landmark climate law adopted last year.

But Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said tariffs were needed to hold China accountable while protecting U.S. jobs and workers.

“It’s disgusting that Biden’s actions would shield Chinese solar companies — many of which are using child and slave labor — and allow them to circumvent U.S. trade laws,'' Scott said in a statement. “We need to be taking every step possible to hold Communist China and these companies accountable for breaking U.S. law.''

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., sponsored a separate measure repealing federal protections for a rare prairie bird that’s found in parts of the Midwest and Southwest, including one of the country’s most prolific oil and gas fields.

The lesser prairie chicken’s range covers a portion of the oil-rich Permian Basin along the New Mexico-Texas state line and extends into parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas. The habitat of the bird, a type of grouse, has diminished across about 90% of its historical range, officials said.

The crow-size, terrestrial birds are known for spring courtship rituals that include flamboyant dances by the males as they make a cacophony of clucking, cackling and booming sounds. They were once thought to number in the millions, but now hover around 30,000, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Environmentalists have long sought stronger federal protections for the bird, which they consider severely at risk due to oil and gas development, livestock grazing and farming, along with roads and power lines.

Marshall and other Republicans say greater protections aren’t needed and that the government instead should rely on voluntary conservation efforts already in place.

“Farmers, ranchers, and others in Kansas and the region have been instrumental in the recovery of the species to this point, while the climate activists demanding (federal protections under the Endangered Species Act) have no understanding of the threat it poses to Kansas’s economy, especially the energy and ag industries,'' Marshall said in a statement.

Lew Carpenter, director of conservation partnerships with the National Wildlife Federation, said voluntary efforts are not enough.

“We hope partisan politics will not put a halt to federal efforts to recover one of our region’s iconic birds. And recovery means recovery of the habitat, too,'' said Carpenter, who also serves as vice president of the North American Grouse Partnership, a Colorado-based conservation group.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said reinstating solar tariffs would jeopardize 30,000 jobs nationwide, including thousands in Nevada, which has the nation's most solar jobs per capita.

“Enacting retroactive tariffs on imported solar panels and cells will absolutely kill the American solar industry, and it will kill any chance we have to meet our climate goals, and it will kill the current American solar jobs,” Rosen said.


Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Pursuing Larger Facility

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KNS) - The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, is pursuing plans for a new home, to be built next to the historic Paseo YMCA building where the leagues were founded. The new, larger, building is estimated to cost about $25 million and will be built mostly with privately raised funds. But museum President Bob Kendrick isn’t ruling out the possibility of public funding at a later date. He says the timetable for groundbreaking will depend on how fast the museum can raise money: "Typically you want to raise half or three-quarters of your money before you break ground because you feel like you’re less likely to fail in raising the required funds to do this," Kendrick said. Bank of America kicked off the funding with a one-million dollar grant. The 30,000-square-foot building is planned for the corner of 18th Street at the Paseo in Kansas City.


Former Kansas Jayhawk Joel Embiid Named NBA MVP

LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - A former University of Kansas basketball player has been named the league MVP of the NBA. Former Jayhawk Joel Embiid is now a center for the Philadelphia 76ers. He has won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award for the 2022-23 season. WIBW reports that Embiid played 66 games while recording 10.2 rebounds per game and was named the NBA scoring champion — scoring 33.1 points per game. Embiid played only one season for the Jayhawks, 2013–14 , but he was a Naismith College Player of the Year finalist, earned honors as Big 12 Defensive Player of the year and was named second-team All-Big 12.


Highly-Touted Michigan Basketball Player Will Transfer to Kansas Next Season

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — All-American forward Hunter Dickinson, arguably the top player in the transfer portal after deciding to leave Michigan, said in a social media post Thursday that he was headed to Kansas for the upcoming season.

Dickinson chose the Jayhawks after visits to Villanova, Kentucky, Maryland and Georgetown.

The 7-foot-1 center led the Wolverines to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the Elite Eight as a freshman during the 2020-21 season. Dickinson averaged 18.6 points in helping them reach the Sweet 16 two years ago and 18.5 points and a career-best 9.0 rebounds last season, when he was voted an honorable mention All-American.

“The initial decision for me to enter the portal was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” Dickinson said in confirming Wednesday night that he would not return to Michigan, which had been a possibility. “The thought of potentially leaving the place I love and called home for three years was and is extraordinarily difficult to process. After conversations with my family and a lot of time in thought, I realized entering the portal was the best decision for myself and my future."

Dickinson had been quiet throughout his closely watched recruitment, though he did say on the “RoundBall” podcast this week that deciding where he would play next season had been weighing heavily on him.

“If I knew where I was going, I would have happily made the decision sooner,” he said. “I really am struggling trying to pick a school. The good thing about all this is, all my options, I feel like if I went there, I would succeed. But it’s just trying to figure out which one out of them is the best and the one I’m most comfortable at, stuff like that.”

Turns out that answer was Kansas.

With him in the fold, the Jayhawks suddenly become one of the national title favorites heading into next season. They return starting point guard Dajuan Harris Jr., versatile forward KJ Adams and have added former five-star guard Arterio Morris from Texas and Towson sharp-shooter Nick Timberlake to go with one of the nation's best freshman classes.

Elmarko Jackson and Jamari McDowell are 6-foot-3 guards capable of running the point or playing off the ball, Chris Johnson is a touted 6-6 wing and Markus Adams Jr. is a 6-8 inside-outside forward. Jackson and Johnson are both top-10 prospects.


Frankie Muniz of 'Malcolm in the Middle' Out Front in Racing

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — It's been a long time since Frankie Muniz was “Malcolm in the Middle.”

These days, he's more like “Malcolm in the Front."

The multitalented actor-turned-race car driver is leading the standings in the ARCA Series, one of the lower rungs on the NASCAR feeder system, through the first three races in his first full season. His goal is to reach the Cup Series eventually, but the 37-year-old Muniz harbors no misconceptions about just how difficult it will be to climb that ladder.

Especially given he's still trying to learn what all the switches do in his current car.

“I'm so focused on all that I need to learn right now in ARCA,” said Muniz, who was eighth-fastest in practice Friday at Kansas Speedway, where the series will race Saturday. “This is the fourth race of 20 this season. I thought I'd do OK; I didn't know I'd be in the points lead at this point. But I'm focused on continuing that and learning."

Muniz has always been fascinated by racing. He saw some in Charlotte growing up and went to the Daytona 500, where he drove the pace car in 2001, the year Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap wreck. And during his younger days, when he was starring as the titular character on the Fox sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle,” he dabbled in competitive racing.

Muniz entered 14 races in 2006 in the Formula BMW USA series, and the following year, moved up to the Champ Car Atlantic Series. He continued racing until 2009, when a crash left him with injuries that led to him stepping away.

He focused primarily on acting, though by that point “Malcolm in the Middle” had long finished its seven-year run on Fox and was fast becoming a cult classic, and began moonlighting as the drummer in the indie rock band Kingsfoil.

Muniz's comeback, so to speak, began in late 2021 when he drove a late model at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California. Next came an ARCA Series test at Daytona last year, and in January, Rette Jones racing announced that Muniz would be behind the wheel for the No. 30 Ford full-time this season.

“I love my past. I love everything I've done," Muniz said, “but I don't remember ever saying I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a garbage man, honestly, and acting took over my life. This chance in racing was me saying: ‘What do I want to do? What do I want to accomplish in my life?’ And here I am. I chose this. And when I put my helmet on and leave pit land, as much as I don't know, I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.”

Turns out that's at the front of the pack.

While he's yet to win through three ARCA Series races, Muniz has been the model of consistency. He's the only driver to finish all 316 laps, and that's why he leads 18-year-old Jesse Love by the narrowest of margins in the points race.

“It’s a great achievement for Frankie to be leading in the ARCA Racing Series championship point standings as a Rette Jones Racing driver, but it is very early in the season," said the team's co-owner, Mark Rette. “Still, Frankie is incredibly focused and he knows that if he just focuses on his craft behind the wheel, the points will follow.”

One thing Muniz has going for him is the support of Ford. The racing powerhouse recently had him at its world headquarters for some events, and his car this weekend is carrying the “Built Ford Proud” banner on it.

“Obviously that's an integral part of making those leaps,” Muniz said, “the fact that I'm in with an amazing manufacturer.”

That will only take Muniz so far, though. He also understands that showing enough ability to rise through the ranks is of the utmost importance, and he doesn't have a whole lot of time to do it. Muniz is basically getting his start in stock car racing at the same age that many drivers are beginning to think about what comes next.

That's an added bit of pressure that many of his peers don't have.

“There's good and bad, obviously, with being my age,” Muniz said. “I've been through a lot in my life — a lot of good, a lot of bad. I have experienced some things, even racing in the past. I feel like I pushed hard in racing, but I always felt like I could have pushed harder, tried harder. I have this opportunity now here I get a second chance to do it the right way.”


This summary of area news is curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Tom Parkinson and Kaye McIntyre. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays and updated throughout the day. These ad-free headlines are made possible by KPR members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.