The man calling the shots for K&N Pro Series West veteran Todd Souza has had quite the journey.
Michael Munoz has been working in racing full-time for the past 21 years. He’s been atop the pit box for the Watsonville, California, driver for 57 races and counting, while also serving as a crew chief for Michael Waltrip and Eddie Cheever III along the way.
"I met Todd 20 years ago when I was working for Matt Crafton," Munoz told NASCAR.com. "We started out with one car, one trailer, stuck together and continued to grow the program as we went. We had real good cars back in the day, but when the pull down rigs came into the game we kind of lost the setup a little bit. We always had a shot to win on the road courses and ran well on the ovals. We won Tooele in 2008. Then a couple years later, the rigs came in and we lost it a touch handling wise."
Munoz, from Tulare, California, became friends with the Crafton family in second grade. From then on, he was laser focused on achieving his dream: becoming a NASCAR crew chief.
"For me, I’ve always wanted to be a crew chief on a race car,"he said. "I really worked hard at what I’ve done to be able to be a crew chief. For the most part, it’s been since I was a kid. Since I was eight years old I told myself I always wanted to be a crew chief. I put my head down. A lot of late nights, lot of sacrifices away from the family, and it happened. I’m honored and grateful for it. I’m grateful for NASCAR, they give us this opportunity and platform to show our talents and hard work."
Munoz credits Crafton, a two-time Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion, for helping him realize there was more to life than what meets the eye. Coming from a Latino family working in the fields, Munoz was given a chance to see the other side of things.
"Crafton gave me a platform as a child to dream," he said. "His dad, watching him be a mechanic during the day and a race mechanic at night. Grew up around Jerry Baxter and Junior Joiner, they kind of groomed me as a child to dream."
Munoz won the 2000 Southwest Tour title with Crafton as a tire specialist before moving to the Truck Series for a few seasons. Following his stint on the East coast, he opted to move back to California, where he started working for Souza. He crew chiefed his first race for Souza in the late 2000s, and has been ever since.
"Relationship wise, for me I’ve always been taught to be loyal and work hard," he said. "Todd and Kelly have given me a home to practice all that and given me the tools to be able to succeed. It’s been awhile."
Racing-Reference: Michael Munoz Career Crew Chief Statistics
So far this season, they’ve finished inside the top 10 in four of the seven races, earning their best finish since May of 2017 with a third-place result at Colorado National Speedway.
"I think overall we’ve made a lot of gains, had some bad luck with motor issues," he said of 2019. "For the most part, we feel our margin is greater now. We have a lot of room from improvement so we’re really excited about that. I feel like we’re still in the growing process and we’re learning something every week to improve. The chemistry and feedback with me and Todd is great."
Expectations wise, Munoz believes the No. 13 team is right where they thought they’d be. But also knows there’s room for improvement, citing long run speed as the area of growth needed in order to win a race, something he and Souza both believe isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
"I truly believe we can win," he said. "But we have to continue to work hard and make gains every week, learn off the positives and be able to execute the following week. Racing is a tough deal. As long as we continue to work hard I believe we can sneak one out this year."
Souza, Munoz and the No. 13 Central Coast Racing team will look to earn that victory at Iowa Speedway on Friday, July 26, the first of two combination events for the K&N Pro Series.