Matt DiBenedetto is the ultimate everyman in NASCAR. DiBenedetto has the personality and good-natured fun attitude that if he wasn’t racing, he would be camped out in the infield, having a beer and blasting music like any other fan.
But DiBenedetto has lived to race and is currently doing all he can to make a name for himself in NASCAR. Once a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, DiBenedetto went from team to team looking for an opportunity. In his seventh NASCAR season, DiBenedetto got an opportunity to drive for BK Racing. A small team who did all they could to scrape together enough to even finish races, much less compete.
While at BK Racing, DiBenedetto scored his best career finish, a sixth place at Bristol. While smaller teams may be able to get finishes like that at places where the draft equalizes everyone like Daytona and Talladega, it’s tough to get a good finish like that at a place like Bristol. On their day, DiBenedetto wheeled his car to a top 10 finish that may not be a big deal to some, but to a team like BK Racing and DiBenedetto, that was like a win.
For 2017, DiBenedetto moved to Go Fas Racing and has seemingly found a great situation for himself and for the team. While still a smaller team who typically would be middle of the pack, DiBenedetto occasionally took his #32 Ford to the top 10, particularly in big events like the Daytona 500 (ninth) and Brickyard 400 (eighth).
For 2018, DiBenedetto is back with Go Fas Racing, looking to build on a foundation they laid down last season. In the meantime, DiBenedetto’s fight to get to the top hasn’t stopped him from having a bit of fun with fans on Reddit as well as making cameo appearances on TV shows.
Matt DiBenedetto talked to us over the phone as we talked about the upcoming season, his new sponsor for the Daytona 500, his Lethal Weapon cameo and how he got to be such a presence on Reddit.
Phillip Bupp: I saw recently that you have a new sponsor for the Daytona 500, a movie called The Hurricane Heist. What’s the movie about and how do you feel that they’re on board?
Matt DiBenedetto: It’s pretty cool. I got to see the trailer for that movie, so I’m pretty excited to actually be able to watch it, hopefully watch it ahead of time it’s released so that’ll be neat. But yeah, the concept is pretty cool with a large storm coming with a heist taking place as well. It was really cool actually how it came together. Kinda last second, we had a sponsor that backed out on us, had something come up and couldn’t do the Daytona 500, so pretty fortunate that we got it sold as it’s pretty close to the race coming up.
PB: Yeah, that’s great. I imagine with your team especially, as a smaller team, sponsorships like that have to really be important for you.
DiBendetto: Yeah man, that’s huge. Especially, if we weren’t able to sell the biggest race of the year, that would’ve been detrimental. Things always seem to kind of fall into place and work out. And this one was stressful for sure, it really put us in a tough situation, but I’m really glad it came together here in the last second. Some of our guys on our team did a good job of hustling and putting it all together and it’s pretty cool that we came together with those folks to be able to help promote that movie.
PB: And you have done your share of acting; you had a guest spot on Lethal Weapon. How was that experience and would you be interested in future roles?
DiBenedetto: Yeah — oh, for sure. That was actually really fun; it was a pretty cool experience. It’s interesting to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff with things like that. I’ve always been really curious to see all the behind-the-scenes of actually putting a TV show together on a show that I watch and shows that you just watch on TV. I’ve always been curious what all goes into it and it’s crazy how much work does go into that, even just one scene together, which is faster moving than a movie.
It was cool; I loved doing it actually. And if I were able to do it over again, I learned a lot so I could do a much better job if the opportunity comes up to do another one, which I’m sure it will and I hope it will.
PB: Do you have a dream character or role you would like to play?
DiBenedetto: No, I’ve never actually really thought of that. I’ve always enjoyed being on camera and that was something totally new for me. But as far as, really just racing has been my entire life, but obviously I’m being on camera and speaking. But it’s different when you’re acting because you’re out in your comfort zone and you’re not just talking about things you know and you do on a daily and weekly basis. But it’s something I would totally be open to doing a little bit more of when I have some time in between races.
PB: One thing you have seemed to embrace more than any other driver is Reddit. I’m sometimes on Reddit, but you have really taken to it and interact with those on the site, as well as the NASCAR subreddit. How did you discover Reddit? What has been your experiences with interacting with people on Reddit? And explain why someone who isn’t on Reddit yet should sign up and subscribe to the NASCAR subreddit?
DiBenedetto: I ended up getting on the NASCAR subreddit through friends talking about it and some friends telling me just how educated a lot of folks are on there and how passionate they are about the sport and how much information they have and gather, how well they pay attention to the little details and such.
So just through that years ago. I was like, “Man, I gotta hop on there.” And then they supported Josh Wise as well and that kind of also gotten me on there. I wore one of their Dogecoin T-shirts that a group of them made in partnership with Josh Wise and that kind of took off. They all thought it was cool that I supported that.
But yeah, really I just got on there and became an avid reader and a member of the community and thought, “Man, this is way different than anything else” that you’ll read on social media or anything like that because there’s so much interesting information and a lot of really, really funny and clever comments. All the people on there really do their homework and they know a lot about the sport.
PB: That’s how I kinda saw it. It’s almost like 10 years ago, [drivers] were just discovering social media as a way of getting closer to the fans and now we’re seeing Reddit as being that next level of being even closer to the fans, moreso than social media.
DiBenedetto: Yeah, it is. Even just for instance, I hopped on there and said, it was pretty on the fly like just randomly asked if some people wanted to hop on iRacing. I just told them I would create a room, I told them the password and whatever. And I was like, “Okay, hopefully maybe a few people will show up.” I don’t know how many of them in there will have iRacing, but I figured a fair amount would. And it was full in like one minute [laughter] so as soon as I created the room, it was full and it’s just unbelievable the support in there.
And everybody’s really cool, it’s fun to go in there and hang out with them, talk with them. My buddy Ryan Ellis, who does our PR for the team, was in the room racing as well and I started joking and I told everybody, “All right, now everybody start wrecking Ryan.” [laughter] And everyone was just wrecking everyone, we really had a good time.
PB: This is your second year at Go Fas Racing and while the team may not have as many resources as some of the top teams in the sport, you guys have periodically found success. And it almost seems like you’re choosing some of the bigger races to get those great finishes, such as getting top 10s at the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 last season. How have you and the team been able to get more out of your car than others who may have more resources and sometimes be that David who beats Goliath?
DiBenedetto: I say that all boils down to the people that we have. I’m really, really lucky to have good people surrounding me and that’s what it’s all about. You’re only as good as the people you have around you. My crew chief, Gene [Nead] is extremely smart and he can make a lot out of very little. And I think, also a lot of people on my team are very, very close and some of them have been with me since I started in Cup. Gene has been there since darn near the beginning and a lot of the folks on our team.
So I think they know my dedication and passion for the sport and how hard that I work to be the best I can possibly be. And I think that resonates with them and makes them work harder and makes us have a very hard-working, good group of people. If I just didn’t care or didn’t have that level of drive and desire I did, then we probably wouldn’t have those people sticking with you and believing in you and wanting to follow you wherever you go.
That’s a big part of it, we don’t have much to work with. We’re on a very, very small budget. My motto is, I always say we overachieve. That’s our description of our team and my whole life story, always have to overachieve and make a lot out of a little. That’s what we all do with our little family team there and hopefully that opens up some doors for me to grow and one day be in a position to be winning races.
PB: We’re entering Daytona and restrictor plate tracks are such a different beast compared to the other races on the schedule. Daytona and Talladega can be a great equalizer, you also need the right driver on those tracks in order to be successful. How different is it to race at those tracks than on say, some of the intermediates and road courses?
DiBenedetto: Oh man, everything is completely different. It’s a lot of luck involved, that’s the only part I don’t like. It’s just kind of it’s your day or it’s not, so it’s a lot of luck involved. Yeah, there is an effect that we can be very competitive at those races. And if I, a lot of times, like in the Daytona 500, I just raced smart. Even though you want to get up there and push and get to the front, I just raced smart and that got us a top 10 finish.
But yeah, it’s totally different. The driver skill is different and the things you focus on is different at superspeedways. It’s more like making the correct lane decisions, knowing who to work with, when with work with and when to push, when to not, a lot of different things so it’s interesting. It’s not something I would want to do on a weekly basis [laughter], but it’s interesting to be thrown in there a few times a year.
PB: Are you someone who likes to plan that out in practice, kind of know who you’re working with, who not to work with or does it come as the situation happens at the end of the race.
DiBenedetto: Yeah, I just kind of let it play out as it goes because I tried to go into it with some strategy or things like that and it all just kind of gets thrown out the window just because it’s so crazy once the race starts. There’s often times so many crashes and so many people would be out of the race. Sometimes, it just turns out to be a demo derby if you can survive it and be in the least amount of crashes.
PB: And ironically last year, it was mostly fuel mileage. It stayed caution free through the end of the race.
DiBenedetto: Yeah, exactly. So it’s weird, you just never know what to expect. I’ve had where it’s bit me before where I rode too long and expecting the crash and they didn’t but sometimes I’ve done that where you can see them getting crazy so we hang back with couple guys like Ryan Newman and a few others and then most of the field crashes and you get a top 10. So it’s just, there’s no real rhyme or reason to them to be honest. It’s just, hopefully it’s your day.
Ready for race season baby ?? pic.twitter.com/hoGiX3SXu0
— Matt DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) February 9, 2018
PB: How confident are you and the team entering Daytona? What would be your goal for the 500 as well as the rest of the season?
DiBenedetto: First goal for the 500 would be to finish because if you just finish, you get a pretty solid finishing position. But yeah I don’t know, I mean another top 10 would be great. That’s a shot for us, even though it’s a long shot for us to win, you never know. We’ve seen crazier things happen, so you don’t know. That’s the goal obviously once it gets down to the end you kinda just stand on the gas and hope for the best. Drive it as hard as you possibly can and if we crash, we crash and if not, hopefully we’re up there contending up front and go for it.
If I do see it get crazy and ride around, that’s just the first bit of the race. Once it gets down closer to the end, you kind of just hold it to the floor and hope for the best. If you crash, it just is what it is.
PB: Final question, if you were to win the Daytona 500 this year, after thanking all your sponsors, who would be the first person you thank?
DiBenedetto: Oh gosh, that’s a, you know, I would have so many of them to thank I wouldn’t actually know where to start. The first ones I would probably say… it would be my team owner for giving me the opportunity to be driving the car in the first place. And then after the sponsors, of course, then it’d be my parents and my wife would be the next ones because I’ve had to go about this in a very different and unique way and had to have a lot of support from them. I don’t have any family funding, so I’ve had to do this the old school way unlike many others.
You know, I don’t have a last name and I didn’t have a rich family [laughter], but I’ve had the support of them who helped me every step of the way. And my wife is understanding that I live for this and racing is the most important thing for me so that’s hard to come by.