Social Spotlight with Matt DiBenedetto

Each week, I’m asking someone from the racing industry about their social media use in a feature called the Social Spotlight. Up next: Matt DiBenedetto from GoFas Racing, who is in the midst of a campaign to get voted into Saturday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race.

Ever since you’ve opened up your Snapchat account to the public (username: mattdracing), I’ve seen a whole new side of you. What kind of reaction have you gotten so far since you opened that?

I didn’t expect it to blow up quite as much as it has. Every race so far, after I opened my Snapchat account to being public, I’ve gotten tons of people who are like, “Oh my gosh, your wife’s gonna kill you one day. That’s so hilarious.” So it’s been cool. It’s getting like thousands of views.

No kidding? That’s crazy. I’ve been on Snapchat for quite a long time and I don’t have anything close to those numbers. So why did you decide to open it after being private for a while?

I was already like famous amongst my friends for my Snapchats, you know, pranking people and torturing my wife (Taylor) and all that crazy nonsense that I get into. But all my friends were like, “Dude, the fans would love this stuff. It’s hilarious.” And so I was like, “You know what, I think I need to do it and post on my story. It’ll be fun to share with everybody.”

And man, it’s gone damn near viral amongst the fans. They think it’s hilarious. Even Dale Jr. tweeted about it because I’m friends with him on Snapchat and I’ll send him some stuff and he’s like, “You wanna see someone who pranks his wife and funny stuff, all of that?” So that’s been good.

You sing in the car on Snapchat, you definitely prank a lot of people. Last week, you were using an air horn to prank your wife and things like that. Do people not ever get mad at you? Are they just like, “That’s Matt,” and they just laugh? Surely people must sometimes be like, “You jerk!”

I’m just annoying and people are just kind of OK with it at this point. (Laughs) Yeah, my wife’s a good sport — I don’t know why she tolerates me. If I was in her shoes, there’s no way that I would.

Actually, her and my neighbors did try to get me back and scare me with a firecracker the other day, so she’s on it. Her prank game just isn’t quite on my level yet, but I think she’s gonna start learning — or is gonna have to learn pretty soon.

Do you have your messages open, where random people can send you stuff? Or are you not at that point yet?

I don’t think so. I don’t know how that works quite yet, so no, right now I think I just have it to where it’s public and everybody can go and view my stuff that I put on my story.

The more you get into the public eye, the more your life becomes public. How do you decide how much you want to share with the fans and people like that out there?

I think it’s just fun that we have the ability to share our lives with all those folks. That’s what it’s about. Racing and being able to do what we do for a living isn’t in any way possible without the fans — really, we’re nothing without them — so it’s a privilege for me be able to share all that stuff and share my life with them because they’re the ones that make it possible for all of us to be doing that. I’ll definitely never forget that, and I hope none of the other drivers or anybody else ever forgets that either because that’s what it’s about.

I would never be rude to a fan or anybody — I treat everybody with respect and I appreciate them because they’ve allowed me to be here and I’ve gotten a good following from all of them. Whether they know it or not, they’ve been a big part of why I’ve gotten to where I am now, because all the fans have given me a ton of support and that’s important. That’s attractive to race teams; they know I’m personable and fans like me, which is great. I’ve been fortunate enough to have that. So I have fun with it.

You’ve been active in the Reddit world where there’s a lot of fans and a lot of people who support you. What’s that experience been like when you log onto Reddit?

Dude, those people are passionate. It’s really cool. It’s fun being part of their community. It started a long time ago when I wore one of the old Dogecoin shirts with Reddit on it and stuff. It was a Reddit-backed effort, and I thought it was neat, so I kind of jumped on it and I was wearing the shirt and then it kind of went viral amongst the community.

I’ve gotten a lot more active just because, for one, it’s fun and it’s kind of addicting. Those people are so passionate and they really are intelligent — they know a lot about (NASCAR). Heck, they know more about racing and what’s going on than I do! (Laughs) I learn a lot of stuff on there.

So it’s been cool with just how knowledgable they are, how funny some of the stuff is in there. In the comments, the stuff they come up with is absolutely comical, so it’s been fun to see how supportive those guys are. Every race I go to, I meet tons of people (from Reddit), and that’s a good bit of my following, which is cool.

I feel like you’ve genuinely embraced it. Sometimes I’ll be looking at a thread and be like, “Well, Matt just weighed in on that.” It wasn’t necessarily something about you and you weren’t specifically called to it; you just were clearly looking through the comments and decided to chime in. So you’re trying to be part of the community and not just when it’s about you.

Yeah, I just have fun surfing through there. There’s always interesting threads and reads on there, so I just kind of scroll through it like I would any other form of social media. I enjoy looking at the stuff people say. Some of it is really funny, but some of it is interesting. So yeah, I just go through there, comment, chit-chat with people, and start some threads every once in a while.

(A couple weeks ago) I picked up my new Can-Am Maverick X3, so I shared the thread on there with everybody so they could all see it. It’s been fun.

As we record this in Talladega, the All Star Race voting is not open at this moment (Note: It’s obviously open now). But when it does open, it’s going to be a short amount of time. Maybe that will help, because your fans will be able to mobilize for you and get you into the race.

Yeah, we’re lucky to have all their support. And Reddit, specifically, they have some really cool ideas on there, you know, things we can do and they’ve talked about wrapping a race car in a Reddit paint scheme if we get voted in.

So I took that idea and said, “Hey, maybe so.” We talked to the team and they were OK with it, so we got the approval on that. So we’re gonna get back to them and hopefully wait on the voting to open up.

But hopefully, we can lean on all those folks from all sorts of different social media outlets and all the fans. I think they understand our situation, that we’re a small team, and they really back it and support us a lot. It’s pretty overwhelming.

Did you ever get any sense of how close the voting was last year?

Yeah, it almost ate at me because of how close I learned it was. I think if Chase Elliott raced his way in, we would have gotten that second fan vote. So we were right on the border. It was very close. So it was cool for all those people who voted to get us that close.

You know, those people (like Elliott) drive for powerhouse teams, so it’s a lot easier for them to get a huge following and to get voted in with all the backing and support that they have and driving for a big team, while I’m a little guy. For us to get that close was pretty neat, so I feel like we can do it this year with everyone’s support.

Let’s talk about Twitter. That’s another form of social media, and you’re on there as well. How often do you use your Twitter account?

Every day, and I’ve searched through there, same deal. So every day, I try to interact with the fans, share all the funny stuff. Actually Ryan Ellis, my PR guy, got a good picture of me on the airplane that he shared on social media this morning of me passed out saying I was revved up and excited for the weekend. (Laughs) But yeah, I use Twitter a lot, probably as much as anything.

Is it something where you’re using it to stay in touch with what’s going on in the sport? What’s your primary reason for being on there?

I think there’s different groups of fans in each social media outlet. You know, one may fit some fans over others. So I try to cover them all so I can engage with all the different groups of people and fans. I don’t know if I have a preference on any of them; they’re all so different and they all have different groups of folks within each community. So I like to reach out to all of them.

You use Facebook and Instagram as well?

Yep! Both of them. So I’m trying to figure out which one I’m on the most. I’ve been hopping on Reddit a lot lately just because it’s kind of addicting. I’m probably on Twitter the most because I have the most followers on there, but I like Facebook for how easy the engagement is — you know, doing a Facebook Live and such. Instagram I’ve been getting into more. So I feel like I cover them all fairly evenly. I try not to focus on one and forget about the others.

What happens when you come across a hater or somebody that’s trying to get a reaction out of you, somebody trolling you? Do you ever use the block button?

No. I make fun of myself probably more than anybody could make fun of me, so if I get something like that, I usually roll with it or just make fun of myself some more, you know?

I have a theory in life: when somebody makes fun of you or tries to pick at you and make you mad, if you in turn make fun of yourself back to them, what do they do? There’s no response. I’ve done that to people who have made comments or have tried to make me mad, and I say something to make fun of myself and they’ll just sit there dumbfounded. They’re like, “Oh…what do I say now? That kind of backfired.” That’s usually my tactic.

That’s a good point. It sounds like in general, you find a lot of the positive sides of social media. It can be very negative at times, but it sounds like you have good experiences for the most part there.

Yeah, all good, really. You just have to be really careful in today’s world about what you say, and I like to be a pretty open book and share my personal life. You know, I don’t want my stuff to be really boring, straightforward and everything about, “OK, we finished here today in my Can-Am No. 32 Ford Fusion.”

Obviously, I want to share my performance and how we’re doing from the team side, but I like to give everyone a more in-depth look of, “OK, I actually own a Can-Am vehicle. I grew up riding, and that’s how I got into racing.” Or from the team side, just showing how hard they work behind the scenes. (Or) what I do during the week at home, my personal life, like going to the gym. Stuff like that, that’s more interesting and that’s the stuff I like sharing with people, so I try to use it as an all positive thing.

With being so open, I have to be careful a little bit about what you say, but I feel like I live a pretty basic lifestyle; I don’t do anything that would get me in trouble, so I’m pretty normal.

Except for blowing airhorns at people.

(Laughs) Yeah, OK. I should be careful when I say “pretty normal.” My friends and my wife probably wouldn’t agree with me on that. She’s sitting right by us…

She’s shaking her head right now.

Yeah, she knows better.

This interview is sponsored by Dover International Speedway. If you’re planning to attend the Dover race next month, please consider using my ticket link.

Ryan Ellis becomes Matt DiBenedetto’s PR rep for 2017

Ryan Ellis made 24 starts across NASCAR’s three national series last year, another young driver trying to stay alive in the sport by jumping into whatever ride he could.

But Ellis, tired of waiting for his big break and facing another exhausting season of trying to chase sponsorship, realized it might be best to take a year off from driving, then reset and try again in 2018.

His job for this season, though, is perhaps unprecedented for a driver who raced in the NASCAR Cup Series as recently as November.

Ellis is now the public relations representative for Matt DiBenedetto, who joins GoFas Racing’s No. 32 car this season.

“I’ve always said, ‘Hey, PR person Ryan,’ because he would always just do everything for me and he’s so good at working with people and just kind of winging everything,” said DiBenedetto, who is close friends with Ellis. “That joke actually turned into a reality for this year.”

It was actually such a running gag between the two that when DiBenedetto sat down and sincerely offered the position, he kept trying not to laugh. All joking aside, he said, there was a lot Ellis could do to help the team.

And Ellis, 27, didn’t have to think very hard about it before accepting. Despite having what he called “the best racing year of my life” in 2016, every potential opportunity closed up.

“It’s just so hard to claw and scratch and still be able to pay the bills halfway through a season,” Ellis said this week in between shuttling DiBenedetto to various stops on the NASCAR Media Tour. “I’ve been able to do it the last couple years, but it just takes such a burden on you.”

That’s no exaggeration; Ellis has taken side jobs like working at the Richard Petty Driving Experience and even mopping floors at a BMW dealership to make ends meet.

So the opportunity to try his hand at PR — which comes with a steady salary — was too good to pass up, especially while working with a good friend.

“(Finding a ride) is only getting harder,” Ellis said. “With the self-funded drivers or the drivers who know the right people, you’re just not going to get one of these opportunities without money. I need to pay the bills, so I’ve just got to accept it and do all I can.

“Outside of it being weird, it’s not going to be hard.”

But it is definitely going to be weird. Ellis joked he already wanted to quit while hearing DiBenedetto, a feel-good story last season for BK Racing, tell reporters over and over again how the key to surviving in NASCAR is sticking around long enough to get one great opportunity.

Ellis said the biggest challenge will come when he’s at the track every week but can’t get in a car despite still wanting to race.

“Being emotionally stable (will be the hard part),” he said with a smile. “It’s great to be working with a friend and hopefully bettering his career, but it’ll be hard not making those comparisons to the drivers you think you’re better than who are on the track every week. That will never go away.”

DiBenedetto said Ellis will be “one of the best in the industry” despite a lack of experience because “he’s pretty much done his own PR and self-promoted himself for so many years.”

Of course, if Ellis gets really desperate to get back into a car before 2018, there’s always one sinister option.

“The good news is I control Matt’s food for the most part, so I can poison him at certain tracks,” he said.

Matt DiBenedetto (left) and Ryan Ellis take a break from playing iPhone billiards during the NASCAR Media Tour on Wednesday. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)

Hat-tip to Chris Knight for first tweeting about this development.