12 Questions with Matt DiBenedetto (2018)

The series of 12 Questions driver interviews continues with Matt DiBenedetto, who drives the No. 32 car for Go Fas Racing.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Oh man. I don’t dream a lot, but when I do, I would honestly say 50 percent of my dreams are about racing — which is a lot. So I would say probably once every couple of weeks.

Are they just dreams where you’re driving the car, or does something happen in them?

Winning. I’ve had a dream about my first Cup win multiple times. So it’s coming one of these years or days or whatever. Hopefully in the near future.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

If it’s just a racing deal or you do get into somebody, I don’t know if an apology is necessary. But maybe out of respect, if it’s something that needed confronting, definitely communication is key. When you leave things burning or unsaid, that could usually cause the worst outcomes. I like to be open book.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

Honestly, it’s when I get compliments all the time from guys like Dale Jr., Jeff Gordon and a ton of other drivers in the garage. It’s neat getting it from everybody and the owners, but (it’s more special from) the guys you race against — when you feel like you have earned their respect and they give you compliments like, “Wow, that’s amazing what you guys are doing, how well you ran.”

Even kind of the unspoken respect I feel like I got from the drivers like (Kevin) Harvick and Denny (Hamlin) and Darrell Waltrip jumping in and actually sponsoring my car (at Phoenix), it’s amazing to have earned that respect from all of my peers that I’ve raced with. So that’s the biggest compliment I could ever get.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Matt, we’re bringing a celebrity to the track and we’d love for you to host them.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host at a race?

I think John Cena would be a really cool guy to hang out with and I like like he would just be really fun. I did the John Cena intro song at Bristol and I’m just a big fan of him. I think he just seems like a good person.

Yeah. He’d get you in a good mood.

Yes! Energetic. That’s what I like.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Oh gosh. No. I actually would not. There’s a difference in eating for health and eating for performance, and I’ve learned a lot and I really buckled down on that this year — my fitness stuff and my health stuff and my eating. Like 10 times harder this year than ever.

I’ve learned there’s a good balance; you need to eat your meat, you need to eat your chicken, and you need some carbs for performance. I’ve accidentally eaten really clean before. That sounds great, but like super, super clean where you don’t have near enough carbs, things like that — and I had no energy and my performance was awful. So I learned a lot about that.

My crew chief, Randy Cox, has actually taught me a lot. I’ve buckled down big time, like I do CrossFit every week and I lift and I’ve been like working out like crazy and eating really well. I’m learning every day. So I can’t sacrifice the performance.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished.

I have terrible memory. This should be fun.

This is the 2016 Bank of America 500, which was the Charlotte fall race.

Oh man, I don’t even have a clue. Charlotte fall race 2016. So I was still with BK (Racing). I’m gonna guess 26th.

Oh my gosh — 25th!

Oh man! I thought it was an OK race. I vaguely remember it.

You started 24th. You were the only one on your lap.

I do remember our qualifying effort was good there. So yeah, we qualified in the second round and we had some good speed. Didn’t have as much speed in the race, but Charlotte’s up or down for me. I’ve had some really fast cars and some really bad luck there, so I don’t know which one that was.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

This one’s hard, but I don’t listen to a lot of rap. Does DMX count as a rapper?

Yeah, he’s a rapper.

Yeah, that’s old school. Yeah, DMX. That’s one of my favorites.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

My answer may be kind of vague, but I’m gonna say every single one of them that I’m angry at during a race. Whoever I’m mad at at the current time. I’m a very high-tempered type of person, so it changes week to week, but some of the people that I race around, yeah — I’ve said on the radio many times I’m gonna get out and punch that guy in the face. So it’s been multiple people. I can’t single out one person.

And that’s a letdown because then I would run to your car if I think it’s going to happen with my phone ready for the next fight — and then no.

You are the master of that. I have a little bit of a temper with things. I’m either very, very calm, which I am usually 90 percent of the race, but if somebody makes me mad, I’m just like, “I’m gonna rip that guy of out of the car after the race, just beat the crap out of him.” Like I get that angry, so I don’t have a happy medium, unfortunately.

OK. Well, just follow through one time so I can get it on video.

(Laughs) I hope I don’t have to, but if I get mad enough where you see any big scuffle at the end of the race or something, definitely come to my car afterwards.

No matter what happens, I like to confront outside the race car in person after the race. I’ve done that many times where you catch people off guard. If someone runs into my race car after the race or something like that, that’s it. I’m going right to their face after. And if they make me mad, then things are about to go down.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

Tom Hanks is gonna be my motorhome driver because he’s got great survival skills, so I’ll be well prepared in the coach. And then Taylor Swift would be my spotter because I would just want to hear her voice as much as humanly possible. And then LeBron would be calling the shots on the box.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

We usually scope that out beforehand, but usually when we’re riding around in the truck, you’re up a little higher and you’re on the track so you have a good vantage point. You can get in there and look, see where your car is parked and then have bird’s-eye view of, “OK, where’s the nearest port-a-potty?” or bathroom or whatever.

I don’t know if I should give this tip away, but the really smart fans hang out near the bathrooms near the cars before the race and they get the most autographs out of everybody.

Drivers actually sign there on the way to the bathroom?

Yeah, kind of. There’s usually sometimes a line, we’re all kind of waiting in line, so we’ve got nothing to do. So yeah, a fan can come up before we walk in there and it’s not very many people, so it’s not like you’re fighting the crowds. So I’m giving them some pretty good tips.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

Oh my gosh. When I win a race, I’ll just be going insane anyway. There’d probably have to be like $20,000 on the line because I’d have to practice starting Monday every day for until the day leading up to when I win my race. because I can’t really do a backflip. If I practice, I’m sure I could do it — if there’s a will there’s a way — but for 20 grand, I’d make it happen.

I’d have to make sure I was really good at it first before I did it, because that’s dangerous. I was always on edge and scared every time he’d win a race; I’d be dreading the backflip: “Please don’t hurt yourself, Carl.”

That’s true. I was always like, “Oh God, we’re going to have to write a story about the race winner getting hurt.”

We might have to up that number, actually, because there’s still a good chance that I’d get hurt. So I don’t know, maybe up it to $50,000.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Brad Keselowski, and his question for you was: How exactly did you become the darling of Reddit? How did that whole thing evolve? He was curious.

That’s a good question. So the Reddit community has jumped on board behind me and us because I really genuinely just hung out in there and on there. As my career started to evolve and I started to become more successful and be in the Cup Series, they just thought it was cool that I was just in there and one of them and just hanging out and commenting, because there’s some really fun content in there that I enjoy.

That was it. It super naturally and organically just built and because they thought it was so cool that a Cup driver was just chilling in there with them and commenting and having fun with them. I’ve even hosted races in iRacing and gave them all the password and told them, “Hey, jump in.” It fills up in a minute. So I don’t know. Just fun, normal stuff.

Do you think they can propel you to the All-Star fan vote this year?

Yeah, I do. This year I feel pretty confident that we have a good shot at it. It’s not gonna be easy, but obviously I’d like for Chase to race his way in because Chase is always, he’s a fan favorite. But either way, I think last year we may have even gotten more votes than Danica, from what I’ve heard. Don’t quote me on that, but for us to have last year gotten that many votes and been that close and if Chase had raced his way in, I think we would have been the fan vote. So for us to have done that last year, my fan base has done nothing but grow since then. I mean, I think we can make it happen. The Reddit community’s been a big part of that.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question I can ask another driver in general?

I like hearing what drivers think of other drivers. Who do they think is going to be the next driver to be the next up-and-coming driver that’s going to be winning races in the Cup Series in the years to come?

So who’s gonna be the next breakthrough guy that emerges on the scene and starts winning races?

Yeah, whether they’re in Cup now or in Xfinity, whatever it may be, who do they think will be the next guy that’s gonna be the new Kyle Larson or something. It could be somebody like me, it could be Christopher Bell, there’s lots of options like that.

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.