In the hit 1980’s movie “Back to the Future,” Michael J. Fox plays a character that goes back through time to make things right in the future. The movie was so popular, two sequels were made in its wake. This year a fourth “Back to the Future” chapter is being written by a new star, Matt DiBenedetto.
In 2010, DiBenedetto was on the rise. In just a short amount of time the teenager had been the UARA Late Model Rookie of the Year, became the youngest winner ever at Bristol Motor Speedway and was victorious in NASCAR K&N Pro East competition. Then came his shot at “The Big Time.”
DiBenedetto got “The Call” to drive the Joe Gibbs #18 NASCAR Nationwide car on a part-time basis in 2010. He would wheel the same car that Kyle Busch had won so many races with and would be aiding JGR on their quest to win an Owner’s Championship in the series. That goal was met, but DiBenedetto himself was met with plenty of trials and tribulations. In six races, he posted a top finish of ninth and at the end of the season, found himself looking for a ride on the short tracks once again.
“I learned last year that I was too conservative when I was racing for Gibbs in the Nationwide car,” explained DiBenedetto. “All they were talking about was owner’s points, keeping owner’s points. I got it in my head and just raced way too conservative. When you do that you tend to get yourself in trouble by being too cautious. It taught me a lot of good things, so this year it’s just me going out there as aggressive as ever. We’re going to win and that’s it.”
And so Matt DiBenedetto is going “Back to the Future” to get another shot at the big leagues of NASCAR.
DiBenedetto returns to NASCAR’s K&N Pro East circuit with a brand new program, X Team Racing, owned by Larte Zatta, better known by those who work with him as “LZ.”
But who is “LZ?” And what is X Team Racing? Those are questions that even DiBenedetto had to learn the answers to.
“I was testing for Joe Gibbs Racing in their Cup car and they have some Toyota TRD guys that go with them,” said DiBenedetto. “I was like, ‘Hey, is there any guy at TRD that I should talk to?’ So they sent me to talk to “LZ” over there. I’d never heard of him, but apparently he’s a very well connected person. So, I talked to him and I was real naïve going into it. He’s like, ‘I’m starting up this team, let me keep in contact with you and we’ll see.’ I was just like, okay, he probably won’t call me back and he’ll probably forget about me after I left. I just formed a good relationship with him and kept bugging him and bugging him so much until he was like, ‘Fine, I’ll put you in the car.”
Now Zatta’s X Team Racing is fielding three cars at this Saturday’s NASCAR K&N Pro East opener at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in South Carolina. DiBenedetto gets the nod in the team’s #15 ride, while Coleman Pressley (son of former NASCAR driver Robert Pressley) and Alex Bowman will wheel the two other machines. At least two drivers will be full-time on the circuit, with DiBenedetto already having claimed one spot.
“It’s been a real ‘play it by ear’ situation,” he stated. “I mean, especially for myself, not having any sponsorship to bring or anything, I got really lucky with Toyota. Larte gave me the opportunity to drive the No. 15 for their team for the full season in the East Series, which was a real blessing for me. I know we have Lucas Oil on the car as an associate sponsor. It’s great and I’m excited to run all year with them.”
The team has tested already at Greenville-Pickens Speedway and DiBenedetto has former driver turned top wrench Mark McFarland on his side as his crew chief.
“He’s a real good, old-school racer and we get along real great. He’s real laid back guy. We went out to Greenville to test with a (former) Gibbs car. It drove great, just fighting a little tight in the center, but you know, it’s Greenville-Pickens you got almost five degrees of banking to work with,” DiBenedetto said with a sarcastic tone. “Overall, I’d say we were one of the better cars there for sure. I believe we had the fastest time for the day, but that kind of goes out the window when it’s race time. It’s just about keeping good forward drive the whole time.”
It’s the same forward drive that he helps propel him to another shot as NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. But the 19 year-old knows there are more than a dozen teens attempting to do the same thing through the series this year.
“We’re all trying to just break into the racing world and try to make it to the big time,” he explained. “I almost feel like one of the older guys being 19, almost 20-years-old, which is interesting. I’ll be nice to them off the racetrack, but when I strap into that car, it all goes out the window. I’m fighting for the same thing they are. Every one of them is my enemy. If I have to move somebody out of the way on the last lap to win the race, that’s what’s going to happen. I look at it as if I’m fighting for my life. This is my career and I’ve gotten lucky enough to, in my eyes, get a second shot, which really doesn’t happen. Last year, running with Gibbs, I didn’t perform as well as I would have liked. I made a lot of mistakes on my part. I’m glad I did because I learned from it and now I can take it and apply it and be much meaner this year and more aggressive. Just go for the win and fight tooth and nail.”
You know the old saying, “Been there, done that.” DiBenedetto has. Problem is, he wants to do it again.