Often faced with long odds and obstacles that appeared insurmountable, Matt Di­Benedetto has persevered in his pursuit of becoming a top-tier NASCAR racer.

“There have been many times I’ve questioned and been left wondering why we’ve devoted our entire life and sacrificed everything to get to a point where it seemed it had failed,” DiBenedetto said in an exclusive interview with SPEED SPORT. “But I was relentless. I was raised that way and I’ve been taught to always pick yourself back up and always push forward.

“Even though the odds have been stacked against me — it’s been a crazy journey — I’ve always been insanely persistent and mentally tough to go out there and do what I know I can do. I always pushed through even when I thought things would fail and I thought my career was over a hundred separate times.”

DiBenedetto’s career is definitely far from over. In fact, it appears as if the 28-year-old racer’s best years are ahead of him, as he will drive the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing next season after being shuffled aside to make room for Christopher Bell at Leavine Family Racing.

DiBenedetto’s interest in racing actually began by watching NASCAR on television.

Matt DiBenedetto (95) has impressed this season driving for Leavine Family Racing. (Ryan Willard photo)

“It’s funny because no one in my family was involved in racing. They hadn’t even watched NASCAR a day in their life,” he noted. “I was 5 years old and my parents were flipping through the TV channels. They happened to pass by NASCAR and I made them go back to it. My dad was like, ‘What do you want to watch that for?’ I just loved it and I loved Jeff Burton’s No. 99 Exide Batteries car.

“At the same time, I was riding dirt bikes and four-wheelers and was just wide open on everything I got on, so my parents figured out quickly that motorsports, or anything with an engine, was my passion.”

That passion became even more intense after a visit to a local race track.

“I was playing Little League baseball and at one of our trophy ceremonies, my dad was the coach, he introduced me by saying, ‘This is my little Jeff Gordon. He plays baseball, but he loves racing,’” recalled DiBenedetto, who grew up in Grass Valley, Calif. “Ironically, one of our friends that I played baseball with raced out at Cycleland Speedway, the outlaw-kart track where Kyle Larson and I both grew up racing. They were like, ‘Hey, we race out at the local dirt track. Why don’t you come check it out?’

“We went out and watched, and my parents were like, ‘Is this something you want to do?’ I was like, ‘Well, obviously.’ Then for my seventh birthday is when I got a kart and we started racing.”

Pit-area veterans were so impressed by DiBenedetto’s talent that they soon began encouraging him and his family to pursue a career in racing.

“We started winning right off the bat and won the championship my first year. My parents took it like, ‘Oh, this is just what he’s good at.’ There was no racing blood or history in my family, so we were just doing it for fun,” DiBenedetto explained. “Then we kept moving up through the classes and we got to where we were racing, and winning, against adults and I was 11 years old or so.

“A lot of people were saying, ‘Man, you need to pursue this. You guys need to consider moving across country because this is his natural talent.’ That’s when we started looking at it and began chasing this dream that we knew would be extremely difficult, but we really didn’t know what we’d be up against.”

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