|Credit: Amy Branch for Skirts and Scuffs|
by Amy Branch
Less than a month ago, BK Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto became the darling of the NASCAR subreddit. Today, he stands in the top five of the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race Fan Vote. Why? Because a dedicated group of fans in an online community decided he deserved it. "The Reddit Effect" is real, and it is strong.
In a reddit Q&A — called an "AMA," or "Ask Me Anything" — on the NASCAR subreddit the week before the Bristol race in April, Sprint Cup driver Landon Cassil unknowingly began the movement. Cassill wrote that in his opinion, Matt DiBenedetto is the most underrated driver in the garage and deserves more attention than he receives.
As if he was starring in a fairy tale, that Sunday DiBenedetto drove his Cosmo Motors No. 83 Toyota to a career-high sixth-place finish at Bristol's Food City 500. BK Racing had never finished as high as sixth, so it was almost as good as a win for both the 24-year-old driver and his team. His emotional interview after the race captured the attention of NASCAR fans everywhere, but nowhere more than in the community of fans at reddit.com/r/NASCAR.
|Credit: Amy Branch for Skirts and Scuffs|
Based on that performance and raw emotion, it was decided: The NASCAR on reddit community was going to attempt to vote Matt DiBenedetto, or "Matt DiBurrito," as he is affectionately known, into the All-Star Race. Members saw in the driver from Grass Valley, CA an underdog who outperformed his equipment and endeavored to keep his car clean for his team.
This isn’t the first time the community has come together to flex their muscles in such a way. They voted Josh Wise into the All-Star Race in 2014.
At its most basic level, reddit.com is a social website made up of thousands of different message boards split into "subreddits," or discrete communities for dissemination of information or discussion. Each subreddit is geared toward a specific interest, topic, or group. There are so many subreddits it would be difficult to imagine a topic that is not included on the site.
The tight-knit, constantly growing community of over 21,000 registered members at reddit.com/r/NASCAR (also known as /r/NASCAR) is comprised of people from all walks of life and all over the globe - from teenagers to local track drivers to grandmothers. They all have one thing in common: their love of NASCAR. Even drivers from NASCAR's top three series, team members and industry insiders browse the subreddit for news and discussion, and many become active in the community.
As the "DiBurrito" movement grew, /r/NASCAR regular and occasional BK Racing teammate Ryan Ellis noticed the furor and tweeted DiBenedetto to bring his attention to it. DiBenedetto was delighted, and has since joined the community, which has given him its enthusiastic support.
If DiBenedetto and his No. 83 team make it into the All-Star Race, they plan to run a reddit-themed paint scheme as a thank-you gesture to the NASCAR community on reddit. DiBendetto has also pledged to change the name over his door from "Guido," his middle name, to "Matt DiBurrito" if he wins the Fan Vote.
Skirts and Scuffs sat down with DiBenedetto last weekend at Kansas Speedway to get his thoughts on The Reddit Effect.
Although new to interacting with the NASCAR on reddit community, DiBenedetto is not new to the website.
"I have a lot of friends who have been on there, so I've known about it for quite awhile from friends talking about it and showing me stuff from there. Just really from word-of-mouth," he said. "I heard about it through Josh Wise and the Dogecoin car. I even bought a Dogecoin shirt. That's another way I became familiar with all of it."
When he heard of the support from /r/NASCAR, DiBenedetto was thrilled.
"It was awesome. [My phone] was getting blown up by my friends who are on reddit and they were showing me and telling me 'Holy cow, you have no idea how much support you're getting on reddit,'" he said. "I've always had people [from the subreddit] come up to me and think it was cool that I wore the Dogecoin shirt all the time over the last couple of years. They would tell me they thought it was cool and that they've followed me since. But lately the support has been overwhelming. It's been awesome to have that much support from an entire community."
|DiBenedetto stops to sign for a young fan at Dover.|
Credit: Beth Reinke for Skirts and Scuffs
"That was neat! Making the All-Star Race would be huge for all of us: as a team, for our sponsors, for me personally, for reddit as a community. All of us together, that's neat to defy those odds, especially if we can beat some of the drivers who have a big fan base," he said.
DiBenedetto talked about his "DiBurrito" nickname.
"I'm trying to think about how it started. I think it started with a twitter parody account [which posted] a picture of me holding a burrito, and I guarantee that was somebody on reddit who started that based on all the funny pictures I see [on /r/NASCAR]. The whole community is now blowing up with DiBurrito, so now I hope I can change my name to DiBurrito on the car. I'll change it for the whole year if I get into the All-Star Race."
Friend and fellow NASCAR driver Ryan Ellis is a regular on the NASCAR subreddit. Ellis said, tongue-in-cheek, that since he brought DiBenedetto's attention to the support from reddit and helped to start a tweeting campaign for the Fan Vote, he should be DiBenedetto's manager.
Hearing that, DiBenedetto laughed, "Yeah, I tell him all the time he's like my personal manager, my PR guy. He was one of the first ones that told me about [what was happening on] reddit. He said, 'You gotta get on there when you get home.' That's the week I had the AMA, and I've been on there since."
"I get on there every day," he continued, "It's very interesting and I like scrolling through it. I enjoy reading it. I'm so glad to have all the support. It's cool. It's crazy to feel like you have a whole community behind you. That's a large group of dedicated people. More dedicated than any group of people I've come across - ever. This is no exaggeration when I say that."
Several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers have hinted in the past that they participate in the reddit community; the anonymity helps them stay under the radar while still being able to interact with fans. DiBenedetto, though, doesn't.
"I just come in as /u/MattDibenedetto and comment every now and then," he said. "No secret reddit name."
Whether or not DiBenedetto is voted into the All-Star Race, he has still gained valuable exposure for himself, his team and his sponsor, as well as a new fan base. In the world of NASCAR, that's almost as good as a sixth-place finish at Bristol.
Matt DiBenedetto is pulling double duty this weekend at Dover International Speedway. He drove the No. 10 TriStar Motorsports car in the XFINITY Series Ollie's Bargain Outlet 200 Saturday, and will pilot his BK Racing No. 83 Toyota in the Sprint Cup AAA Drive for Autism today.
On Tuesday, May 17, at 5 PM ET, Matt DiBenedetto will host an AMA on reddit.com/r/NASCAR, prior to the end of the Fan Vote before next weekend's All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Sprint Cup All-Star Fan Vote ends at 7 PM Eastern on Friday, May 20. You can vote once a day for your favorite driver here. The winner of the All-Star Race Fan Vote will be announced in Victory Lane following the conclusion of the Sprint Showdown at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
(Note: Amy Branch serves as a volunteer community moderator on reddit.com/r/NASCAR.)