By Dennis O'Donnell

SONOMA (KPIX) – 38 drivers took the green flag yesterday at Sonoma Raceway in the 30th annual Toyota Save Mart 350, many of them superstars with massive budgets.

Then there are local guys like Matt DiBenedetto who doesn’t arrive in helicopters or stay in fancy hotels, but the Grass Valley, California native was happy to be driving in front of friends and family on Sunday.

“This is the one race a year they get to come to,” DiBenedetto told KPIX sports director Dennis O’Donnell. “This is like a home race for me.”

The driver of the 32 car began racing on the Monster Energy Cup Series in 2015, but is hardly a household name. In fact, DiBenedetto is forced to scratch and claw for sponsorship like a modern day door-to-door salesman. Earlier this month he took to social media pleading for a sponsor.

“We didn’t expect it but Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Darryl Waltrip jumped on board,” DiBenedetto said of the social media and financial support from fellow drivers.

DiBenedetto secured Hartford Gold Group (precious metals investing) as a sponsor for the race in Sonoma, but like many of them, it was a one week deal.

“We operate on a sixth of the budget of bigger teams, so if we can outperform a lot of those guys, that’s good,” he said. “If we can get a top 20, that’s a good day for us.”

His best result was a sixth place finish at Bristol Motor speedway in 2016. It was one of two top 10 finishes in his brief career.

“We definitely want to get a top 20,” said DiBenedetto’s crew chief Randy Cox before Sunday’s race.

The goal of race car driver and crew chief seem realistic. His wife Taylor on the other hand has her eye on the prize.

“I want a top 10,” she paused. “Or a win.”

The couple’s life goes far beyond the race track – social media is filled with enough DiBenedetto family episodes to create a reality show.

“On my social media, they love her more than they love me and I don’t blame them. She’s a lot prettier than me,” he said. “I prank her… we’re not very serious people.”

Exploiting Taylor’s fear of snakes is a crowd pleaser on his social channels. Rubber snakes are the preferred prop.

“People love the videos,” he said. “But one of these days she’s going to whack me in the face.”

Of course the DiBenedetto’s would like to include an episode about victory lane. Yesterday the 32 car started in 30th position and after racing as high as 13th, DiBenedetto finished a career-best 17th in Sonoma.

“It’s such a big deal for us,” he said after emerging from his car yesterday. “The car looked great, ran great. It was a team effort.”

So now it’s on to the next race in search of another sponsor and the dream of victory lane.

Dennis O'Donnell

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