NASCAR driver Matt DiBenedetto is still chasing his first triumph in the sport’s premier series. Thursday during a visit to see Talladega Superspeedway’s construction update on the Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar and the all-new Talladega Garage Experience, he got an “up-close” look at what could be the site of his first victory celebration – the track’s new “old school” Gatorade Victory Lane,” and boy, was he excited about it.
“I checked out the entire Talladega Garage Experience and it is going to be incredible for the fans, the drivers and the teams,” said DiBenedetto, who will be a favorite in the upcoming 1000Bulbs.com 500 October 13, “but most importantly to me was the Victory Lane. I scoped it out real heavily and it looks amazing. It’s old school and reminds me of when tracks did it like that (driver comes in nose first towards photographers – not horizontal) years ago….like we will plant to pull in straight in a few weeks. Amazing to turn a vision into reality here. Fans get to be down beside the celebration, too.
“This race (1000Bulbs.com 500) is one our team has had circled on the calendar for a long time. It’s a great opportunity. The superspeedways have been good to us, and here at Talladega it’s produced many first-time winners. We have had fast cars on the superspeedways this year and have been in contention in every one of them. If we don’t win before we come back in October, it will be a race that is a great chance for us,” added DiBenedetto, who also jumped on a paving machine during the day to assist the construction crew with putting down asphalt in the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage.
Indeed Talladega has been the site of multiple first-time victors. In fact, 11 drivers have claimed their initial triumph at the 2.66-mile venue, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary in October. They have included the likes of Davey Allison (1987), Ken Schrader (1988), Talladega five-time winner Brad Keselowski (2009) and most recently, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017). DiBenedetto, driving the No. 95 for Leavine Family Racing, started off the year leading 49 laps in the Daytona 500 and was a threat here at Talladega in the GEICO 500 until a late-race accident on track eliminated him from competition. So, the stage is set for the driver who has finished in the top-10 in six of the last 10 races this season, including a runner-up result at Bristol a few weeks back – just days after learning he would not return to the No. 95 seat in 2020.
While DiBenedetto was mesmerized with the new Gatorade Victory Lane, he was also impressed with the entire Talladega Garage Experience, the center of the $50 million Transformation endeavor that will stretch from the Tri-Oval down near the start-finish line. In addition to Gatorade Victory Lane, it will feature a host of activities and destinations, including more than 140,000 square feet of social and engagement areas and the 35,000-square-foot Open Air Social Club, where fans will be just a few steps away and “up-close” from the fan viewing walkway (under the same roof where the race cars are being prepped by the race teams).
For every fan who purchases a Talladega Garage Experience admission, they will receive FREE Wi-Fi and be treated to $4 or less Value-Priced Concessions (with the exception of premium specialty items like the $9 Big One Meatball). Other amenities inside the Experience include a Kids Zone, Watch Zone, a Courtyard, Iron Alley which will feature historic race cars, new restrooms, concession and souvenir stands, as well as a new Guest Services center.
“I grew up as a race fan,” explained DiBenedetto. “My family came to the races. I think about those experiences as a kid. If I can go to the race track today, I say to myself ‘man, I want to go down and see the teams work on the cars (at the garage bays). I want to see them practice. I want to listen to drivers, crew chiefs and spotters communicate with their (Racing Electronics) scanners. Then, I want to walk over here in the Open Air Club and get a Philly Cheese Steak and a drink for under four bucks for each item.’ Now that is an experience for the whole family. It’s more than watching a race….just being immersed into everything we (race teams) are doing. When I was a kid, I would have done anything to experience something like this.”
So while he will be having a great time with the “new” Talladega, does he really think he can win at the iconic venue in such a special race? “Listen, you either love or hate it (superspeedway racing). There’s not a lot of in between. I got some really good advice from my friend (NASCAR driver) Michael McDowell. He said you have to learn to love it because that’s the only way you will be good at it. Embrace it. How can I be the best at it? I study a lot, much more at Talladega than at other places. You make up ground by studying and learning from the guys that are continuously good and have had success there. Yes, we can win it, and it would be special. Like I said, I have scoped out the new victory lane and I know the route to get there. Our goal is to win now,” which could help pave the way for another ride in 2020.
DiBenedetto had a very “Big” day at NASCAR’s biggest track in a short time frame. It included the following:
- Hard hat tour of Talladega Garage Experience with Hoar Construction, Senior Superintendent Gary Merriman
- Cut ribbon on newly renovated Ken Patterson Media Center with Talladega Chairman Grant Lynch and new track President Brian Crichton
- Hung first two photos in Ken Patterson Media Center (a classic 4-wide racing shot, as well as a memorable Dale Earnhardt photo and quote)
- Toured Ken Patterson Media Center
- Visited TSS ticket office, made phone calls to consumers and was successful in selling tickets
- Answered social media video questions
- Sported an apron and assisted in cooking the media lunch – frying fish and chicken with local track caterer “Whiskers”
- Tried his own cooking and had lunch
- Held press conference with Lynch
- Led a media tour of the Talladega Garage Experience
- Showcased his skill assisting the paving team on heavy equipment
- At conclusion of paving, answered more media questions
- Gave Hot Lap rides to some media/guests around the 2.66-mile venue
- Took photos with media/guests
- Signed Talladega Superspeedway 50th Anniversary posters
The Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar is part of ISC’s long-term capital allocation plan and reinvestment into its major motorsports complexes. DLR Group is the architect of the entire project while Hoar Construction (Birmingham, AL) continues to spearhead Phase II. GT Grandstands (Plant City, FL) is constructing the Race Operations tower, which, too, continues to see progression high above the Tri-Oval, as well as the Pit Road Club Suites.
Fans can learn more about the project and view the progress 24/7 via the construction cam by visiting www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/transformation. For ticket information on the track’s NASCAR doubleheader playoffs weekend, which also includes the Sugarlands Shine 250 (NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series) on Saturday, Oct. 12, and all things on Transformation and the Talladega Garage Experience, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-7223 (RACE).