It’s one of the questions that seems to come up every weekend as many Ford drivers make their way through various hospitality spots or question and answer sessions with NASCAR fans: What do you drive when you’re not racing?" As you might imagine, the answers run the gamut. But for Matt DiBenedetto, who is in his first year driving the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford for the Wood Brothers, there’s only one — Mustang.
"When I found out I had a choice of any vehicle this year it was an easy decision for me," said DiBenedetto, who, along with his wife, Taylor, selected a 2020 Velocity Blue Mustang GT. "I love the new Mustang and since we don’t have kids it’s the kind of car that’s fun to drive, especially going back and forth to the race shop. That’s why I chose it."
However, when you’re a self-professed car nut who likes to tinker and modify whatever you drive, choosing it is just the beginning.
"I like to modify my street cars and make them unique to me. This is my fourth Mustang and it’s a six-speed manual, so I couldn’t resist," said DiBenedetto, who has a second-place finish at Las Vegas and sits ninth in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings after four races this season. "I put an aftermarket exhaust system on it, so it’s not very quiet. I don’t know if I was supposed to do that because it’s a company car, but I plan to buy it at the end of the year anyway, so I just went ahead and did it."
DiBenedetto calls this need for modification a bad habit, but if that’s the case, he has plenty of good company. It all started when he was 15 years old and got a 2006 Mustang with a GT66 package for his first car — a six-cylinder with black and silver stripes. A couple of years later, it was a used 2006 Saleen S-281 Mustang that he modified with some exhaust work, smaller pulley, and dyno tuning.
"Nothing too crazy," he said.
More recently, he had a 2017 Mustang GT350 that he altered by putting on headers, a full exhaust and short shifter.
"I’ve always known the ins and outs of my Mustangs and my passion has been modifying them," said DiBenedetto, who also gets assistance from professionals like Anthony Ballard, whom he met at a car show and has now become a good friend. "We became friends just because of the strict fact he likes modifying Mustangs and I like modifying Mustangs, but we met through the car culture.
"All he does is build and tune Mustangs and does really super-cool cars," DiBenedetto said of Ballard, who owns Signature Speed in Granite Falls, North Carolina. "His cars make crazy horsepower. He’s got a full-blown drag car that is a 2013 Mustang and he just has all kinds of fast stuff."
And while many enthusiasts like to work on their Mustangs and hold on to them forever, DiBenedetto prefers to get on the road and drive them for the enjoyment of it before putting the ‘For Sale’ sign in the window.
"The winding roads are the most fun, especially when you’re driving a car that you have a passion for," he said. "I look forward to the trip up to Bristol because it’s not too far from Hickory, so going up Highway 181 is a fun drive."
DiBenedetto’s love for Mustang comes straight from his father, Tony, who had a number of them, including a Boss 429 that he spent countless hours working on.
"He had a passion for Mustangs when he was really young and passed that down to me because I share that from the old ones to the new ones," said Matt. "I’ve always appreciated the history of Mustang, and now that I’m driving for the Wood Brothers, who have been with Ford for the last 70 years, it makes everything pretty neat."