Wood Brothers racing’s Matt DiBenedetto made his first-ever dirt Midget race start on Friday, July 9. He headed to Airport Raceway in Kansas with fellow NASCAR driver Ryan Ellis and showcased a new sponsor during the dirt race. DiBenedetto partnered with fitness and lifestyle brand Barbell Apparel to make his Midget debut possible.
DiBenedetto started the evening strong by winning his first heat race. He then headed to the feature event to battle for position with Ellis and the other drivers. His night came to an early end, however, after the Midget race car flipped. DiBenedetto completed a few more laps and then left the track.
Prior to the flip, DiBenedetto showcased a white and red race car that mirrored the paint scheme on his Cup Series ride. However, the side of the No. 91 featured a large Barbell Apparel logo, making the company the primary sponsor for the race. Ellis also showcased the brand on his race car but did so with a slightly smaller logo. Kansasland Tire provided the primary scheme for the part-time Xfinity Series driver.
“Being a small company, we wouldn’t be able to jump into [NASCAR],” Barbell Apparel athlete director Kyle Bundra told Heavy on July 9. “But this opportunity came up, and we’re like ‘yeah, it just makes natural sense for us to try and see how that works.
“[The sponsorship] kind of came through the relationship that I’ve developed with Matt over the years,” Bundra continued. “He became a customer of ours probably three or four years back, and I just happened to get in contact with him because I ran the customer service at the time. I just reached out to him and just offered to send him a bunch of stuff.
“He’s really into fitness, and you know, NASCAR seems like a really underserved market for fitness in general. Partnering with Matt just seems like a great idea because not many people recognize the athletic ability and the fitness of these drivers.”
DiBenedetto Puts His Support of Barbell Apparel on Full Display
The driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang has been an outspoken supporter of the apparel company for a significant amount of time. He wears their shirts while lifting or doing CrossFit workouts, and he has specially embroidered polo shirts from the brand that he wears prior to races. DiBenedetto even filmed a commercial showcasing his love of the apparel brand, which included some burnouts and lifting sessions.
“I mean, when I think of a NASCAR driver, I generally think of somebody like Christopher Bell’s size or Ricky Stenhouse or Aric Almirola,” Bundra explained. “These guys they’re all varying heights, but they’re very skinny. Their upper bodies are a bit like Peloton Tour de France riders. Then you’ve got Matt, who just looks like a bull in a china shop. He’s so built.”
While the relationship between DiBenedetto and Barbell is still relatively new, it should continue to grow. Bundra told Heavy that the company wants to support the NASCAR driver when possible due to the fact that he is “one of the nicest dudes” in professional sports. Though they may not reveal further details in the immediate future.
Racing and Fitness Continue to Move Closer Together
While Barbell Apparel sponsoring the Midget race car is a significant step toward NASCAR and fitness colliding, it is not the only example. CrossFit Mayhem, a gym based in Cookeville, Tenn., recently provided sponsorship for a car at the 2021 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Mayhem covered the No. 7 Chevrolet SS owned by Layne Schranz, a 28-year competitor and multi-time winner at Pikes Peak, with a scheme featuring a bald eagle and a stylized American flag. The Alabama pastor/race car driver showcased the design on June 27, taking second in the Pikes Peak Open division.
The sponsorships of a Midget car and a Pikes Peak race car brought fitness and racing together, but NASCAR mostly remains separate. Though Bodyarmor covers the sports drink portion of the equation by sponsoring Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. However, Bundra explained that more companies from the fitness space could soon make the leap to the top three series in NASCAR due to DiBenedetto and some of his fellow drivers becoming more vocal about the subject and their favorite brands.
“I don’t know if you listen to that podcast [Not Another Racing Podcast], but half of it’s about fitness,” Bundra said. “I think what Matt and Ryan are doing is probably — more than anything — going to be the thing that’s going to get companies to jump on board. Bigger companies that may be like ‘hey, maybe [NASCAR] is something we should check out because of the realization that these guys are really into fitness and they have a voice.'”