Underage driver | TheUnion.com

Underage driver

Submitted photo Matt DiBenedetto drives his 44 kart through a turn. The 11-year-old has been racing for four years.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

On the drive down to talk with 11-year-old go kart champion Matt DiBenedetto, a mental picture of his home formed.

At the end of a hallway, or tucked away in the corner of the den, I imagined a trophy case jammed with the hardware the racing phenom had collected in his four-year career.

In his bedroom, along with numerous model cars and posters of NASCAR heros, would be one of those race car beds.

To be honest, the trophy case – which held over 60 mementos of great days at the track – was actually at the bottom of the stairs, next to DiBenedetto’s room.

The rest was just as I thought.

Not bad for a guy who couldn’t pick a winner in The Union’s “Beat the Experts” football contest to save my life this year.

Although DiBenedetto didn’t seem to be as jazzed as I was about my successful prognostications, the sparkle in his eyes hit their high beams when I brought up the subject of racing.

“I’ve always liked racing. I started watching it on TV when I was like two or three,” the Magnolia Intermediate School sixth-grader said.

DiBenedetto’s father, Tony – who admits he was never really a NASCAR fan until a few years ago – said his boy was drawn to the sport from the get-go.

“When I’d flip through the channels and pass a race up, he’d ask me to change the channel back,” Tony said. “He didn’t know who Jeff Burton or Jeff Gordon were. He had no clue. He just loved to watch it.”

For the next four years, the closest Matt could get to his chosen sport was watching it on the tube.

Then, came his chance.

He was seven-years old and playing on a Bear River Little League baseball team coached by his father when it happened.

“When I’d bring up the kids and introduce them, I’d always say, ‘Here’s Matt. He likes baseball, but he loves racing,’ although he wasn’t racing anywhere,” Tony said.

“A friend of mine came up and said he knew where they raced go karts,” Tony said, “so we took Matt up to Chico to see if it was something he wanted to do.”

Was it ever.

“I loved it (right away). I wanted to get out there,” Matt said.

His parents bought a beat up kart that week, and DiBenedetto was racing the following Saturday.

“He was a combination of nervous and excited. He didn’t want to get in the way of the good drivers,” Tony said. “There were two or three

times where he was almost put into the wall during a race, but it didn’t shake him. He came right back and got back into traffic.”

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