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Automotive

Alon Day: From Israel to latest NASCAR Next class

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In the early 2000s, a young computer gamer from Israel decided he wanted to drive cars like the ones he raced on screen. 

“I was like, ‘What the—?’” Day said.

That astonished feeling lasted for about 15 minutes. Day said he didn’t know he was in the running to be chosen, and he certainly hadn’t applied for any special recognition overseas. The email said he had to be in the U.S. in a week.

Day, 25, speaks English and Hebrew. He says what’s on his mind and laughs his way through interviews, claiming he’ll race anything as long as it has “four wheels, a steering wheel and an engine.”

“I was fortunate that my family was capable and able to see that I could do better than that,” said Day, who collected more than 60 trophies and multiple karting titles in Israel. “They sent me to Europe to race when I was 14. 

His first foray into racing in the U.S. came at 20, when he competed in the first six races of the 2012 Indy Lights season (with a best finish of sixth at Barber ­Motorsports Park). He also raced in the FIA GT Series in a Mercedes SLS GT3 before getting his first NASCAR opportunity.

Day raced in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in 2015, where he finished second in the championship. Day was busy in 2016, racing in a pair of NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series races, while also balancing a full Euro Series season.

“When I started racing in Europe and everything, Formula 1 was definitely the ultimate goal,” said Day, who now calls Tel Aviv, Israel, home while he pursues his NASCAR career in the U.S. “Then 

I switched over to the U.S. and started racing Indy Lights, so the ultimate goal was to go into IndyCar and race in the Indy 500. Then I switched over to GT, so the ultimate goal was driving Le Mans and endurance racing. 

“Then I switched over to NASCAR and being in the (Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series). As long as I keep racing and have competition, I don’t really care. I just want to race.”

Too dangerous for Israel

In Israel, racing didn’t become a reality until nine years after Day began his career. Throughout much of its history in Israel, racing was done under the radar due to the laws prohibiting it. 

A major movement to legalize motorsports in the country began in 2005, but it took a full six years before it finally happened. Israeli motorsport commentator Boaz Korpel once told Tel Aviv-based newspaper Haaretz that the original rea-

son behind the motorsports ban was that “someone decided it’s dangerous.” 

Day had the same assumption.

“It’s funny because in Israel, we are like in a constant war all of the time,” Day said. “And actually, motorsport is dangerous, which is—I found it funny.”

Even still, there isn’t much to the modern Israeli racing scene. Other than rally and off-road racing, Day said there “basically are still no motorsports” in the country.

“We don’t have any racetracks,” Day said. “That’s the main thing. We’re like a baby, so we’re just now building the racetracks.”

Israeli driver and karting coach Yaron Edry has been in the sport since 1996. He had to get creative for years because of the lack of racing surfaces. He’s been organizing races with rental vehicles since 2003 and hosting them at what Americans might call nontraditional locations, including small airfields and parking areas.

“Motorsport in Israel is very, very, very complicated,” said Edry, who also heads the Israel Karting Academy. “Because of our ‘special’ situation all those years, rental karting is the way to start.”

The academy, Edry said, teaches drivers ages 5 to 50. Some of those drivers compete in an international karting championship called the WSK Series, while others hope to move into the FIA Formula 4 series—the bottom rung of the Formula 1 developmental ladder—in 2018.

Even with driver progress, Edry doesn’t get overly confident about career prospects for Israeli drivers.

“I can say that we have very competitive drivers,” said Edry, who added that there’s no real racing sponsorship in Israel. “But since the motorsport scene is poor, it would be very difficult for them to find 

a way for a real career.

“Motorsport is not so popular in Israel, but mostly because we didn’t have races all those years. It will be a great sport with great potential in the future. All we need is a track.”

Going ‘virtually’ anywhere to race

With racing banned and no tracks in his homeland, Day’s best racing came via computer.

“I was, like, a geek gamer, sitting for 12 hours a day in front of the computer and playing video games,” said Day. “I was racing a lot in my games, and that’s how I actually got interested in motorsports.

“It basically all started from playing video games. Not my parents, not my brothers—nobody, actually. It was just me and the computer. It’s a bit strange when you think about it now because it’s unusual (to start a career that way).”

When Day took his initial run in a real race car, he said it was “completely different” from his experience on the computer. The same thing happened when Day first went to America to race, but it was a nice surprise to see a different racing culture.

“I think American people know how to make good racing,” said Day. “I mean, they always keep changing stuff (in NASCAR), and they’re always trying to make interesting racing and interesting ideas.

“In Europe, in my opinion, it’s like a template. We always do the same thing, and it’s much more strict. In the USA, (racing) is so much more open to fans. I think that’s the big difference, and you can feel it not only in the racing, but also in the atmosphere. It’s completely different.”

Day said American-style racing is slowly gaining a foothold in Europe.

“I see European NASCAR trying to do something more like the Americans, and every year, you can see even more fans at every race,” Day said. “I think the reason for that is because European NASCAR is adapting the American way and not the European way of racing.”

Day is adapting to competition in America while living in Israel—a six-hour time difference from NASCAR’s hub in Charlotte, North Carolina. Oh, and then there’s the more than half a day on a plane when it comes time to travel for a race. 

But Day enjoys it, and he sees it as preparation for his new career goal of NASCAR’s top-level Cup Series.

“It is difficult,” said Day, who flies regularly between Europe, Israel and the U.S. since he was named to the NASCAR Next class. “But when you do something you love, you don’t really feel how difficult it is. For example, last year, I raced in the European NASCAR, I raced in Xfinity, I raced in trucks and I was part of the NASCAR Next. 

“But I enjoy that part. When I think about it: How many races do you have in Cup? Thirty-six. Just imagine, they travel so many times during the year, and I don’t see that many drivers complaining about it.” 

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