Alon Day poised to make NASCAR history as first Israeli driver – USA TODAY
USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Gluck looks ahead to the Pennsylvania 400 and the story lines that fans should keep an eye on leading up to this weekend.
USA TODAY Sports
One of the stars of Duck Dynasty may have been the catalyst for NASCAR’s first Israeli driver.
On April 9, NASCAR fan David Levin was sitting at home in Florida when he saw Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame give the invocation before a race at Texas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR invocations are televised, and Robertson used the platform to “pray that we put a Jesus man in the White House.”
It didn’t sit well with Levin, who is Jewish.
“That was pretty insulting,” Levin told USA TODAY Sports. “It reinforced the impression that NASCAR is a white, Christian sport. But NASCAR is for everyone. There’s no reason it can’t also include Jews, blacks and Mexicans.”
Levin, an environmental/waterfront property lawyer in Sarasota, decided to act. He reached out to MBM Motorsports owner Carl Long and found an opportunity for Israeli driver Alon Day, who is Jewish.
So Day, named to the prestigious NASCAR Next program this year (NASCAR’s initiative to promote future stars), will have a chance to make his national series debut in the Aug. 13 Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He’ll also be in the car Aug. 27 for the Xfinity race at Road America.
It’s not known if a Jewish driver has ever made it to the NASCAR national series level before Day, but it’s certainly a rarity. NASCAR also has a Mexican star in Daniel Suarez, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing on the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series. And in 2013, Darrell Wallace Jr. became the first African-American driver to win a race on NASCAR’s national series level since Wendell Scott in 1963.
The catch: In order to give Day a chance, the 63-year-old Levin had to personally guarantee $60,000 of his money – which he will take out of his retirement account, much to wife Lori’s chagrin. Levin is looking for a sponsor to cover the cost and give Day more time behind the wheel (the goal is five additional Xfinity races this season).
Is Levin crazy? No, he said; just driven by a sense of belief that he should help his religious community.
“The main thing is, this is the right thing to do,” Levin said. “Jewish kids want to have a sports role model. This is something where the Jewish community should step up to the plate.”
Levin said he’s reached out to more than 200 companies with Jewish affiliation or leadership, and has been frustrated so far by the lack of response. He’s gotten the indication many don’t believe NASCAR is something Jewish people follow, but he disagrees.
“Most people don’t understand that unlike baseball or football, an athlete in NASCAR has to bring money to the team to get an opportunity,” he said. “This isn’t charitable donation, it’s a chance for a company to be recognized as the first sponsor of a guy that could bring huge viewers to the sport.
“But without the Jewish community’s support, Alon will run the two races that will be sponsored by my retirement account and that will be the end of his career.”
In a statement, Day said he was “super thankful for the opportunity.” The Tel Aviv resident, 24, has raced on numerous open-wheel ladder series in Europe and in 2012 completed six races in the Indy Lights Series. Day finished second in NASCAR’s Whelen Euro Series last year and won rookie of the year (along with three races). This season, he’s already won twice.
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck