Cup Series’ first Israeli driver Alon Day: ‘NASCAR changed my life’ – For The Win
When Alon Day returned to his home in Tel Aviv after winning his first NASCAR Whelen Euro Series race of the season in England, he was only focused on celebrating. But then he got a call that changed the course of his 2017 racing season — with the potential to impact the rest of his career.
After just five hours in Israel, Day was on a plane to the United States, and this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the 25-year-old — who only learned about NASCAR because of video games, often playing as Sam Hornish Jr. — will be the first Israeli driver to compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Almost two weeks later, the opportunity still hasn’t quite set in, and he can’t imagine what the 10-year-old version of himself racing on a computer would think about making history for his home country.
“I’d think, ‘Yeah, I want to be a NASCAR driver one day, I want to compete in the Cup Series,’ and now it’s happening,” Day said. “It’s actually happening.”
At the Toyota/Save Mart 350, Day will drive the No. 23 EarthWater Limited Toyota Camry for BK Racing. According to the team, he’ll also race in the Cup Series at Watkins Glen International in August — and select XFINITY and Truck Series events — while still chasing the 2017 NASCAR Euro Series championship.
But Day said this opportunity was unimaginable not long ago. After years of formula and GT racing in Europe, lack of sponsors forced him off the track in 2015. With no budget, he seriously considered walking away permanently.
“NASCAR changed my life,” Day explained. “Somehow, I got the opportunity to test in European NASCAR and it went the best way (it could), and two and a half years later, I’m doing my first race ever in the Cup. So it’s something pretty remarkable for me, and every time I think about it, it’s just crazy.”
Getting to the Cup Series was always Day’s dream, but he’s no stranger to NASCAR on this side of the pond. In 2016, he competed in two XFINITY Series and two Truck Series races, and he was the first driver outside of North America to be a member of the NASCAR Next program — which showcases racing’s brightest young stars.
For his first XFINITY Series race last August, he was thrown into a new car and on a foreign track, but he still finished 13th. He’s also going into this first Cup start with a successful Euro Series season backing him with three top-5 finishes in four races and is second of 29 drivers in the standings.
Although he said European and American NASCAR racing is basically the same, the cars in the U.S. have significantly more horsepower and the races are longer. But the Toyota/Save Mart 350 happens to be one of the Cup Series’ shorter events, and because it’s on a road course as opposed to the traditional oval track, he might even have a slight advantage over a few drivers.
“I like giving new drivers an opportunity, and Alon is a great road course driver,” BK Racing owner Ron Devine said in a statement. “He has been successful in other series around the world and deserves a shot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”
But if there’s one thing he can most likely count on as he adjusts to a new atmosphere, it’s the help and kindness of his fellow drivers — even if he doesn’t know any of them.
“This is something that I noticed immediately when I made the switch from Europe to United States (last year),” Day said. “The drivers are much more friendly. In Europe, most of the drivers are usually concentrating on themselves, and they don’t share information. It’s like secrets all the time.”
“There are not many friendships between drivers, and when I came here to the States for the NASCAR Next announcement last year, I noticed how friendly drivers can be and how happy (they are) to share and help other drivers, which is something you don’t see in Europe.”