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Israel’s first NASCAR driver completes debut race

Alon Day, 25, who trained via computer simulation until Israel got a racing track, comes in 32nd out of 40

Israeli driver Alon Day smiles during an interview prior to racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, June 25, 2017, in Sonoma, California (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Israeli driver Alon Day smiles during an interview prior to racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race, June 25, 2017, in Sonoma, California (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Alon Day became the first Israeli driver to compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — the sport’s highest league of competition.

Racing the No. 23 car for the BK Racing team, the 25-year-old from Tel Aviv — named Israel’s “Athlete of the Year” in 2016 — finished 32nd out of 40 at Sunday’s race at the Sonoma Raceway in Southern California.

It was a tough race for newcomers in Sonama.

Kevin Harvick led a 1-2-3 podium sweep for Ford while proving that veteran experience still counts for something in NASCAR. But at a track where experience and ability can separate the field, it was Harvick and a bunch of veterans who led the way.

Day won the NASCAR Whelen Euro race in England on June 11 at Brands Hatch and was planning to return to Israel after that race, then got the call to compete at the Sonoma Raceway in California.

Day grew up in Ashdod, where he learned about NASCAR from playing video games such as Grand Prix Legends.

In his early teens, Day became champion of the country’s only semi-professional motor sport league: go-karting. His father, realizing his son’s potential, sent him to compete in Europe. He began racing in Formula Three and was on a trajectory toward Formula One, among the top racing leagues in the world.

But a couple of years ago, Day decided to switch gears. He shifted from driving the Formula One open cockpit style of car to stock cars, the ordinary cars that have been modified to be raced in NASCAR.

It was mostly a business decision — the world of motor racing is driven by sponsorships. Since Israel’s business ties with the US are much stronger than those with Europe, Day recognized he had a greater likelihood of being sponsored to drive for NASCAR.

“It’s definitely much easier for me to get sponsorship here in the states than in Europe,” he said.

Unusually, Day has done most of his training on computer screen simulators, as Israel only got its first motor sport race track earlier this year.

The track — designed for car and motorbike racing — is located at Patzael in the Jordan Valley and is expected to open officially in September.

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