In almost every sport there are examples of Jewish individuals being successful. Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg in baseball, Dolph Shayes in basketball and Max Baer in boxing are all athletes who reached the Hall of Fame in their respective sports. When it comes to Jewish sports executives, the list is so long that there is little point in even mentioning specific names. I recall clearly my childhood rabbi informing me, “Howie, reaching bar mitzvah is the age at which you will recognize you are more likely to own a professional sports team than play for one.”
For the last two years, my son and I have made trips out to the Pocono Raceway (about 90 minutes from Teaneck by car) to see the very best stock car racers in the world compete in NASCAR. In addition to watching fast cars, kids can meet the drivers, jump for unlimited amounts of time in bounce houses, have their faces painted and participate in carnival-style games provided by the sponsors. My son always has an incredible time and I have an incredible time seeing what an incredible time he is having. In the past, when the conversation would shift to the question of whether there are any Jewish NASCAR drivers, I always had to respond “No.”
Times are changing. On August 14 of this year, I turned on the television and showed my son the first-ever Jewish NASCAR driver, Alon Day. An Ashdod native, Day raced in the Xfinity Series in a Dodge Charger emblazoned with an Israeli and American flag side by side on his hood.
His opportunity was the convergence of talent (Day is the dominant driver in the European stock car series) and a benefactor, attorney David Levin, looking to promote Israel through motorsports. Levin, a lifelong NASCAR fan, has said that he wanted to give young fans a role model in the sport, regardless of their faith.
Seeing that NASCAR had identified Day as one of the leading emerging racing talents in the world by including him in their NASCAR Next program, Levin set out to find a car that would have an opening for a new driver. Levin, much to the chagrin of his wife, took $60,000 out their retirement savings to sponsor Day for two races. Some fans who share Levin’s vision have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign to try and sponsor Day for additional races.
While racing for a team that routinely finishes towards the back of the field, Day outperformed his team’s history by leading them to their top-ever finish. At one point in the race he was in second place and until late in the race he held a top 10 position, ultimately finishing in 13th place. He accomplished this in a driving rain that led many of the world’s top racers to end their days with heavily damaged vehicles. Further, he was driving a car that had not had manufacturer support for several years, for an underfunded team (Dodge no longer has a NASCAR program and no championship contending teams still race their equipment).
Although he did not drive the car to the victory lane, the performance was a win in letting the wider auto-racing world know of Day’s talent. His achievement has been featured in USA Today and on NBC Sports.
Alon Day’s likely final race of this season was the Road America 180 in Elkhart, Wisconsin on August 27. This was another chance for him to show the world of motorsports his ability to compete with the very best. When my son and I return to Pocono Raceway next summer, there will hopefully be an Israeli NASCAR racer for whom we can cheer.
Howie Forman lives in Teaneck with his family. He is often derided by fellow Teaneck residents for being a NASCARfan and is really hoping that Alon Day leads to greater acceptance of interest in the sport.
By Howard Forman