A last-minute deal is fine for Alon Day.
It’s just a deal he never thought would come.
But it happened. And it is thanks to a Florida-based attorney who has worked endlessly since May 2016 to give the Israeli racer a chance to represent his country and faith in American motorsports.
“He’s like my second dad,” Day, who resides in Tel Aviv, told Frontstretch after a brief pause. “It’s plain and simple. He’s worked so hard to get me here to race. Sometimes, he had ideas that seemed impossible to do, but he actually made it happen. It’s just amazing.”
The second dad who Day is talking about is a man who is dedicated to helping NASCAR not only have its first Israeli driver, but also its first Jewish one.
David Levin, a shareholder with Icard Merrill, practices environmental and waterfront property law, including waterfront property closings — none of which has absolutely anything to do with NASCAR.
But Levin grew passionate about stock car racing over the years. That passion turned into an investment, as the city attorney for Punta Gorda, Florida, decided he wanted to be part of the experience.
He partnered with MBM Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in April 2016, slapping the Icard Merrill logo on the hood of John Jackson’s No. 13 Toyota. On both the side and deck-lid of the racecar, Levin purchased space for his FLwaterfront.com logo.
It was a simplistic look, featuring a black paint scheme with a red wave going from the base of the car to the mirrors near the window net. But it wasn’t the appearance of the car that struck Levin.
Team owner Carl Long‘s treatment of Levin throughout the weekend impressed the lawyer and his wife, Lori. However, the attorney had a legitimate question to which no one had the answer.
Who are the Jewish drivers in NASCAR?
Long researched as much as he could. But the only driver who came up in a Google search was Day, a NASCAR Whelen Euro Series driver. This realization came just days prior to Day being named to the NASCAR Next class later that May.
“We met the same week that the NASCAR Next candidates were announced in Charlotte,” Levin said. “He responded to Carl Long’s Facebook post looking for some qualified drivers. I interviewed Alon in Charlotte, but I didn’t think there was any chance Alon would agree to come drive for Carl Long’s team. [That’s] because I was so impressed with his personality, his driving skills, [that] I was certain one of the bigger teams would latch onto him.”
The next day, walking around the Charlotte Motor Speedway garage area in the midst of All-Star Weekend festivities, Day approached Levin and broke the news.
“He walked up to me with a big smile and told me he’s excited to be coming with me,” Levin said, still amazed over a year later. “I was shocked, and then I asked, ‘Why me?’ He said he trusted me. I was the only American he knew and who he could trust. I took that very seriously, and I vowed that I wouldn’t let him down.”
Levin made a personal investment in Day’s career, since there is no Jewish driver in NASCAR.
To this day, when asked if a Jewish driver has raced in NASCAR, officials are unsure since they do not keep track of religion when drivers apply for licenses. By Jewish law, a person is Jewish if their mother is Jewish. While no driver before Day has publicly made it known they are Jewish, there are plenty of team and NASCAR executives who are.
For Day, that distinction is OK with him. He understands he is different. He is entering uncharted territory for a person who follows the Torah.
“It happens that I have to race on holidays like Passover,” Day said. “Once in my career, I had to race on Yom Kippur, and I didn’t race. I gave up that race and I lost championship points. This is how it is. I’m Jewish and I accept that. It’s my religion and it’s who I am. I grew up with what I believe. There are… I call them red lines that I never cross. I will not race on Yom Kippur. I’ll never do that.”
Those red lines are what makes Day special in Levin’s eyes. The morality is there. The dedication is there. Most of all, the ability to compete at the highest of levels is there.
That is why Levin has stuck with him. He understands there is an opportunity to be unique in a world that is not what either of them are used to.
When Day made his XFINITY Series debut in an old Dodge Challenger fielded by Long’s team last August, Levin made sure the American and Israeli flags were on the hood of the racecar. It was just a small sign to show the unity between the close political allies in the midst of peace talks.
Even for a country where NASCAR fans are few and far between, the fan support Day received that weekend alone is why Levin continued to back him.
But sponsorship was not flowing in for NASCAR’s first Israeli driver like they planned. Originally, Long wanted to run Day in seven XFINITY Series contests with hopes of a full season in 2017. But that didn’t happen.
Still, Levin continued to fund Day’s efforts. There were some strong steps forward, including an impressive run at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the rain, putting Day as high as third in his No. 40 machine.
The young driver was surprising the NASCAR world. But it just did not get the job done on the sponsorship front.
“It’s been an extraordinarily difficult year for me and my wife,” Levin said on finding financial backing. “I really had no idea how difficult this business is and how difficult it is for the best agents to acquire sponsors needed for the drivers. The personal financial stress that it put on my wife to get Alon to the point where I thought he had to be to get sponsors was extremely difficult for her. It did not look, from her perspective, that there was any end in sight.”
But Levin kept his promise to Day, putting the stress aside.
He not only funded the MBM Motorsports effort at Road America two races later, but he also decided to sponsor Day in a Camping World Truck Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — the Israeli driver’s first start on an American oval track.
Desperate for sponsorship heading into 2017, he decided to pour more money out of his bank account, giving Day another shot at Homestead-Miami Speedway, teaming with Contreras Motorsports for both events.
Nothing budged. The focus began on putting together a package for the 2017 season.
Explaining NASCAR to Israeli and Jewish companies became a challenge for the Levin family, which was marketing Day independently. When the time came around for the start of the new NASCAR season at Daytona International Speedway, Levin was there, walking around in a Hawaiian-style shirt with a smile on his face.
But he was missing someone. Alon Day was not there.
“When I couldn’t get him to Daytona because I didn’t have the funds, I tried getting him into Kansas, but I couldn’t get the funds for that, either,” Levin said. “I was looking on the schedule to figure out how could I make a splash for Alon to get attention of people who we want to get sponsorship from.”
He circled Sonoma Raceway on his calendar. Ever since, he has been determined to stick by Day’s side and do everything he can to make one person’s dream come true.
Levin went as far as creating an IRS-approved tax-exempt 501(c)(3) charity called Racing for Israel. He labels it as “a charity to promote peace and security through Israeli competition in international motorsports. Funds raised through the charity are intended to improve the opportunities for amateur Israeli racecar drivers to ultimately compete in NASCAR, in an effort to improve U.S.-Israel relations.”
After a vigorous search to find someone in motorsports marketing, since he didn’t get enough funding on his own or through the charity, Levin came across Mindy Hatcher, who owns Race for an ROI. The two teamed up to help Day make his dream a reality.
Fortunately for Day and Levin, Hatcher got in touch with a woman named Charlene Saenz. Saenz, while semi-retired as a marketer, had the right connections to make Sonoma happen. She spoke at length with Levin, discussing Day’s situation considering he would be flying from Tel Aviv to America for the race.
“Within about 24-48 hours, Charlene not only had a team and a car for us, but she had NFL Hall of Famer Franco Harris as our sponsor,” Levin said. “In my brain, a miracle had taken place. We are where we are because of that miracle and the people who helped make that miracle happen.”
Meanwhile, Day had just arrived in Israel, fresh off being crowned “the king of Brands Hatch” in Britain. He was going out to celebrate the triumph, his first of 2017 in the Whelen Euro Series, when he received the call he never expected.
“I realized I need to catch a flight as soon as possible,” Day said, laughing. “It was really crazy. My roommate was sitting next to me, and he was shocked. I didn’t move for a few minutes because I didn’t believe it was happening.”
He stared at his computer, barely knowing what he was getting himself into.
The team with whom he will be competing, BK Racing, was unfamiliar to him, just like Long’s team was in 2016; the track, Sonoma, is also a new challenge.
The only thing Day knew when he arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport was that he would be seeing his second dad, Levin, when he landed after the 12-plus-hour flight.
Suddenly, the 25-year-old is a driver in NASCAR’s premier division, even if it is currently only for one race.
“I was in the most popular newspaper in Israel with a big photo of me,” Day explained. “This is how people are reacting in Israel. Usually, you never see motorsports in the newspaper because we don’t have it. It’s definitely a big thing, and everyone is surprised.”
At least the experience of coming to America with Levin is nothing new. Less than a year after Day’s XFINITY Series debut, he understands what it takes to succeed with a new team at a track he has never seen.
Expectations? They exist, and they are quite high for the fellow who traveled halfway across the globe for this race.
“Any result would be a good result,” Day said. “I definitely want to get the best results that I can achieve for them, EarthWater, Silversport and for everybody. I know we are capable of earning good results. A top 10 or top 15 would be awesome for me.”
A top 10 would be the third in BK Racing’s six-year history and the first at a road course. It sounds crazy, but it is something Day believes is possible.
— Frontstretch (@Frontstretch) June 19, 2017
“When I drove the Carl Long Dodge, people told me if you finish 25th, it’s like a victory,” he said. “Eventually, I found myself fighting for the win. I don’t know what to expect anymore. After the race in Mid-Ohio, I don’t believe in statistics.”
This time, though, Levin’s company will not be on the racecar. It will be EarthWater and Silversport, two companies new to NASCAR and ones they hope to impress in an effort to create a long-term relationship.
Now, Levin can breathe. He can relax for at least one weekend before the search for sponsors for Watkins Glen International in August begins immediately after the checkered flag waves in California come Sunday afternoon.
Just over a year after signing Day to a deal in the XFINITY Series, Levin will be by his side at Sonoma. But the stress is ever so present, even while the celebration is on.
“What is the most bittersweet of all is that the same week – within a couple of days – that we learned that we’re going to have a sponsor and team, my wife found out that she has lung cancer,” Levin said. “She’s excited for Alon and I’m excited for Alon, but it’s tempered with what she just learned and the stress that comes with that. I know that Alon appreciates our efforts. The last thing that I wanted to do is let the kid down because he does have talent and he needs to be able to show that.”
With the news of Levin’s diagnosis, Day has more to race for than ever before.
Not a day goes by that the young driver thinks about his American family, the one that has sacrificed time, money, and health all in order to seal the deal just over a week prior to the race at Sonoma.
“It’s just amazing,” Day said. “I’m just so thankful and grateful for having David Levin in my life. Without him, I wouldn’t be here and I’d keep racing in the Euro Series without making my debut in the XFINITY Series last year. The guy gave me a complete career.”
While Day understands he might face some naysayers this weekend and in the future, he tells people that Jesus indeed spoke the same language he speaks, Hebrew.
He wants everyone to understand who he is. His accent is different from any that people in the garage have heard, and he thrives on that.
“This deal, which I’m going to race on Sunday, is history for not only me but for Israel,” Day said. “I’m going to be the first ever Israeli driver to do this. This shows how we move forward as an Israel. I’m glad I represent my country.
“I represent Israel. I’m Jewish. I’m proud of it. This is something I’ll never change. I’m proud of it. I think the diversity that I bring makes the sport even better. It’s something different. It’s something people aren’t used to seeing.”
Now, it is time for him to put a helmet on, strap into the No. 23 car and show David Levin that his investment is worthwhile.