Alon Day, 20, is the first Israeli ever to receive Outstanding Athlete status for racecar driving from the Israel Defense Forces. Outstanding Athletes – usually, Olympic hopefuls – get time out from compulsory military service for training and representing Israel in international competitions.
Day is also the first Israeli to be signed by Belardi Auto Racing of Brownsburg, Indiana. Team owner Brian Belardi reported in January that Day was “absolutely incredible in the No. 9 car,” which he tried out at the MSR Houston test track. Now he’s won a slot on Belardi’s 2012 roster for Firestone Indy Lights, a minor-league auto racing series.
These accomplishments are all the more impressive when you consider that motorsports are virtually non-existent in Israel.
How did the Ashdod resident get to be such a pro? For his 10th birthday, his parents gave him kart-racing lessons. Karting is a beginners’ open-wheel motorsport with small four-wheeled go-karts. The kid had a knack for the track. Soon he was competing in Israeli, British and German kart races – and winning – even though many boys in Europe start as young as six years old.
“When I was around 14 or 15, I started to realize that this was going to be my life,” Day tells ISRAEL21c.
After earning more than 60 titles and trophies in Israel and Europe, in 2007 he got an offer to test-drive a Formula Renault car in Hungary.
“That went well, and that’s how I got into Formula cars,” he explains.
The next step up from karting, Formula 3 racing involves open-wheeled single-seaters. Day practiced with the Asia Racing Team in China during the 2008 season. The following year he made it to Shanghai’s Top Speed Racing team and accumulated the most points in the Formula Renault Asia Championship in 2009, at age 17.
Pilot or driver?
Many Israeli boys dream of piloting a fighter plane when they grow up, though very few make the grade. Day was no different.
“I did every test I could, and I passed everything. But I gave it up because I wanted to be a racecar driver and not a fighter pilot,” says Day, whose three older brothers and father were all combat soldiers. “My parents support me. That’s so important, and I’m really lucky.”
The Outstanding Athlete designation allowed Day to wear the Air Force uniform and perform light duty for two years while continuing to travel to competitions. Now he’s allowed another two years to concentrate solely on his racing, to be followed by a third and final year in uniform.
“Right now is the critical moment in my career,” he explains. “I travel every two weeks, and next month I will move to Florida [temporarily] because I have months of races and practices there.”
As part of the Belardi team, Day will compete in 12 Formula 3 events across the United States and Canada this year.
“Alon really blew us away when he came down to test with us at Palm Beach in December,” Belardi said. “His very first time in an Indy Lights car could not have gone better, and we are very lucky to have him join our program. I think with Alon’s natural talent and determination, he will have a really great season as a rookie in the Firestone Indy Lights series.”
For Day, each event is a chance to teach people a bit about the real Israel.
“I do feel I represent my country,” he says. Most of the foreigners he meets “are sure that every day there is a new war here. I never talk politics, but I explain that the TV just makes everything bigger than it really is.”
He says it is a “great feeling” to hear Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” played when he wins. The blue-and-white flag is prominently displayed on his racing suit and car.
However, because there’s no Formula racing in Israel, Day cannot practice at home and faces some other obstacles, too.
“The biggest problem is getting sponsorships to support my sport,” he says. “It’s very hard here because people are mainly just interested in football [soccer]. If I am successful this year, I hope that everyone in Israel will know about motorsports.”
At home in Ashdod, Day keeps in shape at the gym and on his bike. “I was a bad student,” he claims, but earned his high school diploma even though his heart and soul were devoted to racing.
“If I don’t spend the rest of my life in Formula cars, I will drive any other car,” he says. “I like the competition and the racing more than the car. When you win, it’s a feeling completely different than anything else. I want the best and fastest car, but I could race on a bicycle and still feel the same way.”
His advice to kids who want to follow in his footsteps is: “Keep pushing. If you want to be really professional and successful, push 110 percent all the time until everything you do is for the motorsport.”