A lot has been said and written about Alon Day’s rising career in the three years it took to the Israeli to go from his first NASCAR test to his debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the European NASCAR title in 2017, but how it began on March 19th, 2015 is a less know story and that test marked a significant turnaround in the Champion’s life that clearly reverberates in his current approach to racing.
“So many things happened in the last 3 years. I went from a small test in Magione to the Cup Series, I went through so many things sometimes I think it’s unreal, some kind of miracle,” says Day when reflecting on the roller coaster he went through during that winter.
Back to 2015 then. It is a Thursday morning when a driver from Israel who just lost his GT seat due to budget reasons arrives in Magione, Italy, the track hosting the Semi Finals of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series at the time and CAAL Racing’s favourite playground.The team already has Eddie Cheever III and Nicolò Rocca under contract for the ELITE 1 Division and both have title ambitions, but the opportunity to add an international talent to the lineup is definitely tempting for team owner Luca Canneori.
“It wasn’t the first time I worked with an Italian team, so I kind of knew what to expect. They have the same temper as us Israeli, we are both hot tempers. But with CAAL Racing everything was fine. Luca Canneori and his guys were very welcoming and all went great,” recalls Day.
The NWES car, on the other hand, is more challenging and intriguing than expected for the Ashdod native.
“I came from a high-profile GT program and I thought it was going to be sort of a piece of cake with an heavier car with less grip. It was supposed to be easier but it was the opposite,” says Day. “It took me half a day to realize that it’s not like that, that it is challenging to drive and a whole different story. With zero electronics it is a totally different driving style from single seaters and GTs. Different driving, braking and accelerating, everything.”
Nevertheless, Day being Day he asks what is the track record and at the prompt answer of Canneori, he promises not to leave the track until the record falls. The Italians immediately take the challenge personally.
“We expected a very fast and professional driver for sure, but we didn’t expect him to adapt so quickly to a car without any electronic aid and so different from what he drove before, so we were absolutely surprised,” recalls Canneori. “I thought it made sense for him to ask about the track record to get a measure of his performance on a track that we know extremely well and at the time hosted the Semi Finals, so we kept working with him on his pace. We didn’t expect what happened next.”
Lap after lap, Day gets closer and closer to the record, the team starts taking sides, rooting for him as he storms past the start finish line, nobody else on track, until a smile appears on the faces of Luca and Corrado Canneori, racing for a living since 39 years at the time.
Mechanics cheering, pit board signaling “Pole Position” out and the Chevy SS returns to pit road. The record is broken.
Day climbs out of the car, smiling. The rest is well documented history. Fifteen days to find an agreement with Alon’s father and partner in racing Avi, tickets for the NWES opening round in Valencia booked and the story begins.
Fast forward to 2017, again in Valencia and you find a different Alon Day on the grid, a driver completely focused on the final goal: the European NASCAR crown. In the short span of two seasons he has already won six NWES rounds, the Junior Trophy classification two times, raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series and took part in the NASCAR Next as the first driver coming from outside North America to be selected for the program. But there is much more for him to come.
A contact in the first round in Valencia sets Day up for a considerable comeback in the regular season and the Ashdod native never finishes outside the top-5 in the next seven regular season races, scoring in England a win that crowns him King Of Brands Hatch and climbing back up to third in the points standings before the summer break, behind Borja Garcia and two-time champion Anthony Kumpen.
After making his debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Sonoma during the summer, Day literally blows the field away in the Semi Finals at the Autodromo di Franciacorta, winning both races in dominant fashion and moving from third to first in points. One month later, by winning the third race in a row – his career total going up to 10 – in the Zolder Finals, Day secures the first NASCAR championship for himself and CAAL Racing, the most important among the Italian team’s 13 titles in 41 years of racing at many different levels.
“Finally we made it! We were so close to it in the last couple of years and it feels so good to be the Champion. This year we really found the perfect spot to work with my spotter and my crew chief and we pushed ourselves to the very limit. We wanted it so bad and it feels great,” says Day. “NWES was fresh start for me, I arrived with no past. I know what losing everything means so right now I’m enjoying everything, it makes everything much more valuable.”
“It definitely is something special, for him and for us and we are so happy that it happened with Alon at the wheel of our car. If I look back at the last three years, I think he’s now a more mature driver and he also improved his driving style. At the beginning he was focused on getting the maximum he could get from each lap of each race, while this year he was totally concentrated on bringing home the title,” continues Canneori, who would like to defend the crown with Day. “He was the first international driver of that caliber to join our team. Many others came after him and he won many races and the championship, so that first test will always be a piece of our history.”
What is the next step for Day as he works his way in NASCAR is still to be decided, but the Israeli is definitely looking forward to an exciting 2018 season.
“You really never know, there are so many pieces to fall in the right place to get a full time ride at the Cup level. It’s not going to be easy but I will do my best as usual and if there’s something these last three years proved is that anything can happen. One day can change your life,” concludes Day smiling. “If we won’t secure a full-time ride in the US, I will defend the NWES title with CAAL Racing and do as many races I can in the US and in Europe. The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Euro Series has a new logo, so it would be super nice to win it again.”
With a slash of new features coming to further enhance the competition and the show in 2018, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series will make it’s season debut at Valencia, Spain on April 14-15 with the fifth edition of the Valencia NASCAR Fest.
Credits: NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard