When Avi Day took his son Alon to the Nachshonim go-kart track near Ashdod to celebrate his 10th birthday, he was barely tall enough to reach the pedals.
But young Alon raced with such skill that those who saw him asked if he had ever raced before, and were astonished to learn it was his very first time behind the wheel.
Day, now 19, may not be a household name, but in Israel he is a star in the making. In a few years' time, the Formula Three driver from Ashdod plans to be challenging Sebastien Vettel and Lewis Hamilton on the Formula One circuit, and his ambitions will not be satisfied then. He intends to go to the very top and "winning the World Championship" is his dream.
Day is currently racing for the Performance Team in the German Formula Three Championship. It is particularly remarkable that he has managed to get this far in motor racing, a sport with almost no profile
It would be like Britain producing the next big American football or NBA star, or Saudi Arabia producing
a world-class snowboarder.
As Day puts it, starting in motor sport in Israel means "you are starting from nothing."
Boaz Korpel, Israel's leading authority on motor sport and a Formula One commentator, says that the country does not treat motorsport like other sports. It is intentionally sidelined and disincentives are in place to deter
As if to demonstrate the point, the Nachshonim circuit where Day first stepped into a go-kart is now closed. So how good is Day? "If he was not something special, we would not be speaking now," says Korpel.
As well as Israel's apathy towards the sport, none of Day's brothers, nor his father, were into motorsport when he was growing up. Yet even before he set foot in Nachshonim as a 10-year-old, he was already interested in racing. Alon was never even tempted to become a footballer or basketball star, and he expresses his disdain for team sports, such as basketball or football, preferring to be in control of his own destiny as he is in a Formula Three car. So who are his Formula One idols?
"I like Ayrton Senna. He was a really special driver. Everyone knows that he was special. Jim Clark is a legend and
I know everything about him."
And what about the current crop of drivers? "I learn from everybody,
I take good things from every driver and learn from them."
Key to Day's success so far is that he has a remarkably level head for one so young. Professional sport is littered with the scattered remains of the careers of promising teenagers who let the fame, fortune and hype get to them. But there is something different with Day.
When I ask how he copes with the praise he receives, Day balks at the suggestion that he has a special talent, refusing to accept the notion that he has a natural gift. He says that he does not know if he is really that good, but prefers to concentrate on his racing.
His father Avi, also his manager, is naturally effusive about Alon: "In go-karting, we saw he had the talent. We visited a track in Cyprus with professional drivers and he did the fastest lap times. We understood then that he had it."
Day began participating in the national championships, and it was not long until he was breaking circuit records. In 2009, at the age of 17, he won the Asian Formula Renault Championship. To date, every team and mechanic to have worked with him confirms the same thing - he possesses a special
talent and certainly the ability to make it in Formula One.
If Day makes it that far, he will become the first Israeli to drive for
a Formula One team. The closest Israel has come before to representation at the top table of motor sport was when Chanoch Nissany was the third driver for Minardi at the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix.
For now, Day combines racing with
a stint in the army. Given special dispensation as a sportsperson, he is allowed to take time off to race. Still competing in the German Formula Three series, finishing ninth this year on his debut, Day has targeted winning the championship as his goal for 2011, and cites team mate Rosenqvist as one of his main rivals for the title.
He then intends to move into Formula One by winning a test drive role in 2012 if all goes to plan. It is the same path trodden by the most famous driver of all time, seven times world champion Michael Schumacher. It has also been the school for a number of other Formula One veterans over the year, such as Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jos Verstappen and Jarno Trulli.
The main concern right now is to find sponsorship. The lack of interest in motorsport in Israel means that they must look abroad to find sponsors to help Alon progress. The 19 year old says: "People don't really care about motor sport. They all talk about basketball and football."
Avi Day's confidence that his son will make it is reflected in his funding of Alon's career. He believes Alon can make it to the top, but acknowledges that funding is essential: "It is not easy to finance alone… maybe with support we will have the first Israeli driver in Formula One."