If you’re watching the Daytona 500 – ‘‘The Great American Race’’ – this Sunday, look out for the No. 49 Robinson-Blakeney Toyota, sponsored by the non-profit, America-Israel Racing, and driven by J.J. Yeley, one of the top drivers in NASCAR.
Conceived last year by two Charlotte, N.C., men, America-Israel racing looks ‘‘to promote awareness of and support by Americans for Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East’’ and hopes ‘‘to educate Americans on the importance [of] the United States’ relationship with Israel through exposure provided by one of the largest spectator sports in the world.’’
The car design features a bald eagle with the national flags of the United States and Israel in its claws and an olive branch in its beak.
It may seem odd to make such a statement in sport – a realm often idealized as separate from politics. But it’s not about politics, they insist. And though advertising costs can run into the millions, they also note that it’s not a product they are trying to sell. Rather, ‘‘it’s a belief.’’ For probably the only televised sport where races are preceded by prayer, perhaps beliefs are appropriate.
The team has worked hard to qualify for the race, and hope to maintain the sponsorship throughout the season. As it happens, Daytona 500 is the only race televised in Israel. The Israeli government sent them a letter expressing excitement.