Saturday, March 2, 2024

J.J. Yeley to race Israel support livery at Homestead

As the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas continues into its second week, J.J. Yeley has partnered with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews for the next two weekends of NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. The Fellowship will sponsor his cars through the new “Race to Support Israel” campaign.

“As a Christian, my faith has always been a guiding light for me,” said Yeley. “Partnering with The Fellowship to support Israel during these trying times is not just an opportunity, but a calling. Together, we are making a difference by providing tangible assistance to those in need.”

Yeley failed to qualify for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Homestead in the #4 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports with The Fellowship backing, but is on the grid for the Cup event on Sunday in the #15 Ford of Rick Ware Racing.

The Fellowship is a philanthropic nonprofit organisation dedicated to Christian and Jewish relations as well as humanitarian programmes for Israel. “Race to Support Israel” seeks to raise awareness for the war and funds for bomb shelters and essential resources for civilians and emergency workers.

Interestingly, Yeley has prior experience with driving an Israel-centric car. In 2012, he entered the Daytona 500 in a #49 car fielded by Robinson-Blakeney Racing under the “American Israel Racing” banner; AIR was co-founded by NASCAR engineer Mark MacCaull and Rich Shirey, the latter a Baptist but staunchly pro-Israel. Unlike the Fellowship’s sponsorship, AIR was designed to support the state of Israel from a political context by promoting the alliance between the country and the United States. However, Yeley failed to qualify for the race.

“We are so inspired and encouraged by J.J’s action, and thrilled that he extended his helping hand in partnership,” commented The Fellowship president Yael Eckstein“Our ministry was founded forty years ago dedicated to building bridges of understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews, and this partnership is a shining example of that. We look forward to working together to bless Israel in the time of her greatest need.”

NASCAR implemented a ban on political sponsorships in 2022, though leeway is granted if the intended message is philantrophic or cultural in nature. When the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced shortly after the season began, the sanctioning body began permitting teams to show solidarity with Ukraine via liveries provided the statements are approved beforehand. Josh Bilicki raced a Cup car at Kansas sponsored by the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council that featured the “Slava Ukraini” slogan and the names of cities where major battles occurred, while Xfinity driver Stefan Parsons had a “Ukraine Strong” decal on his car’s hood at Las Vegas and Team Penske drivers placed the country’s flag on their bumpers.

A murkier instance came in August when B.J. McLeod’s car at Bristol and Richmond promoted South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and her “Freedom Works Here” workforce campaign. While blatantly supported by a politician and funded by part of the state’s marketing budget, NASCAR approved the sponsorship on grounds that it promoted a public programme.

The Israel–Palestine conflict has been one of the most complex and controversial situations for nearly eight decades. While violence has been a common theme, it erupted into another full-scale war following Hamas’ surprise attack on civilians and hostage takings in early October. Israel launched retaliatory strikes into Gaza, triggering a major humanitarian crisis and debate on war crimes amidst civilian casualties.

Unlike other American sporting bodies like the National Football League and National Basketball Association, NASCAR did not release a comment on the war though teams and drivers may do so; a similar approach was taken with the Russo-Ukrainian war. Four-time NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion Alon Day, the first Israeli driver to compete in the Cup Series, has been vocal on social media about Hamas’ actions.