From the American Indy racer Eddie Sachs to British Formula racer Stirling Moss, Jewish racers have made an impact in racing across the globe. Kenny Bernstein broke a 300 mph record; Mauri Rose fabricated cars for disabled drivers; and Steve Krisiloff went on to become vice president at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
While “Jewish” is often associated with its religious connection, Jewish identity (like “Irish” or “Israeli”) can also relate to nationality or lineage connected to peoples from specific geographic areas or nations from the ancient Israeli kingdoms through to the modern State of Israel, which only recently built its own competition race track. In that spirit, check out racers of Jewish heritage over the decades along with recent motorsports in Israel.
“If you can’t win, be spectacular.”
Eddie Sachs, born in Pennsylvania, was a driver for the United States Auto Club, winning 8 USAC Championships, and many Top Five finishes in AAA and USAC races. Known as the “Clown Prince of Auto Racing”, Sachs was also an eight-time starter of the Indianapolis 500, racing from 1957 to 1964. In the 1958 Indy 500, he was leading in first with only three laps to go. However, he saw an issue with his right rear tire and made a pit stop, thus finishing second to A.J. Foyt. Sachs stated he did not regret his decision saying, “I’d sooner finish second than be dead.” Unfortunately, Sachs was killed in a fiery crash that involved seven other cars on the second lap of the 1964 Indy 500.
Indy Road Race Films, WOS#4264,
“If God had meant for us to walk, why did he give us feet that fit car pedals?”
Widely regarded as the greatest Formula One driver of all time, Sir Stirling Moss raced from 1948 to 1962 and won 212 of the 529 races he entered. Moss was known for competing in a large number of races, the most being 62 in a single year. An International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee, the nearly 90 years old British racer has long been retired from racing, but still avidly supports motorsports.
Stirling Moss Grand Prix of Belgium, SPA, WOS#4100,
“What you have here is a man who walked away from a $17-million-a-year business and a four-phone desk in an executive suite to get in a flameproof suit and climb in a car that burns up a gallon of $30 fuel every 50 feet. And they call the cars ‘funny.’”
– Jim Murray about Kenny Bernstein in a 1996 L.A. Times article
Kenny Bernstein is an American drag racer, as well as a former NASCAR and IndyCar team owner. His career began in his 20s, when he began a restaurant chain called Chelsea Street Pub that spanned across the southern states. His first car was self-sponsored through Chelsea Street Pub. Later, he was sponsored by Budweiser. Known for his Budweiser funny car and dragster, Bernstein gained the nickname “Bud King” and “The King of Speed”, being the first driver to break 300 mph in a standing-start quarter mile.
Kenny Bernstein, Motorsports Photo Series 17 p89.a, WOS#3787,
“I’m a very competitive person. I always have been. And it’s hard to be competitive about something as amorphous as acting. But you can be competitive on the track, because the rules are very simple and the declaration of the winner is very concise.”
– IGN interview, June 9, 2006
Paul Newman was an American actor, film director, producer, race car driver, IndyCar team owner, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Newman won several national championships as a driver in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) road racing, and his race team Newman/Hass Racing won several championships in open-wheel IndyCar racing. He was also known for voicing Doc Hudson in Pixar’s Cars.
Paul Newman, WOS#2452,
“Maurice Rose, veteran driver of the speedways, became the first Jewish driver to win the coveted Memorial Day 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis and the lush first prize of $20,000. Rose had been trying for this for years.”
– “Year in Sports” The Jewish Post, New Year Edition, 1941
Born in 1906, Maurice “Mauri” Rose was a race car driver known for racing in the Indianapolis 500 throughout the 1940s. He won the race three times, in 1941, 1947 and 1948. After retiring from his successful racing career, Mauri went on to work as an engineer at General Motors, helping Chevrolet establish its presence in stock car racing. Also, having raised two polio-affected children as a single father, he developed mechanisms to allow the physically handicapped to drive.
Mauri Rose, PH06, Snyder Photo Collection, WOS#3354,
“I jumped on the throttle coming out of [turn] 2 and spun my wheels halfway down the back straight – in high gear.”
Steve Krisiloff was a driver in the USAC and CART Championship Car series from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. After retiring from the driver’s seat, he became the vice president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Afterwards, he continued as a team manager for several teams. Now Krisiloff is the team manager for Carl A. Haas Motorsports. His son, Kyle Krisiloff drove for the team before taking on the position Senior Director of Music & Entertainment at IMS while his son Jarrod is Executive Director of Events at IMS.
Steve Krisiloff, PH07, John Feuz Collection, WOS#3434,
Formula 1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella in a Ferrari F1 car at the Race for Peace in Jerusalem, Israel
For many years, motorsports in Israel had been restricted by unpopular regulating laws that made it difficult to race. In 2011, those laws were repealed and ever since, motorsports have been regaining popularity throughout the country—especially Formula 1.
Israel’s first Formula 1 race took place in 2013, attracting over 100,000 spectators in the streets of Old City Jerusalem. At the same time, a Formula 1 racing program was created in the Port of Eilat near the southern point of Israel with the goal to “democratize Formula racing and make it more affordable and accessible to the Israeli public” with roughly two dozen applicants selected each year to be trained in the art of racing. In 2018, Israel’s first FIA/FIM regulation track Motor City was built in Be’er sheva (Beersheba) in central Israel, halfway between Eilat and Jerusalem.
In 2017, Israeli driver Alon Day was named Israeli Athlete of the Year, resulting in NASCAR races beginning to be televised throughout the country. The year prior, Day made his Xfinity Series debut, making Day the first Israeli to compete in a major NASCAR touring series. Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Toyota Save Mart 350 race at Pomona, he became the first Israeli to compete in a NASCAR Cup Series. He finished out the 2017 season winning the NASCAR Whelen Euro Championship.
While there has been a recent emergence of motosports, car culture has long been present in Israel. Part of World of Speed’s GM Dealership Film Collection, a 1977 Chevy sales training film includes footage from Israel, along with Switzerland and El Salvador. Films from the collection can be viewed in the World of Speed Archive Room.
“Formula One Race a Part Of Acceleration for Israeli Motorsports”
“Formula One and Race Cars Come to Israel”
“Israel’s First Regulation Racetrack Revs Up for Business”
“Israeli Race Car Maker Griiip Revs Up Engines to Disrupt Motorsport Industry”