A Champion on the Track
today at 6:39 pm
The racing world lost one of the greats, Bob Bondurant who died at age 88. Bob began winning races on the international level, went on to teaching perspective drivers to win races at his now famous driving school.
This writer had the pleasure many years ago to be introduced to The Bob Bondurant School of Racing in AZ. When it was still the Bondurant School, Bob was there every day, and was loved by all. It was said that Bob ‘handpicked’ the people to work there with him, some who came right out of high school. Many of the instructors, Tommy Boileu being one who worked for the school for 4 years, loved Bondurant and thought of him as a ‘kind soul,’ full of racing stories.
As one can imagine, Bob had many stories to tell. When he was in his prime in Formula 1 for Ferrari, he did many ‘cool’ things, and ran with some very amazing people: actors and celebrities he worked with for years. He was a ‘character’ say many who worked for him; always had a story to tell.
Bondurant had been residing in an assisted living facility for some time before his death. During his racing career, he was part of a small cadre of Ameridcan drivers who traveled to Europe in the early 1960s. There he participated in the best in sports cars and in Formula 1. This followed several years driving sports cars in the U.S.
It was on the West Coast where Bondurant started in car racing. He competed against such well-knowns as Caroll Shelby, Dan Gurney and Richie Ginther. Long before any of those drivers, including himself, were famous names. In the beginning, Bondurant raced Corvettes, winning 30 of 32 races between 1961 and 1963.
He then moved onto Shelby and switched to driving Cobras. After having some wins in the U.S., he went to Europe for the 1964 season. Some of the legendary races in which he was a part included Spa, Nurburgring and the Targa Vlorio. His class victory while driving the Cobra Daytona Coupe at La Mans in the 1960s was his highest achievement on a racetrack. He won the GT class at Le Mans co-driving with Dan Gurney. He also helped bring home the FIA Manufacturers’ Championship for Shelby and Ford. Other great cars he drove in 1967 included the Ford GT40 MkI, a Ferrari 365 P2 and a Corvette.
Not to be left out, Bondurant also raced in the Formula 1 and drove Ferrari, BRM and Gurney’s AAR team. His career ‘best-finish’ was fourth place at Monaco in 1966 driving a BRM.
Following a crash the following year at Watkins Glen, Bondurant ended his racing career. This is when he decided to turn his expertise into a driving school. In 1968, Bondurant opened the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving after working for Shelby as an instructor. It is here he coached actors in the film Grand Prix film how to drive. Two of his students were Robert Wagner and Paul Newman; the latter, of course who went on to form his own racing team.
It was following another accident that Bondurant gave up a racing career and switched full time to teaching. Known as an “authority on advanced driving training; on the forefront of professional driving instructions since the late ‘60s.” He taught utilizing the “Bondurant Method,” working with over 250,000 students. His classes made up a varied bunch of students, including housewives, racers, celebrities, teens, police officers, etc.
On Feb. 14, 1968, the doors opened at Orange County International Raceway, near Los Angeles, with three students. The next week there were two students training for the film Winning. Bondurant was technical advisor, camera car driver, and actor-instructor for the film. Ever since then, both Bondurant and his school have enjoyed success after success.”
Bondurant ran his schools for 40 years. His is a name most car racers-and lovers know. He was able, noted Mike Kessler, “to channel his passion, tenacity and talents into every endeavor.”
A “champion on the track who dedicated his life to helping others improve their driving skills.”