In 1967, a mechanical failure at Watkins Glen led to the conclusion of Bob Bondurant’s professional racing career. This, however, was just the beginning of something greater. By that point, Bob drove in several World GT Championships, World Manufacturers’ Championships, driven Formula One for Ferrari, driven the Daytona Coupe for Carroll Shelby, drove in the Can-Am series, and in the United States Road Championship.
On his down time between those races, Bob worked as a consultant for movies. Working with James Garner on driving technique for the movie “Grand Prix,” he discovered his love for teaching car control.
Unable to continue racing professionally due to that mechanical failure, Bob took all the knowledge he amassed over his years of driving experience and on February 14, 1968, opened the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Orange County, California.
Since its inception with five vehicles and three students, Bob Bondurant’s school became a world-class driver training facility that empowers drivers with the skills needed to master car control.
“I opened my racing school on Valentine’s Day in 1968 because of what the day represents,” said Bob Bondurant, founder of Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. “It’s a day that celebrates love and passion. And there’s nothing I loved more passionately than racing and teaching high performance driving and just as important, driver safety.”
Over the last 50 years, the school grew in both size and reach. From 1968 to 1990, various California racetracks hosted the school before relocating to its permanent home at the Wild Horse Pass, Motorsports Park in Chandler, Arizona. The school is considered to be “the world’s fastest 100 acres” and boasts a fleet of more than 200 vehicles.
“Bob Bondurant School of High Performance is the only purpose-built driver training facility in the world,” said Pat Bondurant, CEO and President of Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving and Bondurant Companies. “It’s taken a lot of hard work and initiative to be recognized globally as the expert authority on driver training and safety. But this 50th Anniversary is not just a chance to reflect on our incredible legacy, this is a milestone to inspire us as we look forward to training the next generation of drivers.”
To date, the school trained the Bondurant method to over half a million students from around the world, including many celebrities from the entertainment and sports industries such as Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, 50 Cent, Van Halen, Slash, Sean White, Jimmy Johnson, and Jeff Gordon just to name a few. Hollywood actor, Paul Newman, was one of the first three students to train with Bob Bondurant in 1968 for the movie “Winning.” Bob and Paul forged an unbreakable bond of friendship as Bob continued to coach Newman through movie roles and two decades of racing at LeMans and SCCA championships.
“Of course, I’m very proud of the incredible influence my school has had on drivers from around the world” said Bob. “I’m so grateful to have created such a great legacy and to be the only family-owned and operated driver training school of this scale.”
“We have a phenomenal reputation and history, and we’re just as excited about our next 50 years,” said Jason Bondurant, Vice President of Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. Jason added that despite advancements in automotive technology, the need for driver training has not diminished.
“As we look to the future, we know we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so we’ll continue to be the undisputed leader in driver training for decades to come” Jason said.
What might the next 50 years hold for the Bondurant school? Well, Pat shared that the Fiat program, which is now in its second year at the school, is “catching on like crazy. We are so proud to have brought on that program.” The Fiat program consists of two driving days in the Fiat Abarth 500 and the Abarth 124 Spider with students participating in autocross and track exercises.
“Now the world now knows that we have added a one-day drag racing class in conjunction with the Dodge SRT” said Pat. The program utilizes the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, rated with 840-horsepower. “We will have four Demons at the school which is a significant number; none of ours have serial numbers so they are not in included in its limited production.”
“The drag strip program is insane,” Pat added. “You learn in the SRT Demon and in the Hellcat. The class is structured for anyone – including Mustang owners and Camaro owners – to come out and enjoy it.”
One unique aspect of the program is that Leah Pritchett, a NHRA Top Fuel dragster driver for the Mopar, Dodge, and Shell / Pennzoil brands, serves as a consultant on the new program.
“Drag racing is one of the most thrilling experiences in motorsports,” said Pritchett. She added that the Bondurant and Dodge drag racing school will give enthusiasts the skills they need to be competitive during quarter mile runs.
“I’m excited that so many drivers will get to experience that shot of adrenalin that comes at max speed for 1320 feet,” Pritchett said. “It’s truly breathtaking.”
Classroom instruction for the full-day session addresses the fundamental rules of drag racing, including proper launch, staging technique, reaction time, signals, and safety pre- and post-checks. On-track instruction, which takes place on the Wild Horse Motorsports Park NHRA drag strip, is under the direction and supervision of a professional Bondurant instructor. Each student gets 22 single-lane runs, including a wet-box burnout, stage, 60-foot pass, half-pass, and full-pass.
“Its wild when all you can see is blue sky from inside the car and then the front wheels hit the track and you’re screaming all the way down the drag strip,” Pat said. “And I mean screaming. We are so excited about the program.”
The first drag racing class is set for March 9 and joins the other Bonduraunt school programs like the four-day Forza Motorsport Grand Prix Road Racing Class, which is open to all driver skill levels.
Over 80-percent of the Road Racing class is spent on the Bondurant skills pad and on the 1.6-mile track, while the remaining time is spent in the classroom.
“Safety is always our number one priority,” Pat said. Every program offered at the Bondurant school has been designed to teach maximum car control with a portion of time dedicated to exercises that include heel-&-toe downshifting, skid control, braking techniques (ABS and non-ABS exercises), accident avoidance, and weight transfer.
“We make you go 55 miles per hour and then slam on the brakes so that you can feel what that is like,” Pat said. “You learn what your ABS feels like and how to lift off the gas, press the brake, and turn safely to avoid incidents.”
Additionally, instructors place students into the skid car, a Dodge Charger with a carriage that allows the instructors to propel students into a skid simulation. “The instructors teach you how to get out of the skid and how to forget about the surrounding chaos and focus in that moment in placing the car where it needs to go.”
Pat commented that the skills taught is not just for racing, but to be better drivers.
On track, students are challenged with mock starts, practice SCCA rules and racing etiquette, and gain an understanding of racing flags.
“Because Bob is a former Formula One driver for ferrari among other things, he has always insisted on having open-wheel cars at the school,” Pat said. He added that students get seat time in an open wheel Formula Mazda car on the final day of the program.
“Bob has always had the Formula Ford cars, but we switched to the Formula Mazda cars because the Ford parts were getting too hard to find,” Pat said. “The Mazdas are great cars for us and have proven to be a real workhorse.”
The Formula Mazda cars are also used in two racing series hosted by Bondurant.
“The first series is for ages 15 to 25,” said Pat. “The cars in that series are all equal and the winner of it is given a spot in the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout, which is also held at Bondurant.”
The winner of the shootout then receives a $200,000 prize from Mazda to assist in participation of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – the first step in Mazda’s driver development program.
“It’s the most exciting way for people to get into racing at an affordable level,” Pat said. “It’s a complete package. You get to use our cars, our gas, our tires, and you get world class experience.”
Bob added that he wants to see youth get into racing. “It’s part of our American culture and we can not lose that.”
The second race series the school hosts is the Master Series.
“That series is for drivers 26-years-old and older. They don’t want to go against young grasshoppers,” Pat said. “This next year is sold out, but we may add more opportunities.”
Pat added that the school will get a new 34-car fleet of Formula Mazda cars at the end of 2019. “We will most likely sell what we have now when the time comes,” she said. “A lot of students are already putting their name down to buy one from us.”
In addition to new cars, classes, and racing opportunities at the Bondurant school, the 50th anniversary also celebrates the acquisition of a second race track and an extended lease agreement.
Known locally as “west track,” the additional road course will be connected to the school’s primary track, Bondurant Main – designed by Bob to include all the challenges a racecar driver is going to face and the only purpose built training facility in the world. “West Track” also comes with a large pad that will be turned into an area for autocross.
“Now, because I have owned a viper for seven years, I said when we connect it we need to have a long straightaway so these cars can stretch their legs,” Pat said. She added that the school became the official driving school of the Ferrari Club of America, as well as the Aston Martin Club of America. “Adding the straightaway and connecting the track gives us three miles of track to use which is amazing.”
Pat added that all of the asphalt on the property, including the tracks and parking lots, will be torn up and re-paved to ensure a perfect surface. Additionally, she shared that the current trackside building and helmet room will be torn down and replaced with a three story building that will feature an observation deck at the top. The deck will be accessible with an elevator and will be able to accommodate 300 people.
“From that observation deck, guests will be able to see all three miles of the race track.”
To learn more about Bondurant’s Drag Racing and Road Rally programs, as well as its other classes, visit www.bondurant.com.
Photography by Nicole Ellan James