Bob Bondurant, legendary racer and instructor, dies at 88

·3 min read

The reason the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving did so well for so long was that its championship-winning namesake was so good at showing students the techniques of winning driving. Since it was founded in February of 1968, the school says it has helped more than 500,000 students from around the world. They might all wish to tip their hats to the founder, Robert Lewis Bondurant, who died Nov. 12 in Paradise Valley, Ariz., at the age of 88.

Not long after he was born in Illinois in 1933, his parents moved to Westlake Village, Calif. He received his first taste of racing when he was 8 years old when his father took him to midget races. By the time Bondurant was 14 he had his first motorcycle and by 16 he was flat-tracking Indian and Harley-Davidson bikes.

His competition career on four wheels began at 23 years old in 1956 behind the wheel of a Morgan Plus 4. He would eventually enter fields racing against other SoCal pilots like Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney, and Richie Ginther, but after three years of winning in Corvettes, he switched to racing for Shelby and driving the Cobra. As part of the migration of U.S. drivers to Europe in the mid-1960s, he claimed a class victory at Le Mans in 1964 driving Cobra Daytona Coupe with co-driver Dan Gurney, and in 1965, was part of the driving team that put the FIA International Manufacturer's Championship trophy in Ford's display case.

After a brief, race-winning stint in F1, he moved to the Can-Am series and the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC). During a race at Watkins Glen in 1967 in the USRRC, the steering arm on his McLaren Elva Mark II broke. He flipped eight times in the crash, his crushed feet landing him in hospitals and rehab. While recovering, he got the idea for his driving school, which he opened in 1968 at the Orange County International Raceway to teach "The Bondurant Method."

Paul Newman and Robert Wagner were part of the second-ever class, and Bondurant was still helping celebrities learn the craft when Christian Bale attended came to train for his role in Ford vs. Ferrari. Bondurant continued racing, though, returning to Watkins Glen as soon as 1968 for the USRRC race. Although never the same as before the crash, he wouldn't hang up his helmet until he was 79.

Bondurant's driving school came to grief in 2018, declaring bankruptcy and briefly closing. New owners bought the school and its assets, now called the Radford Racing School, still located in Chandler, Arizona, still driving Dodge products, and still led by many of the pre-bankruptcy instructors. Radford General Manager Mark Kessler put out a statement reading, in part, "The team at Radford Racing School is saddened to learn of the passing of Bob Bondurant ... Bob dedicated his life to helping others develop their driving skills, both on the street and the track, training some of the biggest names in racing, celebrities, professional athletes, and everyday drivers who would go on to credit his teaching methods for keeping them safe behind the wheel."

The new owners didn't buy the Bondurant name, however. Bob Bondurant is survived by his wife Pat, who remains president and CEO of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, now doing business as the Bondurant Racing School. There's no such actual school yet, but a splash page says it will return in 2022.

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