If not for Bob Bondurant, maybe Paul Newman doesn’t develop an interest in motor racing. Perhaps Newman doesn’t become part of an Indycar team with drivers like Sebastien Bourdais and Mario Andretti. Maybe he doesn;’t have Willy T. Ribbs drive in SCCA and springboard his career.
Bob Bondurant, a champion racer who turned to teaching racing after injuries ended his on track career, died Friday at the age of 88. The Bob Bondurant Racing School trained professional drivers and actors for more than 40 years.
Bondurant was part of the group of racers who went to Europe in the early 1960s. Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther, Phil Hill, and Carroll Shelby took their racing talents overseas and were successful.
Bondurant drove a Corvette to to victory in the LA Times Grand Prix in 1962. In 1964 he won the Gt class at leMans in a Cobra with Dan Gurney. The following year he helped Shelby/Ford win the FIA World manufacturing championship.
Bondurant’s Formula 1 career included stints with Ferrari, BRM, and Gurney’s All American Racers. His best F1 finish was fourth at Monaco in 1966 with BRM.
n 1967 Bondurant was injures severely in a crash at Watkins Glen. His injuries ended his racing career, but he continued his involvement in racing by coaching actors who had roles involving high speed driving. Bondurant coached James Garner and other actors in the movie Grand Prix.
The Bondurant School of High Performance Driving opened in 1968. Paul Newman and his co-star Robert Wagner were among his first students. They were preparing for the movie Winning. Newman’s interest was piqued, and he began racing in SCCA events.
The Bondurant school had 40 year run. In 2019, the school declared bankruptcy and Bondurant sold it. Sadly the new owners did not retain the Bondurant name. It is now the Radford Racing School.
Bondurant stayed active until just a few years ago. The photo below shows him at age 85.
Whether a driver came out of the Bondurant School, or Skip Barber, or some other training program, Bondurant was the first to develop the training concept. Race fans owe him a debt of gratitude.
When we cheer your favorite driver on track, we should probably thank Bob Bondurant for him or her being there. Directly or indirectly, he had something to do with improving that driver’s skills.