We’ll Miss Bob Bondurant
Bondurant connected the present to the early days of racing as we know it. He left a huge mark on the motorsports world that won't be forgotten.
One of the great racing legends of all time, Bob Bondurant, has passed at 88.
Though many know him for his more recent exploits with his world-famous driving school, the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving (renamed Radford after being sold earlier this year), Bondurant had been racing since the 1950s as a teenager. In fact, he rubbed shoulders with the all-time greats of motorsports in-period and taught notable celebrities in his school.
The passing of Bondurant is a loss to the racing world. Let’s take a look back at his story and just how important racing was to Bob Bondurant.
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The Bondurant family has confirmed that Bob Bondurant passed at the age of 88 in Paradise Valley, Arizona, not far from the site of his former racing school.
Bondurant’s racing career began in earnest in 1956, when he raced a modified race-prepared C1 Chevrolet Corvette to dozens of victories on the West Coast of the United States, finally joining Carroll Shelby for his international Ford Cobra team in 1963. He soon became the only American to ever win the FIA GT world championship in 1965 by beating out Ferrari and their 250 GTOs and took a class win with Dan Gurney in the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 1965 and 1966, Bondurant competed in the Formula One world championship with four different teams. His journey to F1 brought him to that nearly fateful Belgian day in 1966, where he and Graham Hill pulled Jackie Stewart from the wreckage of his BRM at the Belgian Grand Prix. Stewart survived and started a lifelong crusade for safety, one that Bondurant would soon adopt as well.
Bondurant formed his famed school in 1968, after witnessing and experiencing the most dangerous era of motor racing. He himself came close to death in 1967, driving a McLaren Elva Mark II at Watkins Glen. His steering failed at 150 miles per hour, he rolled several times and sustained serious injuries to most of his body. Doctors warned him he may never walk again.
While he was in the hospital, the Bob Bondurant school was born. He recovered by 1969 and continued racing… starting with the Baja 1000. Must have been an easy start for Bondurant.
Since then, Bondurant’s driving school taught over 500,000 drivers including several A-list celebrities like Christian Bale and Nicholas Cage, as well as driver-actors like Paul Newman. He is survived by his wife Pat. If you’d like to continue reading about him, the SCCA has a good Bob Bondurant bio page.
Why It Matters
The old era of racing has been a memory for some decades now, and the living memory of that period of motorsports is quickly fading. While some of that historic period of motorsports was well documented and even captured on video, a lot is lost to the history books.
Though we know about Bondurant’s F1 exploits as well as his FIA GT successes, how many smaller, local races were there that we never heard about? According to racingsportscars.com, Bondurant raced overwhelmingly in Southern California, with over 87 races there in his career. Willow Springs Raceway, which I visit with some regularity, is hallowed ground for racing. At least, because most of the other racetracks like Riverside and Pomona no longer exist. Bondurant raced there once in 1960 on the official record.
Bondurant dedicated his life to racing and applying those skills he learned into helping other folks drive faster and safer. Not only did he rub shoulders with some of the greats of racing, he came home and taught anybody he could how to drive.
What To Look For Next
Though the Bondurant School is no longer operating under that title, his name is still under the control of his family. The school that was formerly his was sold as assets in 2018 and is now open as the Radford Racing School.
His legacy lives on through his wife Pat, the hundreds of thousands of students of the Bondurant School, and his legendary driving skill. May he rest in peace.
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