The 7,880-square-foot custom home of the legendary driver and founder of the world-famous Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, Bob Bondurant and his wife Pat welcomes family, friends and racing associates with tinsel and gingerbread, garlands, glittering wreaths, food and festivity.
Since 1968, the Phoenix school, at Firebird International Raceway since 1989, has trained 400,000-plus students to be better drivers, including 90 percent of NASCAR drivers, movie and entertainment stars, kart racers, car enthusiasts, housewives, teenagers, military specialists and chauffeurs for anti-terrorist and anti-kidnapping training.
“On average, we have about a dozen close friends with kids and grandkids who love to tour the house during the holidays,” says Pat, whose grown children are Meagan and Jason. With daughter-in-law Nicole, Jason has two children, Ty and Payton.
“Following their Bondurant sugerplum overdose, the grandkids and others always leave with a cellophane-wrapped gingerbread boy or girl and squeal above the grown-ups they want a giant tree just like Ms. Pat’s,” says the Memphis, Tenn., native. She relocated from Seattle to Sedona in 2001, where she owns a television station. Two years later, she moved to the Valley with Meagan and Jason for their education.
The traditional, 16-foot twinkling tree in the living room recalls when close family friend, Elvis Presley, toting a gingerbread house for the family, stopped by Pat’s home in 1959. “I vowed to have a tree to bring that memory to my own children and grandchildren every year,” she adds, noting that all 800 gingerbread-themed and glittering ornaments are candy, sugarplum or gingerbread edibles.
In flight next to the candy-laden tree are eight, full-scale reindeer, suspended from the 24-foot ceiling, led by bright-shiny-nosed Rudolph. “I love the same surprise year after year when the visitors see that Rudolf is really up there,” she says. “This is the real-deal reindeer house.”
Rockin’ around the recession
Last Christmas, the jet-setting couple welcomed many others through their spectacularly decorated double front door.
Traditionally, they schedule the Bondurant School’s annual Christmas Party for about 100 employees and spouses at a plush Valley ballroom; but last year, with the prolonged recession, the couple hosted the party at home. It’s “a big hit,” reports Pat, who, as the school president, is guiding its future into new markets, such as global franchising, adding locations in the United States and attracting women as students, corporate planners and gift-buyers for husbands, dads, sons and boyfriends.
“The days of ties and cologne are over for holiday gifts,” Pat says. “Women are our biggest consumers of Bondurant course gift certificates. Their men love it because they can decide the course selections.”
The Bondurants also welcomed their neighbors —a doctor, a former World Champion Diamondback, an acquisitions broker — as well as those who look after their home such as landscapers, housekeepers and their families.
“The last few years in recession, some people have had no interest in putting up a tree or trimming the house,” Pat says. “We played down gift-giving with tight budgets, but nothing stops the annual Bondurant Gingerbread House Decorating Party; it leaves the entire house smelling like the gingerbread house family.”
The home itself is a snow-globe of holiday themes, colorfully wrapped and bow-tied to get everyone in the spirit of the holidays — particularly through the recession, which hit the Valley like a race car on a sharp-turn wall.
It was the Christmas dose of glitter, gingerbread houses, twinkly lights and eight flying reindeer that people needed: “Usually by the next day, Mom will get the calls that the Christmas spirit finally hit them, and our home put them in the mood as they were pulling decorations out of their attics,” Meagan says. “I love the magic it has on everyone.”
A winning gift — holidays and year-round
Finished with many of the couple’s individual and shared memories, the citrus-shaded, Santa Barbara-style one-story was built on two-plus acres in 1984 by Hermosa Homes, with design by David Ross, both from Scottsdale.
The five-bedroom, seven-bathroom home and grounds include a 50×20-foot saltwater pool; a Jacuzzi hot tub; a ramada serving as the outdoor living and dining room with a circular staircase to an observation deck; lighted tennis courts and a basketball court; a 600-square-foot stand-alone casita; mirrored gym; a 1,000-bottle temperature-controlled wine room; and the original equestrian tack room, now storing the family’s holiday decorations.
In 2002, Pat, who once owned an award-winning architectural firm, completed a renovation when she purchased the home. Hand-selecting the best local talent to her high standards, she chose Phoenix’s Ernesto Garcia, ASID, for the interior design. He helped accomplish her goals such as displaying memorabilia back to childhood and, more recently, incorporating Bob’s beloved automobilia from five decades as a driver and teacher.
After they married in May and June 2010, first at the school, then in Monaco on Turn 12 of the Formula 1 Grand Prix race course where Bob raced four times, he moved in with crates of man-cave stuff that needed a home, too.
“Bob and I share an intense love of the European culture, richness, history and finesse, so there are gobs of fabulous gold trim on everything in our home,” she says. “It’s filled with our love of fine things, our children and our love.”
In the living room, for example, are two bronze women holding torches above their heads to illuminate a large oil painting of a white stallion given to Bob on Father’s Day by Jason and Meagan, symbolizing the connection between horses and horsepower. Both Bob and his dad were both passionate equestrians; his dad took him to his first car race when he was eight. Pat’s dad also had his children on horses at early ages.
Other items in the main house and casita are Versace rugs, sculptured mermaids, Wyland’s turtles, dolphins, mischievous leprechauns, fairies and mermaids, angels and hearts.
One of their favorite rooms is the shared library, finished in stormy-blue Italian plaster and walnut-stained beams. Here are autographed race books by world-famous racers; Pat’s extensive collection, including many books about Leonardo da Vinci, her role model and mentor; and many car models, mementos and pictures recalling Bob’s track feats and racing associates such as Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Ken Miles, Phil Hill, Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart and Enzo Ferrari.
Among these memories is Bob’s 1965 FIA World’s Manufacturers Championship. With other members of the Carroll Shelby Racing Team — Jo Schlesser, Jochen Neerspasch, Jack Sears and close friend Dan Gurney — he bested Enzo Ferrari’s unbeatable GTOs. And, a half-century later, they are still the only American team to win this prestigious event; Bob won seven of the 10 races to take the trophy — four of those solo.
Just after, the “Commandatore,” Ferrari himself, asked Bob to drive F1 for him — his most cherished racing accomplishment.
Holiday goodies, turkey to Saint Nick
At the Bondurants, Christmas preparations begin once the Thanksgiving turkey is eaten.
“The table is complete with Fitz and Lloyd turkey tureens, candleholders for each place setting, cornucopias, the pilgrim decorations and family-recipe cornbread dressing to set the tone for the upcoming holidays,” she says.
About dusk, when the dishes are done, the family pulls out the first string of Christmas lights; these are strung atop the TV cabinetry. The family has a coin toss for a favorite Christmas DVD to be played, and Pat serves and stirs cups of hot cocoa with candy canes and holiday cookies as the lights set the mood.
The family Christmas table, following Pat’s southern tradition, is decorated for all of December, and the newest 1,000-piece, Christmas-themed puzzle requires a full-day’s effort of two shifts to complete as family tradition dictates its completion by the end of Thanksgiving night. It remains on the coffee table throughout the holidays for everyone to enjoy.
Every gift under the tree is wrapped and topped with Pat’s signature, embellished handmade bows, each with a theme of angels, snowmen elves or large, glitter-dipped bells. One present per person is opened Christmas Eve.
“Without fail, everyone finds a pair of Christmas pajamas, and fuzzy, warm Christmas-themed socks are the fun gift and ‘always a surprise,’ ” Pat says. “The PJs have always had a Santa or Christmas theme, and there have been times that, last minute, I have hot-glued cute items on the collars, cuffs or pants just to make sure the reaction tops the year before.”
Christmas morning is met with homemade pecan sticky buns and cheesy scrambled eggs; and, within the hour, the smells of the Christmas dinner float through the home, mixed in with the gingerbread, peppermint and evergreen and the scents of eight more themed trees.
“Christmas with Pat tops any Christmas I have ever experienced,” Bob says. “The house is decorated like the New York downtown Macy’s department store; her cooking is out of this world, and I have never gotten presents with stick-on bows. The presents are wrapped so fantastic, you don’t want to mess them up to open the gift. I thought this magic was only in the movies, but I actually live it, and it’s just fantastic.”
Last year, Pat surprised him with a race-track-ready 1966 Ford GT40 — just like the ones he used to race many years ago. “No wife thinks of a Christmas gift like that,” says Bob, who celebrates his 80th birthday April 2013 and the school’s 45th two months earlier in February 2013.
Bob’s mom celebrated and lavishly decorated for the holidays, too, but he admits that Pat has taken the season to a higher level. “Everything in my life with Pat has the ‘wow’ factor,” he says. “She loves showing me how exciting life can be through her eyes. I am the happiest I have ever been in my entire life!”