Tag Archives: Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving

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Bondurant celebrates his 80th birthday

Bob Bondurant celebrates his 80th birthday today (April 27), and he’ll be sitting it out — in a race car.

The World Champion driver, founder and CEO of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, proudly located on the Gila River Indian Community just outside Phoenix, will enjoy the milestone with wife Pat, family and Bondurant School employees and friends.

“Pat and I and everyone at the school thank our loyal sponsors, Gila River friends, thousands of former students and many others for their letters, notes, cards and e-mails,” says Bob, who will be taking birthday laps in one of his presents: a supercharged Cobra given to him by Pat.

“This is an enormous year we have all been anticipating,” says Pat, president of the school, which is this year celebrating its 45th anniversary with events on site and nationwide. “To our long-time friends throughout the world, a high-horsepower ‘Thank You!’”

After competing with dirt bikes in Southern California in his teens, Bob raced Corvettes in the mid-‘50s, winning the west coast SCCA B Production National Championship in 1959 with a stunning 18 of 20 wins. He followed this with USSRC success for the great Carroll Shelby. For his Shelby American team, Bob participated in the 1965 World Manufacturers Championship, winning seven of his 10 races in Cobras and Daytonas — still the only American team to achieve this title.

After surviving a horrendous racing accident in June 1967 at Watkins Glen, New York, he rebuilt his life by opening the Bondurant School a half year later at Orange County International Raceway in Santa Ana, Calif., and moved to the Arizona location in 1990. “Our vision was, then and now: Offer a wide variety of drivers the best track-intensive training in the world,” Bob says.

The only purpose-built facility of its kind in the world, the Bondurant School has trained nearly 500,000 people — professional racers, executives, law-enforcement officers and military specialists, performance enthusiasts and day-to-day drivers — to become safer and more proficient at handling the challenges of track, street and highway driving.

Bob Bondurant home

Winning Holidays At Pat And Bob Bondurant's Paradise Valley Home

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!”

Take a tour of Pat and Bob Bondurant’s Paradise Valley home:

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bob bondurant home bob bondurant home bob bondurant home

Scottsdale Living Magazine Fall 2012

Bob and Pat Bondurant in Monaco for Wedding

Bob and Pat Bondurant: Shifting Into Second

Where are Bob and Pat Bondurant right now?

This April celebrating their second anniversary, the couple may be in Daytona Beach at its famous race course or in Europe celebrating the 50th anniversary of the iconic Shelby Cobra, a car Bob drove to so many victories more than four decades ago — before a near-fatal track crash ended his distinguished racing career.

The Paradise Valley residents may also be guests at a Valley event as part of their broad and long-standing charity commitment — donating a custom Camaro at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale car auction, for example, or coveted driving courses at their world-famous Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix.

Since 1968, the school at Firebird International Raceway has been a life changer for Bob and a lives saver for many on the track and on the street. During its 44 years, 400,000-plus students have been trained to be better drivers: NASCAR drivers, movie stars, car enthusiasts, housewives, teenagers and military officers. Many students from out of country make the school their destination. They’re not going to America, or Phoenix; they’re going to Bondurant.

Winning — On and Off the Track

Bob and Pat Bondurant“Like most guys, I waited all my life for this perfect dream woman I had in my mind to appear, and when I finally gave up on her ever coming, there she was,” says Bondurant, 79 in April.

They married twice — first in April 2010 at the school, where she is now injecting new spirit as the company president. They were also married in Europe three weeks later during the Monaco Grand Prix — on the track, no less.

Still, Bob came as close as you can to neither wedding his dream girl nor dreaming about her.

In June 1967, at the famous Watkins Glen race track in New York, he was guiding a McLaren MARK II CanAm at 150 miles an hour into a corner. As he turned the wheel toward the straightaway, the steering arm snapped, and he went skyward.

“I can remember seeing the tops of the trees, and praying on the way down,” he recalls. “When I came to, I was in the hospital, and the doctors were telling me I wouldn’t walk again or drive in competition again.”

Here he was bed ridden with more bad news. In a few years, the once dirt-bike racer from Evanston, Ill. had raced with and against the best: Carroll Shelby, Stirling Moss, Phil Hill, Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti, Graham Hill, Peter Revson, Bruce McLaren.

He had competed in cars worldwide: Shelby Cobras and Daytona Coupes, Ford GT-40s, Formula 1 cars and Porsches and at tracks as different as Laguna Seca and Nurbürgring. He and Dan Gurney had taken the GT Class in the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans, and, with Jo Schlesser, Bob had won the GT Class in the 1965 12 Hours of Sebring.

Then, just before his accident, as a member of the Carroll Shelby Racing Team, he had won the prestigious FIA World Manufacturers Championship — the only Americans to ever do this and, better yet, to best the mighty GTOs of Enzo Ferrari, who quickly called Bob to race for the pinnacle team in racing, Ferrari F1, while anointing him, respectfully, “Bondurante Sir Cobra.”

But, although severely injured, he remembered that two years earlier, film director John Frankenheimer had asked him to train actor James Garner and others how to drive race cars for “Grand Prix.” He planned to walk again and start a driving school.

Within eight months of the accident, the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at the Orange County International Raceway opened. His first students? Paul Newman and Robert Wagner, training for the 1969 movie “Winning.”

A Dreamy Silver Screen Romance

BondurantsAppropriately, Pat and Bob met at the January 2010 Russo and Steele Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale. A Memphis, Tenn. native, Pat had relocated from Seattle to Sedona in 2001 to resolve health problems. Two years later, she moved with her daughter Meagan and son Jason to Paradise Valley.

I see this tall blonde, and I go up to her and tell her that she’s gorgeous,” Bondurant recalls when he first saw Pat, who as a teenager was a top-10 finalist for the Miss Alabama title. “I never do that.”

Then I ask, ‘Are you married?’ ” he continues. “I never do that.”

Who is this lunatic?’” Pat recalls asking herself.

Can I have your telephone number?’ I asked her,” he notes.

So, this man gives me his business card, and I hand it over my shoulder to Meagan,” Pat explains.

A few days after the auction, Meagan called Bob, handing the phone to her mom. “ ‘Give the guy another chance,’ ” she told me,” Pat says. Acceding to her daughter, she agreed to meet Bondurant at the school.

On their first date, they watched “Grand Prix”; Bondurant appears often as a technical advisor.

When I was 12 years old, I went to the movies in Nashville with my dad to see the movie,” she recalls. “I saw a man on the screen and said to my dad, ‘I am going to marry that man.’ My dad told me it was James Garner. But, when I watched it 43 years later, Bob said dad was wrong: ‘That’s me, sweetheart!’

And another crazy thing,” she adds. “When I was 8, I began to have dreams of a little boy with a helmet who refused to take it off. Before he goes off to the stars, he promises to come back for me and says, ‘Don’t forget me. You will know me by my helmet.’

“That’s why I call Bob,” she says with a big smile, ‘my dream boy.’ ”

For more information about the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix, visit bondurant.com.