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
“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
Appropriately, 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.’ ”