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Andy Lee: Driving the Bondurant Dream

AndyLee_2012

Andy Lee began washing cars as an entry-level mechanic at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in 2003. Now, he teaches advanced high-performance driving courses at the world-famous school and, with the support of Bob and Pat Bondurant and Andy’s associates at the school, he competes, and wins, in professional go-karting and car-racing
circuits.

“I’vealways known about the school since I was a kid,” says Andy, who grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo., with his mom, sister, uncle and grandmother. He lives in Chandler, not too far from the world-famous school at Firebird International Raceway in Phoenix.

“My mother worked numerous jobs to support my sister and me,” he recalls. “When she was at work, I remember watching a lot of racing with my uncle, which is how I decided racing was what I wanted to do with my life.”

He moved to Arizona in 2002 after high school to train at UTI as a mechanic; at the time he lived in Glendale. “I remember seeing Bondurant ads in every car magazine laying around the house back in Colorado, and I thought that training at UTI would be my best chance at getting my foot in the door with the Bondurant School and racing in general.

Winner From the Starting Line 

“The moment I arrived, I pestered the school for a job,” he adds. “It took a full year of constantly bugging the shop manager of the school before I was finally hired. I was able to meet Bob shortly after.”

Cars and motorsports are his earliest memories. “My uncle took me to a ton of races as a kid, but the race that sticks out the most was a Trans-Am race back in the mid ‘90s. I was a huge Tommy Kendall fan, and I remember watching him battle to the last lap at PPIR in Colorado Springs. It was an amazing race!”

Without major support, he started racing in late 2003, when he was 19. “My mother sold her house to help me buy an entry-level race car to start my career,” he says, noting that he returns on the holidays to visit her and the family. “I did quite well right from the start but ran out of money after only a handful of NASA [National Auto
Sport Association] events.”

Through the Bondurant School, he started working for a karting club owned by Tempe chiropractor and racing enthusiast Barry Pantzer. “He gave me a kart to race in exchange for working for him and his club,” Andy says.

From 2003 to 2008 in the Phoenix Kart Racing Association, Andy worked as a mechanic and driver, winning with numerous podium finishes. In 2007, Kart Sport Magazine named him “privateer of the year,” and as a Tony-Kart/Kosmic team driver, he scored two wins and two third-place finishes to secure the 2008 Florida Winter Tour Championship in the TAG Kart Class.

Shortly after the championship, he was selected by Volkswagen to compete in the TDI Cup Series; he was one of 30 drivers selected out of more than 500 applicants. Sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America, the series was started in 2008 and features drivers, 16 to 26, in highly modified Volkswagen Jettas.

He raced in the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup across North America from 2008–2010. He ended the 2008 season in 10th, but in 2009, he set two track records, had three podium finishes and finished second overall in points.  In 2010, he also worked with former Indy car driver Jan Haylen as an instructor.

Harry’s Team, Bondurant’s Support

When coaching for the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup in early 2010, he met his current sponsor, Harry Curtin, a Paradise Valley resident who owns Best IT, an Information Technology service company.

Harry helped Andy compete in England in the Volkswagen Scirocco Cup at Brands Hatch, where Andy finished 11th.  Later that year, both men competed in the Baja 1000 in the 1600 Pro Class in 2010; Andy finished 10th after 30-plus hours of driving.

He also raised independent sponsorship to race in the Volkswagen Scirocco Cup at Brands Hatch, the first compressed-natural-gas race series; in a field of 30 drivers, including ex-F1 shoes, Andy placed 11th. 
He also finished 10th that year in the Baja 1000, driving in the1600 Pro Class.

In 2011 Harry and Andy decided to start a World-Challenge team. The World Challenge is essentially the sprint-racing version of Grand-Am’s Continental Tire Series, with 50-minute races and production-based cars.

Through Pat and Bob, two Bondurant School 2011 SS Camaros were sold to the team — at cost. The Bondurants were both encouraged by Andy’s enthusiasm for driving — and his proven driving ability.

Pat recalls: “I asked Bob when we were first married, how he knows who’s going to be a quality driver and capable of competing at a high level, and Bob told me, ‘It’s spirit and attitude as much as innate driving talent — and when I did hot laps with Andy, I knew this young man had a future in the sport. And, he’s proving it!’”

In 2011, the Best IT team built the Camaros on volunteer time from Bondurant mechanics Jason Cole, Dave Stevens, and Terrence Sapon and Andy — the first race cars they had ever built. The first one took 90 days and the second car 60 days. The #20 is owned by Andy’s long-time supporter and sponsor, Harrison Gentry. The #29 was funded by Harry.

“In the two years, it has taken to put World-Challenge program together, the Bondurant School has provided a huge amount of support to me by storing and maintaining the Camaros as well as providing track time for valuable testing,” Andy says, noting that Bondurant employee, Cameron Corbin, transports the cars to most of the events.

“This [2012] would be Harry’s first year competing at the professional level, and he knew a lot of training would be necessary,” Andy says. The two trained at the Bondurant School once or twice a week during 2011 and 2012 so that Harry could
perfect his craft to drive one of the two Camaros.

A Winning 2012 Season

With almost no test time, Andy was able to take the pole for the first race at St. Petersburg — amazing for a group of mechanics on their first try competing against highly experienced teams with professionally prepared race cars from Ford, Acura, Porsche and Kia. They did have some additional help: Just before the first race, the team
brought on engineer Chris Harrison to fine-tune the cars.

At the end of the season, Andy scored second in the GTS championship with most wins in the series (four), three poles, one third, seven top fives and two top tens. As a result, he received the World Challenge Rookie of the Year honors for the most championship points at the end of the year. Meanwhile, Harry was consistently in the top 15 at every event and logged three top-ten finishes and finished tenth in the GTS championship. And, the Best IT team was voted Crew of the Year.

“The Bondurant mechanics built Andy’s stock Camaro into the hottest Camaro at the World-Challenge competition,” says Bob, world-champion driver and school founder. “Andy is just another Bondurant instructor to go on to take championship trophies, and I am very proud of him.”

“I always say I may not be the fastest driver, but I will always find a way to win because I want it more than most drivers,” says Andy, who’s raced throughout the USA, Mexico, Canada and England.

“I didn’t have a wealthy family to pay for my rides and have always had to learn to market myself to sponsors to get where I needed to be,” he adds. “I’ve always been willing to do what it takes to make it.”

He thanks them all: Best IT, Big Boys Toys Storage Condos, Crown7.com, Centerforce Clutches, OS Giken, Eibach, Pfadt Race Engineering, Renew Paint and Body, Be Cool Radiators — and the Bondurant School.

Throughout his driving and instructional careers, the school has been his anchor and inspiration: “Being an instructor at the Bondurant School has truly been a dream come true,” Andy says. “I never thought in a million years that I would be lucky enough to hold that position.”

 

—David M. Brown for the Bondurant School

LOCATION

Track:
20000 S. Maricopa Road, Gate #3
Chandler, AZ 85226

Mailing:
P.O. Box 51980
Phoenix, AZ 85076

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