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At Bondurant, Safe Teen Driving is an Old Story

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Bob Bondurant knows what happens when a racecar driver is no longer in control of his car.

Today, 45 years after his miraculous crash survival at Watkins Glen in New York, the 79-year-old driving legend and his staff train drivers to become better drivers — many of them teens just
starting up their lives on our nation’s roads.

In June 1967, Bob’s McLaren MARK II CanAm snapped a steering arm at 150 mph and flipped eight times, throwing him above trees and telephone poles. Surviving multiple broken limbs and his
doctors’ prognoses that he would never walk again, he founded The Bob Bondurant
School of High Performance Driving at Orange County International Raceway —
since 1989 at Firebird Raceway on the Gila Indian Community in Phoenix.

During these four-plus decades, 300,000-plus students have been trained at the world-famous school: NASCAR drivers and Navy SEALs, chauffeurs and celebrities, car enthusiasts, housewives and teens.

Driving Past the Inexperience and Overconfidence of Youth

Young drivers are most vulnerable on the highways as they suffer from two deficits of youth: inexperience and overconfidence, Bob says.

“In 1989, I told Road &Track magazine: ‘I want to improve upon the completely inadequate level of driver training in this country.’ The training generally is even more inadequate now than it was back then, relying too heavily on class instruction and simulators,” he adds, noting that he immediately included teen driving safety when he started the school a year after his accident.

“Today, distractions include texting, using cell phones without headphones, loud music, other children in vehicles, conversations with passengers, eating, drinking and GPS map reading,” he says. “All of these hazards add to the inherent danger of getting behind the wheel at 75 mph with so many more cars on the road than 10, 20, 30 years ago.”

In small classes, teens from the Phoenix area and nationwide attend the classes, which emphasize vehicle time through a series of maneuvers controlled and monitored by staff. The New Teen Driving class is offered every other month on Saturdays, and the Advanced Teen Class is available weekly year round.

During the course of a day, the exercises include accident avoidance, basic slaloms, road courses and skid cars, in which a Bondurant instructor throws a new Cadillac CTS into a potential spin and shows drivers out to regain control of his or her car.

“Our main goal is to give the young people the tools and knowledge to be safer drivers,” says Danny Bullock, assistant chief instructor, who often leads an initial half-hour instruction on the basics of driving — concentration, vision and vehicle dynamics — before the teens participate in the driving maneuvers to reinforce the classroom presentation. In one recent Saturday session, for example, he was assisted by instructors Steve Swinnerton, Will Parker and Rob Knipe.

Teens and Parents Turn to Bondurant

Thousands of teens have profited from these classes during the 44 years of the Bondurant School — many accompanied by their parents, who often watch the class and behind-the-wheel instruction.

“I’ve wanted both of our children to know the joy of driving that can only come from being in total control,” says Joe Vellutini, a Gilbert resident whose son, Nick, 16, a student at Gilbert High School, attended this class with about 10 other Valley teens.

“I feel you owe it to your children to send them out in to the world with the necessary skills to survive. But I also feel you owe it to the world to not send another poor driver out there,” says Joe, whose daughter also enjoyed the beginner teen course two years ago.

“The same course gave our daughter much more confidence, which was exactly what she needed. For Nick, it gave him a new respect for how much he still doesn’t know, and that has served to temper his overconfidence. For my and his mother Peggy’s part, we both feel it was an excellent investment.

Joe adds: “A driver’s license is ridiculously easy to come by in this country and, as a result, our roads are filled with dangerously undertrained drivers whose lack of skill is only matched by their lack of regard for those they share the roads with. We refuse to add to that trend.”

Evan Kurtz, 17, and his friend Elijah Farrell, 16, both juniors at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee, also found the day at Bondurant enjoyable.

“Evan enjoyed the class and instructors and didn’t know that learning about driving could be so much fun. He thought they were very professional and had fun interacting with them and that they understood the age group,” says his dad, Kevin, who notes that Evan particularly applauded the ABS braking system instruction and skid control and plans to attend one of the advanced driving classes.

“As parents, we were a bit concerned that he may be a bit bored since he has been driving for over a year along with his years of experience with off-road riding, so we were pleased that he felt it was a good experience,” adds his mom, Kim. Both parents attended the event.

Elijah notes: “I had a blast and I learned how to get out of a slide and how to react faster to certain scenarios and also how to slam on the brakes yet avoid getting into an accident.”

Being prepared for the unexpected was essential for his parents, Pat and Monica, who note that Elijah’s grandfather was a driver’s education instructor who gave him a few lessons when he was just learning.

Still, both wanted Elijah to get more practice behind the wheel and more time with a permit and also wish his high school offered drivers education course, as budgeting cuts have nixed this in Arizona.

“Bondurant is one way parents can address that lack of education, especially the simulated real road conditions and surprises you face behind the wheel,” Monica says. “He is more confident in how to avoid accidents, although I hope to not personally observe this while I’m in the car!”

Adds dad: “The confidence-building for a new driver and accident-avoidance techniques are huge for him, and the fact they are learning from professional drivers at a reputable facility gives us some peace mind. He will be driving a company vehicle over the summer break, so anything to ensure safety is crucial.”

“Car crashes are the leading cause of death for young drivers, so the goal of these advanced programs is to equip participants with the skills they need to avoid one. By offering expert driver training in a controlled learning environment, the goal is to give these drivers more experience to handle dangers on the road if they arise,” says Linda Gorman, APR director, Communications and Public Affairs for Phoenix-based AAA Arizona.

Bondurant, she explains, is part of the AAA Approved Driving School Network and AAA, as well as other insurance companies, offers various discounts and incentives for high-quality programs such as those presented at the school.

Benjamin Crozier, 16, an honors sophomore at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, says he wanted to attend the course because his dad, Scott, spoke about his experience at Bondurant more than a decade ago, how much he had learned and been challenged by it.

“I believe one cannot get too much driving experience,” says his mom, Mary, who had given the course as a gift to Scott and joined with him to send their son. Ben had also heard about Bondurant through the Driving MBA program he had taken when first learning how to drive and especially enjoyed the real-time driving experience, which reinforced the skills he learned on the simulators there.

“After the class, which Benjamin clearly enjoyed, I did feel more confident with his driving,” she says. “So much of good driving is having the right attitude coupled with excellent skills. I believe Benjamin has a good head on his shoulders, and, with DrivingMBA and Bondurant under his belt, he will be even better equipped when faced with multiple driving challenges.”

“We felt the Bondurant course reinforced the concepts Claire learned at DriverMBA,” says her mother, Cathy Cadwallader, who with husband Steve gave their daughter the course as a Christmas gift.

“At first, she felt that it would be redundant after the advanced DriverMBA course she took,” says Cathy, a Fountain Hills resident. “But she found that that this course reinforced the time spent in the simulator and was thus beneficial.”

Claire, 16, a junior at Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, is a skilled equestrian show jumper and immediately recognized similar skills for both riding and driving. Fundamentals in both, such as the importance of looking ahead and anticipating as well as the effects of weight transfer in horses and horsepower, were evident to her.

“When I come back,” she says enthusiastically, “I’d like to get in the cars on the race track.”

For these and other driving and race programs, see www.bondurant.com or call 1.800.842.RACE.

Byline: David M. Brown

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LOCATION

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

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

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