For a decade prior to opening his school in 1968, Bob was racing – and winning with – practically anything on wheels. From manhandling an Indian motorcycle around the dirt ovals around his Los Angeles stomping grounds at the tender age of 18, he soon moved into sports cars. By 1959, he had captured the West Coast “B” Production Championship and the Corvette Driver of the Year Award. From 1960-63, drove the Shelly Washburn 1959 Corvette and the 1963 Z06 Sting Ray, both #614, and won 30 of the 32 races he entered.
But Carroll Shelby’s siren song lured him to drive for the wily Texan; not only did he win the ’63 Grand Prix of Riverside in a 289 Cobra, but he went to Europe in 1964, teaming with Dan Gurney, and again in ’65, teaming with Jo Schlesser; both years, the Shelby team won the GT class at the 24 Hours of LeMans. The year 1965 was a fateful one for Bondurant: beyond the LeMans class victory, he placed 3rd Overall in the 1965 Daytona 2000 KM, co-driving with Richie Ginther in a Shelby American Ford GT40. Perhaps more crucially, he won 7 out of 10 FIA World Championship races in America and Europe, driving Shelby Cobra 289 Roadsters and Daytona Coupes. This secured the 1965 FIA GT Championship Title for Ford and for the Shelby team. This is the first and (to date) only time an American has won the Championship in an American car.
Bondurant’s success with Shelby brought him to the attention of Ferrari, who fought tooth-and-nail with Ford across Europe in the ‘60s; he debuted for the Ferrari Formula One team at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix that same year. In 1966, at the wheel of a BRM P261, he placed as high as fourth in the Monaco Grand Prix, and also drove for his old pal Dan Gurney and his “All American Racers” F1 team in the US and Mexico. That same year, he acted as a driving consultant on John Frankenheimer’s epic racing film, Grand Prix, starring James Garner.
For 1967, Bob was once again leading the GT class in LeMans, this time in a Corvette L88 coupe, until an engine failure parked him. He got his claws into the fast-growing, anything-goes Can-Am racing series but tragedy struck when a steering arm in his McLaren broke at 150mph and he flipped eight times, injuring his ribs, legs, feet, and back injuries. Doctors told him he would likely never walk again, but he overcame his injuries; even so, his racing days were over.Corvette – 1967 LeMans.
Now what? Today, in a world of 24-hour motorsports coverage, a spot behind a microphone calling races and interviewing drivers is an easy way to go. But there was no such option in the late 1960s; television coverage of car racing (particularly sports-car racing, where Bob’s expertise lay) remained sparse. In his hospital bed, Bob recalled the satisfaction he derived from working with the actors on the set of Grand Prix, and quickly started to jot down what he would need to open a school. A short stint teaching at Carroll Shelby’s driving school in Riverside, California told him that he was thinking along the right lines; on February 14, 1968, he opened the Bondurant Driving School at the Orange County International Raceway near Los Angeles. Having finally regained his physical abilities, Bob opened his school in 1968 with three Datsuns, a Lola T70 Can-Am car and a Formula V.
His first class consisted of just three students. The second week there were two students–Robert Wagner and Paul Newman, who were training for the film Winning. Bob acted as technical advisor, camera-car driver, and actor-instructor in the film.
By 1970, the school moved to nearby Ontario Motor Speedway, and in 1973 to the challenging Sears Point International Raceway near Sonoma, California. In 1983, Ford Motor Company offered to provide vehicles and other support to the school.
Bob’s dream of building a purpose-built driver training facility became a reality in Phoenix, Arizona in March, 1990, when Firebird Raceway opened for business. The school maintains over 200 race-prepared vehicles, sedans, SUVs and open wheel cars, and is the largest dedicated facility of its kind in North America.
Today, Bob continues to teach daily, time permitting, and race in select vintage racing events around the country. Whether racing, speeding around the course in a Bondurant race prepared car or SuperKart, Bob is still considered the man to beat and the master of maximum car control. He has competed and won at the highest levels of motorsport, and now he offers his expertise to you, at his dedicated facility in Phoenix, as he has offered it to 300,000 satisfied graduates since 1968.