It wasn’t enough that Bob Bondurant was a tremendously good racer with both two wheels and four. He taught a lot of other people, ranging from outright wankers to Hollywood glitterati, how to drive quickly and safely. By his own estimation, about half a million of them. The founder of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, who hustled everything from flat track motorcycles to a brief stint for Ferrari in Formula 1, Bondurant died this week at age 88 outside his adopted home of Paradise Valley, Arizona. Besides being the United States’ most prolific instructor on high-speed driving techniques, Bondurant was part of the pantheon of truly great American road racers as professionalism was propelling that once-dilettante activity, demonstrating his chops in the hot seat of both competition Corvettes and Shelby Cobras.
Aside from his other accomplishments, Bondurant achieved racing immorality by being the first and only American driver to bring home an FIA world championship by winning seven out of 10 international races aboard the legendary, Peter Brock-designed Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe in 1965. The previous year, he’d shared a Cobra with Dan Gurney that won GT class honors at the 24 hours of Le Mans. Still earlier, he copped 30 out of the 32 races he entered in Corvettes between 1961 and 1963. Bondurant’s instructional career got underway in 1966, when film director John Frankenheimer hired him to teach basic racing skills to star James Garner as Grand Prix was being filmed. A near-fatal crash in a Can-Am race at Watkins Glen led him to establish the Bondurant school full time, which counted everyone from weekend hobbyists to corporate security specialists to Hollywood’s best among its clients. Bondurant, we assume you realize, is the guy on the right in the school photo. You could probably fill an NFL stadium with the number of drivers whose lives his training likely saved.