Bob would soon learn what...
Bob would soon learn what it was like to drive an F1 car, how fragile they were, as well as how dangerous Monza in Italy was in 1965. Bob was told most of the top drivers took one particular corner flat-out at 150 mph. It took some laps before Bob felt comfortable doing so. When he did, the rear axle of the ATS GP car broke, it hit an embankment, and he was thrown out. Bob did not wear a seat belt. “The windscreen and the rollbar were sheared off. If I had been strapped in, I would have been decapitated.”
Twice, Bob was badly injured, not from driver error, but from mechanical failure. It could happen again, if it did and the results were worse, how would he make a living, Bob wondered?
Lying in the hospital bed with broken bones didn’t break his desire to get back on track, in more ways than one. Bob formulated a plan to open a high-performance driving school. After all, he tutored the likes of actor James Garner during the filming in 1966 for his role in Grand Prix, and enjoyed passing on what he’d learned driving race cars to Rockford (who became a gifted race car driver in his own right), and the other actors in the film.
Bob realized his dream, opening the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving at Orange County Raceway on Valentine’s Day 1968 with a Vee-Dub van (minus the peace signs and daisies), a Datsun 510, and a Formula V for starters.
In the interim, Bob did get back on track (or the horse so to speak), knowing he had a growing business to fall back on should anything catastrophic happen again, entering a Can-Am race June 1970 driving a Chevy Lola T160.
When Ontario Motor Speedway opened in 1970, Bob moved his school to the $25 million complex, but the track’s troubled management forced him to then move to Sears Point, north of Frisco, which he outgrew, then finally to Firebird International Raceway in Chandler, Arizona. Bob’s fleet has grown to 200 race-prepared Cads, Vettes (naturally), open-wheel Formula cars, and karts.
Bob came in Fourth, driving...
Bob came in Fourth, driving a privately entered V-16 British Racing Motors (BRM) Formula 1 Car at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966 for Team Chamaco Collect against the factory BRM enters of Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill. Stewart won the race with Lorenzo Bandini finising Second in a Ferrari, World Champion Graham Hill Three in a BRM, and Bob Fourth. Not too shabby for a guy who raced flat-track Harleys.
Bob competed in 36 different events after his crash up to 2004, which included Daytona, 24 Hour of Le Mans, Nurburgring, Germany, and the Sebring 12 Hour. At 62, Bob grabbed a Third place podium finish at Road Atlanta in a Saleen Mustang in 1995.
Bob’s massive 60-acre complex in Arizona is designed to show students the fastest and safest way around the 1.6-mile road course. Since Bob has never stopped racing (he still enters vintage events), he still has some sneaky moves his experienced instructors have never seen before.
Bob is living a hot rodder’s fantasy; he can race anytime he damn-well pleases and the only red lights in his mirrors are the cop cars on the track taking his Law Enforcement training class. Bob is definitely the kid who owns the candy story!
Bob learned to drive in his buddy’s mom’s Chrysler that they sorta borrowed. The next thing you know, he’s driving a Cobra down a dark straightaway at 190-plus mph in France, not once, but for hours. Bob might’ve thought, if just for an instant, if the guys at the Piccadilly could only see me now! Bob should be an inspiration to anyone who has a dream … he followed his.
Bob went from racing on Southern...
Bob went from racing on Southern California’s (relatively safe) airport courses outlined with hay bales and snow fencing to racing though perilous public mountain roads and hairpin curves in Europe. Bystanders lined the 45-mile-long course on the island of Sicily at the tip of Italy where Bob and co-driver John Whitmore drove a pre-production GT 40 Spyder in the 1965 Targa Florio endurance road race. Bob placed the Prototype as high as Fourth before, on lap 9 of the 10-lap race, he hit some loose gravel spread by another car and smacked a wall, tearing off the front wheel.
This extraordinary photograph...
This extraordinary photograph captures the fatigue, the relief, and the jubilation showing on the faces of Bob and Dan Gurney winning the GT III category for the United States in the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, a full lap ahead of the Fifth place 250 GTO Ferrari after 24 grueling hours. The scuttlebutt was the two hot rodders from Southern California driving a small-block Ford hot rod didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Ferrari at Le Mans. The emotions of the moment have stayed with them both all their lives, not just finishing Fourth in class, but finishing Fourth overall in June 1964. (That wasn’t a Ford or Shelby man about to whisper congratulations into Bob’s ear, but the Porsche racing director Fritz Huschke von Hanstine, saying to call him if Bob ever wanted to drive for Porsche. Bob later took the “Racing Baron” up on his offer.)