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Bob Bondurant at 80

Fri, 26 Apr 2013

Last fall, as we waited for our turn to partake in a braking drill at Bob Bondurant's driving school in Arizona, a black Cadillac CTS-V coupe came screaming out of the facility's parking area and onto the tarmac where we sat. The driver hustled the big two-door around a tight autocross course at a startling pace, though he likely would have been faster had he avoided some of the smoky, sideways stuff. Our instructor, Johnny O'Connell, grinned, “I guess it's good to be the boss.”

Bondurant -- who turns 80 on Saturday -- started racing an Indian motorcycle as a teenager. His sports-car racing career began in 1956, and he's been living in that world ever since.

He drove for Carroll Shelby, winning his class at Le Mans in 1964 driving a Cobra Daytona Coupe and followed that by helping Shelby and Ford win an FIA manufacturer's title in 1965. He raced in CanAm, NASCAR and Formula One.

Today, he's probably best known for his Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. Since he started the school in 1968, Bondurant has taught celebrities like Tom Cruise, Tim Allen, Nicolas Cage and Clint Eastwood. But the school is more than just a training ground for actors. The list of big-name professional racers who have studied under Bondurant is staggering. Paul Newman, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Rick Mears, Kurt Busch, Buddy Rice, Johnny O'Connell, Darren Law, Jack Roush Jr. and Bill Elliott are just a handful of the pros who have sought council at Bondurant's school.

At just a day younger than 80, Bondurant remains an enthusiastic teacher, and he still drops in on classes to offer individual instruction or to give an instructor a hard time. He seems to be one of those genuine car guys for whom the pursuit of speed will never lose its allure. After watching him smile like a kid after flogging his 556-hp Caddy, it was hard to imagine that he'll ever give up that pursuit.

By Rory Carroll