Bondurant School of High Performance Driving says Chapter 11 filing won’t end its run

The Bondurant driving school’s students have included celebrities and professional racers, as well as chauffeurs and commuters.

The Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, which traces its roots to the world’s first school for race car drivers, this month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Chandler, Ariz.

Court filings listed total debts at between $1 million and $10 million, with between 50 and 99 creditors. The organization vowed to stay in business and reorganize.

“In a difficult yet important step toward becoming a stronger company,” read a statement from the school posted to its social media page, “[w]e will continue operating and serving our students and corporate groups as usual while we develop new business relationships to ensure the vitality of the Company in the future.”

Bondurant: Driver, then a teacher

Roots in Riverside

The school has become an institution over the past half-century. Its predecessor was started in about 1961 at Riverside International Raceway in Moreno Valley, Calif., by sports car legend Carroll Shelby. Shelby hired Pete Brock to manage it and Bob Bondurant became one of the driving instructors.

Bondurant came to the school after one of the great motorsports driving careers, starting with sports cars in California.

Bondurant’s wins in Corvettes date back as far as the 1950s. He won the 1959 West Coast Sports Car Club of America B-production national championship, taking the title in 18 of 20 races. He won 30 of the next 32 SCCA races from 1960 to 1963, and ended up driving for Shelby America in 1964, taking the Cobra Daytona Coupe class at Le Mans.

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“When Dan [Gurney] and I won at Le Mans in the Daytona Coupe, it was the first time anyone had beaten the Ferrari GTOs,” Bondurant said four years ago at his induction to the SCCA Hall of Fame. “I had four of them chasing me for the final two hours and they couldn’t catch me.”

Devastating crash

His competitive driving career took a sudden turn in 1967. While Bondurant was driving a McLaren Mark II at Watkins Glen, a steering arm failure caused a devastating crash, ending Bondurant’s racing career. But his passion for racing wasn’t stifled. He continued by teaching others what he had learned.

Paul Newman and Robert Wagner were among his first students, studying for their roles in the movie Winning.

The school officially became the Bondurant School in 1968 and had been going strong for many years.

Among its students are celebrities, including Tom Cruise, Tim Allen, Nicolas Cage, Clint Eastwood, Candice Bergen, Gene Hackman, Katie Holmes, Paris Hilton, William Shatner and Ice Cube.

Racing elites

The list of big-name professional racers who have studied under Bondurant is staggering: Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Rick Mears, Kurt Busch, Buddy Rice, Johnny O’Connell, Darren Law, Jack Roush Jr., Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The school trains chauffeurs in executive-protection techniques and commuters in surviving daily traffic. There is customized instruction for corporate customers and a 200-vehicle fleet includes go-karts to Corvettes.

Over the years the school has been at Orange County International Raceway, Ontario Motor Speedway, Sears Point and, since 1990, at its current location adjacent to what is now Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, just south of Phoenix.

The bankruptcy will not mean the end of the school, the company promises.

“The Chapter 11 ensures we will have sufficient time to reorganize and position the Company for sustained success. Our plan is to emerge from this process as a stronger company and continue to drive this Company into the next 50 years.”

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