Q&A: Bob Bondurant on Shelby

Gary Witzenburg
0503 Bondurant 200

Bob Bondurant, founder and president of the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Phoenix, Arizona, was one of America's finest drivers, reaching Formula 1 (with Ferrari) before injuries from a bad crash ended that career in 1967. Five years earlier, he'd been winning nearly every race in a California dealer-sponsored Corvette when Carroll Shelby rang.

"Shelby asked what I was doing on such-and-such a day. I said, 'Nothing.' He said, 'Good. You're driving Ken Miles's Cobra, 'cause I've got him testing. Get on such-and-such a flight, stay at such-and-such a hotel.' So I thought, 'OK, I'll drive the Cobra and learn its weaknesses, then I'll be back in my Corvette. That's how we'll beat the Cobra.'"

Bondurant won that 1963 race, and the next two . . . and stayed with Shelby.

"The next year, we went to Europe. Gurney and I won Le Mans [the GT class, fourth overall] and came within five points of winning the World Manufacturers Championship. Ford sent us back in '65, and we won every race and the World Manufacturers Championship. Then I got word that Ferrari wanted to see me, and he asked me to drive for him. But I knew the 7.0-liter Ford GTs would be at Le Mans.

0503 Shelby 200

"I called Carroll and asked for his advice. He said, 'We're going to run three races--Daytona, Sebring, and Le Mans. If you're driving for Ferrari, we'll beat you. But not many Americans get a chance to race for Ferrari. If you have that chance, you should take it. And run really hard.' So, with Carroll's blessing, I ran for Ferrari in '66. And they did beat us.

"I got along great with him, learned a lot, and really enjoyed racing for him. He helped me get where I am today. One year, when Pete Brock was running his Carroll Shelby School of High Performance Driving, Pete was going on vacation, so Carroll said, 'You're going to teach.' I said, 'I never taught before.' He said, 'Just tell 'em what you do.' I said, 'I don't know what I do, I just do it.' I ran the school for a week, and he claims that was the reason I started my school."

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