Q&A: Bob Bondurant on Shelby

Gary Witzenburg
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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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