A day at Bob Bondurant’s Grand Prix Racing School

by Ray Alexander, SRT8 racer and owner of the million mile van

Upon seeing the marked improvement of Dale Jr. driving a road course after going to the Bondurant School, I took a one-day course. Let me say that I am not a fan of Dale Junior, and certainly was not, no, never a fan of Dale Senior. I am a fan of one of the other NASCAR drivers that have taken training there.

racing course

I learned so much in the one-day school, and with the instructors encouraging us to take a 3 or 4-day course, I decided to do it. I always sign up at SEMA in order to get the 20% discount. There is a difference between cheap and frugal.

Bob Bondurant school Corvette

During the introductions, I said that I started driving at 11 and started speeding at 12. I love to drive and make that fast. I got a speeding ticket on the way here on a road that does not have a number; your driveway gets more traffic than this road. I did see an accident on it once, a Marine double axle truck rear-ended a civilian car; the driver is probably still peeling potatoes. A few students later, a guy says, “I’m a Federal judge, and I don’t fix tickets.”

There were far too many students but as we began to be put into cubbyholes my previous instructor popped up and I immediately said, “I choose you.” His name is Les Belchner. The other two students in my group were both snowbirds one from Erie, Pa. and the other from Rochester, N.Y. I knew that at least one car had a modified exhaust and I wanted it. The car was #14 and has a Borla exhaust.

Soon we were doing heel toe downshifts. These would be easy if you only had one more foot or a tongue long enough to tap the accelerator. Both of my snow bird brothers were having serious difficulties with this downshift.

Corvette at the Bondurant driving school

To make sure that the student is still capable of producing adrenaline, the turnaround points are spaced for a 3rd to 2nd downshift then turn around a pile of tires or hit the wall, your choice. The wall looked unfriendly so I chose to turn around the pile of tires. The last time that I visited here, the drivers doing this exercise could not spell adrenaline, much less produce any. I thought at the time, “Okay, you paid to drive someone else’s car as hard as you can, and this 35 MPH crap is all you have?”

The instructor said I have a beautiful heel toe and got out after one lap, apologizing that the other two guys are really struggling. I continually am forced to fall back in order to be going fast enough for a heel toe downshift to make sense. The rear end is not going to slide out if you downshift to 2nd at 28 MPH. At 49 MPH you need to prevent the rear wheels from seeing engine compression. When the revs and timing come together you can’t feel the clutch pick up the transmission and differential. It feels sooo good.

We went to Maricopa and I was directly behind the instructor; soon there was not a yellow car in my mirror. Maricopa reminds me of Darlington, a long turn on the south end and a short turn on the north end. The long turn is a decreasing radius turn calling for a long piece of trail braking. Then we pulled into the pits so that the other groups could go by. Heel toe is not the only thing that gave them trouble. We were turned loose but it was not long until lunch break.

Bob Bondurant school

Every time that the instructors get the chance to get you back into the classroom they give you more verbal abuse. After this you are really ready to run someone over, but the exercise is accident avoidance.

They set it up so you are approaching three lanes, and all have green lights. In the real world, there would be a minivan going through the grass trying to get the left lane and a BMW one coat of paint to the right trying to avoid getting a wheel dirty but still beat you to the right lane. To my surprise this has never given me any trouble. At the end you are under full braking still turning into a green lane. You are not going to make that turn without ABS if you follow the instructions and brake as hard as you can.

Dodge Charger on the track

We parked the Corvettes and get into the skid car, a Cadillac with a huge outboard framework and four tiny wheels spaced longer than the car’s wheelbase. It was totally ugly but the most fun to drive. You are fully in control of the car heading for a tight turn, and then you are completely out of control.

The instructor hydraulically lifted one end of the car. The last time here I learned a bit of poetry for controlling over steer and I have completed the other side of the equation for under steer. Now for the whole poem, do you have a dry handkerchief?

If the slide is in the ass
Hit the gas

If the front won’t go
You don’t need mo’

To my surprise, my other classmates did well in this exercise. I have seen people that spin so many circles I am sure they got dizzy. The guy from New York told me about a triple black Corvette that he bought new, put 3,000 gentle miles on, and sold. He said he didn’t have a clue how to drive it; then he declared he was going to buy another new one and drive the crap out of it. The Bondurant School sold another Corvette.

Charger on the track

My last time in the car, I was busy fixing an under steer when the instructor said, “Okay, a couple more oversteers, and we’re finished.” He immediately lifted the back end now all of the wheels that I could control were off the ground. I was still laughing when we hit the next oversteer.

The roads that I drove as a kid could put you into over steer while trying to go straight, especially if you were speeding. Nobody taught me to steer into a slid, did I come down the birth canal sideways?

 

 

David Zatz

David Zatz has been reviewing cars since the 1980s.