Pat Bondurant is a force to be reckoned with. Outspoken, driven, and accomplished, she worked with NASA as a draftsman designer on the first space shuttle; was the lead designer on the Tomahawk Cruise Missile facility; is a tennis, archery, and basketball champion; a beauty queen and TV model; and since 2010 has been the president and eventually the CEO of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving—which in itself is a tale of influence, trials, and legacy.
As we settle in to chat, it’s difficult to decide where to begin. Her influential career, philanthropic endeavors, marriage to legendary racecar driver Bob Bondurant, or the current status of the racing school. We decide to start at the beginning.
“I was born in the middle of nine kids—my mom actually wanted 12!” Bondurant says of her family. “She was a brilliant woman who graduated high school at 13 and went on to be the second highest-ranking woman in the government at that time. So, my impression of women’s roles was that you can have babies and a successful career. My dad was incredible, too—he was my biggest fan, supporting me in whatever I wanted to do.
“My entire life is full of colorful and successful experiences because I was told the world was my oyster,” she says.
Bondurant had taken a drafting class in high school since she was headed off to fashion design school when she spotted an ad by NASA for draftsmen.
“Imagine going to work for NASA and you don’t know anything about aerospace, but when you walk in the door there’s hundreds of men at drafting boards as you arrive fashionably in hot pants and platforms. I was in TV commercials, newspapers, and working for NASA at the same time,” she says, laughing, of her time when her modeling career overlapped with her career at NASA.
Then, after the space shuttle launch, Bondurant transitioned into architecture, where she was hired by a Fortune 100 company to build her first buildings. Eventually, she founded her own architectural firm where she won national design awards for the world’s first two-story fitness center.
In 2001, she left Bellevue, Washington, and moved to Arizona due to severe mold allergies. She first settled in Sedona, launching a very successful television station, which quickly flourished.
“For years I was in front of the camera, and now I was behind the camera producing and directing, and I had a ball!” she says.
She was a single mother, raising her son and daughter on her own.
She moved from Sedona to Paradise Valley so her 16-year-old daughter could attend Chaparral High School. Only attending there a few months, like her grandmother, she graduated from high school early.
Then, in 2010, a chance meeting changed her life once again.
She and her daughter were auctioning off their Viper at the Russo and Steele auction when she met Bob Bondurant the night of the charity gala. They were soon married, with Bob adopting Pat’s son and giving him the Bondurant name.
“Bob and I have an extraordinary love story,” Bondurant says.
Bob is an American icon on the global racing stage. He is the World Championship driver, Le Mans winner, and inducted in 10 Hall of Fames, racing for Corvettes, Shelby American, Formula One Ferrari, to name a few. Bob is one of America’s most famous drivers to emerge from the Southern California road racing scene.
In 1968, Bob, recovering from a horrific racing accident, opened the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Orange County, California, acting on a desire to teach people his racing craft.
By 1973, Bob purchased Sears Point Raceway. However, after years of smog and earthquakes, drawn by the sunshine and his love of Saguaro cacti, he relocated the #1 racing school in the world to Chandler in 1989.
Since it opened, the school has been responsible for globally training generations of racing drivers and Hollywood celebrities.
A recent Forbes article stated, “But the school wasn’t just about training celebrities, thousands of everyday people have taken Bondurant courses, and 90% of NASCAR drivers as well.”
“As a matter of fact, most of the champions standing on the podium today are Bondurant graduates.” Bondurant says. “In fact, the school has specialized in instruction for high performance driving, teen defensive driving, law enforcement and special forces driving, open wheel race car training, Grand Prix road racing, drag racing, go karts, and more. Everyone comes through Bondurant.”
Recently, the iconic school went through unique times when Bondurant’s adopted son attempted, but failed, at a hostile takeover. Pat and Bob found themselves fighting to save what Bob had built for the past 50 years.
“I want the world to know that we were presented with a set of false financials, and we were never legally qualified to be in Chapter 11,” Bondurant says of the misinformation leading to the attempted takeover as she is successfully maneuvering through malpractice proceedings with the school attorneys and CRO.
Eventually, the intellectual property lawsuits played out and justice prevailed, with Pat and Bob securing the rights to their school’s name and company. They walked away from the Chandler facility and are now in deep negotiations with titans in the racing industry and hope to be announcing the new Bondurant School plans in the next few months.
“Many [locations] are offering us land to build the new Bondurant school, and we’re looking at everything,” Bondurant shares.
The Bondurant Racing School has historically averaged a local economic impact of about $40 million annually—this does not include the economic impact it had on the Gila River Resort, Casino, and many amenities—but the Bondurants have also been incredible supporters of the local community, averaging about 100 charities per year, earning them the accolades of being pillars of our community.
Pat and Bob Bondurant, racing’s royal couple, are just as iconic for their charitable endeavors as they are for their global business. For years, Bondurant has spent much of her personal time fundraising for Childhelp, St. Jude, TRENDS, VINO, Healing Hearts Animal Rescue, Kids in Focus, and many others.
The couple has led such extraordinary lives—both separately and together—and have impacted so many that they are currently in talks with Netflix regarding a movie. Although the talks began around Bob’s life, “then they heard our love story,” Bondurant shares.
The love story endures, as will the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.
“I’m a wife, mother, caregiver, friend, and philanthropist, and that will continue,” says Bondurant. “And, the Bondurant Racing School will go forward, and it will go forward with a new, high-tech facility that will be around for many, many years.
“Bob and I are incredibly grateful for the thousands of journalists, sponsors, graduates, and fans encouraging our tenacity in keeping the #1 racing school in the world as a pillar in the automotive industry. In this season of gratitude, we know that God has the last word in everything that we do.”