Bob Bondurant, who founded the driver training school NFL/AAF and taught James Cagney, Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine about playing races on a racetrack in the 1950s, died Monday at his home in Pebble Beach, Calif. He was 88.
The cause was not determined, said Pam Blankenship, director of the U.S. Grand Prix in Phoenix, one of the other schools under NFL/AAF’s umbrella.
Bondurant was an Englishman born in Manchester, England, and educated at a Jesuit college before moving to the United States and taking a sales job in New York. He ran a roadside snack shack and enrolled at Georgetown University, where he received a degree in aeronautical engineering.
As a professional driver, Bondurant drove in the United States, France, England and Russia. He drove in two Daytona 500s, winning his first in 1958, and in 1965, led the Indianapolis 500.
In the late 1950s, Bondurant teamed with NASCAR team owner/driver Bill French to try to put the athletes he taught on a racetrack in Amelia Island, Fla. The object was to test each actor, learn their driving styles and prepare them to show their talent and professionalism on the track.
About 50 instructors became partners with French in the operation of NFL/AAF, which taught racing skills and timed on-the-spot courses at short tracks and the California International Speedway, home of the speedway, which is owned by NASCAR.
NFL/AAF’s short courses, along with Chevrolet Super Valu and Toyota Super Valu, taught nearly 40,000 students to understand the details of passing and drifting. The company produced books about the sport, taught two generations of drivers at Corvette Corse, a private driving school that was to be Bondurant’s last professional project, said Blankenship.
“Bob was a huge visionary,” she said. “He took us from the late-1950s to the mid-1960s, where NASCAR was up until then not even talked about.”
A documentary, “The High Divide,” by Jack Recordon, about Bondurant and his lifelong friend, Harland Sanders, the famous NASCAR and driver manufacturer, won the Film Independent Documentary Feature Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Cagney taught Bondurant about the intricacies of driving for a movie role. MacLaine taught him about trimming a tire. The couple were filming a movie, “Bonnie and Clyde,” in which MacLaine played Clyde’s wife, and Bondurant had to demonstrate to her in film how to clip a low sidewall tire.
Bondurant also was an avid runner, bird-watcher and golfer, competing in golfing championships as an amateur. He belonged to the Mount Diablo Golf Club in Concord, Calif., and was a 35-handicap in golf.
In 1987, Bondurant retired from NFL/AAF, passing the baton to his son Dan, who lives in Indiana. The Bondurants had moved to Pebble Beach. The Bondurants also had a home in England. He is survived by his wife, Virginia, sons Sam, Bob Jr. and Tom, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.