A couple of weeks ago while enjoying an experience of a lifetime, fly fishing on the Miracle Mile of the North Platte River in Wyoming, I received word that a dear friend and idol of mine, Bob Bondurant had passed away. For the entire day, I felt a great loss and found myself wishing it wasn’t true. Another good friend and fishing buddy cheered me up enough to know tomorrow would be a better day. It was that evening that I found some solace while realizing how fortunate I had been to have known Bob as a close and cherished friend. To have walked in the footsteps of such a great driver was to have been blessed. Bob Bondurant was as fine a gentleman as any racecar driver could ever wish to meet, let alone have as a friend for a lifetime. He left everyone feeling something special.
The first time I met Bob was when he called to ask me if I was interested in setting up a shooting school at Sears Point Raceway to instruct affluent South Americans’ chauffeur drivers defensive shooting while he taught them defensive driving. That was the day Bob introduced me to Paul Newman only moments after Paul had crashed a car. Bob said, “Hey, my friend Gary wants to know who the crazy son of a bitch is that just wrecked that car.” While fastening his helmet, Paul looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, that crazy son of a bitch would be me.”
Over the years, I was fortunate to spend time with Bob at various tracks, and every time he treated me and others like we had been best friends for a lifetime. It was interesting to note, as famous and as talented as he was as a racing legend, he never once implied in any way that he was a better driver than anyone. He was a truly humble man who simply loved that challenge of racing and more importantly, winning. Of course, he also had a passion for teaching and had instructed many celebrities.
One day while attending an event during the Monterey Historics, I leaned over and said, “Hey Bob, see that short little dude over there? I just caught him walking into an area that was roped off to look at the rear end of one of the Cobras you drove, and I told him he shouldn’t be back there.” Bob said, “You told that guy he shouldn’t be back there?” Then he burst out laughing and said, “That’s Henry Ford Junior!”
In 2007, when Bob learned I was in Phoenix, not far from his school, en route to Mexico with my racecar to compete in La Carrera Panamericana, he called, “How would you like to get that GT350 out of the trailer? Come on by and I’ll shut things down so you can get in some laps.” It was just another typical day of Bob … laughing, seeing who could tell a bigger story and racing cars. That was just Bob’s style.
Bob was no stranger to doing things with style. I remember when he married his wife Patricia in 2010 on the start/finish line of the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 race, the very same track where he scored a fourth-place finish in 1966.
These are but a few cherished memories, and I ask myself what made Bob so special? It’s because he lived the exact same dream that racers like you and I are still dreaming about, and for that we can be grateful to Bob and NASA. After all, even Bob started out just like us.