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The Learning Curve

The Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving

Aug 19, 2004

As we twist into corner two, the tires begin to howl and the Cadillac CTS starts showing signs of traction loss. Hands begin to white-knuckle and the Goodyear tires begin to feel slippery. Only moments before complete loss of control Patrick Sallaway, instructor at the Bondurant School urges us to ease onto the brake to transfer weight forward. As we gently begin to trail the brakes the CTS digs into the hot tarmac and control returns to the front tires. You've just experienced trail braking, says Sallaway: a technique that uses the brakes to transfer weight from the tires that slide to the tires that steer.

The Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving in Phoenix, Arizona, is owned and operated by instructor extraordinaire Bob Bondurant, who since 1968 has taught 85,000-plus students the art of high performance driving. In addition to Bondurant, the school employs professional drivers from around the globe with talent ranging from World Rally to NASCAR, and everything in between. With instruction in performance driving, teen safety, drifting, and evasive maneuvering the Bondurant School has something for just about everyone with a license and a few spare bucks.

The only way for you readers to get the true sensation of racing is to hit the track, and we can think of no better way than by telling you about all the fun and excitement we gained while at the Bondurant School. Oh, and we almost forgot about all the cool stuff we learned in the process.

Our first day of school was just like the beginning of high-school, only we were all grown up, as grown up as a hot rodder can be anyway. We were surrounded by instructors in red racing suits, and famous drivers staring at us from the photos on the walls. As we were guided into the classroom we signed our lives away and were itching to get onto the track. To our surprise, the Grand Prix Road Racing course we signed up for required a set amount of classroom time, per the requirement of the SCCA sanctioning body. With 90 minutes of classroom time under our belts we jumped in our C5 Vettes and were off to the handling oval, where skid control, heel-tow down shifting, and trail braking were taught. After an hour of this activity, our brains were so tired of turning we were beggin' for a mental break.

For the 24 hours we were slaves of the handling oval, just wishing we could get the perfect heel-toe down shift. By the beginning of day three we were ready for the track. Our minds were prepped and our bodies were aching for lateral g's. Boy were we surprised when we realized how difficult combining all the elements of racing can be. Remembering to look ahead, trail brake, downshift and apex is a lot to grasp at 100 mph. Worst comes the worst you smack the wall at 70 or 80 mph, that's what the Bondurant insurance is for.

By the end of day three we had countless laps on the 1.6-mile road-race course. We felt quite comfortable in our lil' yellow C5s, only to find out that on day four we would be transferred into full-blown Formula Bondurant race cars. With a 1:7 power to weight ratio, it's understandable how these machines can turn faster, stop better and accelerate better than most any street car in the world. Just inches from the open-wheel car in front of you, the only thing from tire rubbing is a good reaction and enough sense to know when to back off. If you think your Chevelle handles good, wait until you jump into a Formula car. It may no have the throaty 396, but is hauls donkey!

Upon our final few moments of school we were given a small card containing our grade in the class and our application for SCCA regional eligibility. In the eyes of the SCCA we were licensed to race!


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While the classroom may have seemed boring, the information we learned saved us a heap of embarrassment on the track.

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The Bondurant School sponsored by GM, Goodyear and a host of other automotive names, provided us with fresh C5 Vettes outfitted with fire systems and full cages. Not that we were planning on using either.

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In addition to the Vettes, we spent time in our instructors' Cadillacs, outfitted with full hydraulic lifts used to simulate skid situations. Comfort for the instructors and speed for the students.

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While sideways rubber burning meant slower track times, it sure was fun.

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The 1.6-mile road course produced 100-plus mph speeds on the main straightaway.

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Our 900-pound Formula Bondurant race cars required full fire suits and closed face helmets. Powered by only a 120hp four banger, these lil' machines pulled more g's than a Z06 Vette!

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In between sessions, a little fun was still had.

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Before each session, Bondurant instructors give a 'demonstration' of the task at hand. And believe us, those guys do more with a Caddy than we did with Vettes!

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Not sure if you've got what it takes. Check out the Bondurant School and teach your '69 Camaro what it was meant to do, carve!

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