On my 40th birthday, Mary Ann presented me with a certificate for the Grand Prix Road Racing Course, their signature and most expensive class. Wow! How cool was that. The course was a four day event with the first two days in Roush prepared Mustangs followed by two days in open wheel Formula Fords. At that time, Bob's facility was at Sears Point Raceway, a 2.52-mile road course located on the landform known as Sears Point in the southern Sonoma Mountains near Sonoma, California. The road course features 12 turns on a hilly course with 160 feet of total elevation change.
I was excited but anxious about taking the course but Mary Ann thought I'd better learn how to correctly drive the big horse power cars we had in the garage.
We love road trips so we drove the Mazda RX-7 from Salt Lake City to Napa Valley the month following my birthday.
Robby Gordon was a classmate and during introductions on the first day, mentioned that his goal was to run in the Indianapolis 500, we all laughed at his egotism. Absolutely no one could keep up with him, not even the instructors. This kid (19 at the time) seemed to have a death wish and drove like his ass was on fire. We were driving the same vehicle, configured with the same drive-train and tires. I'd tuck in behind him thinking, if he stuck, I could too. No way! I didn't last two turns and he left me in the dust. He made the big show just four years later and drove in the Indianapolis 500, 10 times, almost winning in 1999. Robby has raced in NASCAR, Champ Car, Indycar, Trans-Am, IMSA, IROC and the Dakar Rally. No race teams came knocking on my door for my services, it's a good thing I had Air Traffic Control to fall back on.
We got more track time that I expected and used the entire course during training. I was disappointed in my performance in the Mustangs as my speeds were in the bottom third of the class. When we switched to Formula Fords, my confidence level changed, and I jumped to the top third of the class with my lap times falling every session.
The signature turn at this track is the "Carousel", a very fast downhill, constant radius left hand sweeper. This turn was bumpy and the car danced all over the place during this section. If you couldn't stay on the gas and keep the car balanced or touched the brake, you usually looped it here. Remember, "In a spin, two feet in..." to save the engine and transmission. A lot of people in the class did just that. I had a tough time getting through this section without losing a lot of time. Frankly, I was intimidated and would love to go back and try it again.
Sears Point Raceway, Turn 6, "The Carousel"
I felt more comfortable in the Formula Fords and for me, an easier car to drive at the limit. They went where pointed and were very responsive, stable and balanced. Considering the street tires, the stick was amazing. The foot box was very small and I had a hard time with the pedals with my size 13 feet.
This was California wine country and Mary Ann spent her days visiting different wineries tasting their wares. She would pick me up at the track at the end of each day, usually blitzed. Of course, I was grinning from ear to ear and still on the adrenalin rush and couldn't stop talking about the day's activity.
A log book was issued and each day's sessions logged, actual track time noted and a grade given. The school is a first class operation, well run, with excellent equipment the instructors. The instructors just don't go through the motions but really want the student to learn and take the time for those in need. This class was the most valuable experience of my lifetime for car control and confidence in pushing to the limit. If you have an interest in becoming a better/faster driver, consider a high performance driving course from Bondurant, you won't be sorry.
Sears Point Hot Lap
I met Robby Gordon at an Indycar event at Lagua Seca Raceway many years later. He was driving, I was a spectator. We talked about our time at the school. I got his autograph on my event ticket and keep it with a signed photograph of him driving his Indycar through the corkscrew. I was introduced to the entire team got a tour of his car, hauler and mobile race shop.
The Bondurant school moved to a a purpose-built driver training facility in Phoenix, Arizona in March, 1990, when Firebird Raceway opened for business. They now use a race-prepared C6 Corvette and the open wheel Formula Mazda with wings and slicks for the Grand Prix Road Racing course.