A few months ago, Alan and Mike DeNaro of Massachusetts packed for a flight to Phoenix. When they arrived, father and son drove 15 minutes from the airport to the world-famous Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, where Mike participated in an Advanced Teen Driving 3-Day course.
“Because the school has a great reputation for enhancing driving skills, my wife Carol and I knew that it would provide us with reinforcement that Mike has the skills and abilities to handle a motor vehicle under varying types of road and weather conditions,” Alan says.
The only purpose-built facility of its kind in the world, the 400-acre Bondurant School, on the Gila River Indian Community in Chandler, has trained nearly 500,000 people — NASCAR racers, executives and chauffeurs, performance enthusiasts and day-to-day drivers — to become safer and more proficient at handling the challenges of track, street and highway driving.
Fortunately, one of the days it was raining in the Valley — which Mike encounters often in New England, with snow and hail and other inclement conditions. Valley-based teens enrolled in this course also received the additional benefit of driving in slick-road weather — most frequently encountered in the Valley as summer monsoons and winter storms.
“The rain helped,” Mike recalls. “It added an extra variable to the driving. The slippery surface made it more challenging, and it taught me how to control the car in rain.”
Under the guidance of skilled Bondurant instructors, Mike drove one of the school’s skid cars, in which the instructor safely creates skid conditions and shows the teen how to drive safely out of them. He also drove the slalom course, the auto cross and the racing track as well as learned how to drive a manual transmission.
“I learned how avoid accidents, to properly take a turn, to control a car in a skid, and I learned how to handle the car better,” he explains. “I will take away all of those skills. I feel like I am a better driver after taking this course. I feel more confident in my driving ability.”
The DeNaros’ concerns are shared by all concerned families who have teens just beginning to drive or tweens just a few years off from the wheel. For 45 years, Bondurant, the acclaimed driver and driving instructor, and his superlative staff have been teaching new drivers the skills to handle normal and emergency road conditions — all the while giving their parents less concern about handing them the keys to the family car.
Bill Glatzel, a Phoenix resident also wanted the assurance that his son Tyler would bring to the road the best skills that could be acquired anywhere — more assurance than a basic chalkboard course and virtual-world simulators would provide.
“Tyler’s dad signed him up for the course because he wanted to be sure he would have a better-than-average understanding of how to handle unexpected and emergency situations should they occur,” says Lisa Glatzel, Tyler’s grandmother.
She and her now-deceased husband Ralph moved to the Valley from Wisconsin before Tyler was born — but they knew the Bondurant School back then, she explains. “I have no doubt in my mind that this experience made Tyler a much safer and educated driver. The fact that he took this course has increased his level of self-confidence even more. As a result, I have total confidence in his driving and feel even more comfortable.”
“At Bondurant, we teach teens safety and more safety,” says Bondurant, this year celebrating his 80th birthday. “That, by the way, is what we also teach our NASCAR drivers, too, but at their higher experience levels and under intense track conditions.”
While many teen programs offer mostly classroom time and stimulator training, the Bondurant School emphasizes “seat time” — putting the young drivers into cars in real-time and instructing based on real situations they will encounter sometime in their lives.
All teen courses offer approximately 80 percent in-car instruction with Bondurant employees, many of whom are professional drivers. The instructors use starter Chevy Sonics for the basic 5-Hour Teen Course and the company’s more powerful Camaros for the 1-, 2- and 3-Day Advanced Teen classes.
Following daily morning ground school training, covering subjects such as confidence, concentration, awareness, vision and anticipation, the teens learn, on their seats, real-world techniques for dealing with understeer, oversteer and accident avoidance.
“We just don’t teach concepts here to teens,” Bondurant says. “We teach procedures, mechanisms, life-saving maneuvers. At Bondurant, we state it on the classroom blackboard and restate it on the asphalt.”
Following classroom work, the track schedule can include a variety of exercises, such as ABS braking exercises, autocross and lead and follow — all designed to simulate real-world conditions. Some insurance companies, such as AAA and State Farm, in fact, offer discounts for completed teen courses at quality schools such as Bondurant.
Albern Tan of Chandler recently completed the 2-day Teen Advanced Course and is driving more confidently every day. “I gained experience controlling and recovering from skids, maneuvering the vehicle to change lanes quickly, the effect of weight shift on car turns and enhancing your vision to look farther down the road,” he says.
Also because of the extensive track time, the Bondurant experience taught Amir Rosenbaum’s son, Daniel, respect. “Cars are incredibly powerful and very heavy and — as we adults know — can cause a lot of damage and destruction,” says the Silicon Valley resident. “All kids know about cars is from passengering in the back seat and what happens to cars on video games — and that’s very different from real life.”