Bob Bondurant, Olympic wrestler, entrepreneur and trainer to celebrities, dies aged 91

Bob Bondurant was a racer, trainer and instructor for motorsports legends such as Stirling Moss, Richard Petty and driver Brian Vickers.

His family announced that he died of natural causes in his Chappaqua, New York, home on Friday.

Bondurant was an athlete, too, graduating from the College of New Rochelle with an electrical engineering degree, then going on to Harvard. He began working in the 1970s at Michelin and built his own racecar called the Grozny, which he showed off to friends and family in Philadelphia. He called it “a purist’s machine.”

He was obsessed with American racing, he once told The Associated Press.

“I’d have to drive past this old wooden shopping mall to see a race track,” he said. “You’d be happier if you were walking through the largest shopping mall in the world. Then you’d be thinking, ‘How would the car be? It would be perfect.’ And for the majority of people, going from one mall to another is their idea of hell.”

Bondurant, though, was best known as the trainer who honed James Garner’s skill on the racetrack. Bondurant was Garner’s instructor while the actor worked on his skill as a driver. Bondurant befriended Moss, who invited Bondurant to train him in karting.

“Where others fell in love with distance driving and won championships as a pioneer,” Moss wrote in a 2015 Sports Illustrated feature about Bondurant. “Bondurant knew depth. That’s what shaped the Tardis of a man we all know. A man who took natural flair and turned it into craft and craft into an art.”

Bondurant called his role in the movie “little bit of national treasure.”

“He just was that interesting character,” Bondurant said in the 2011 feature. “He was the nicest guy in the world, not only for the way he treated me but as a driver. I’d like to think I’m a good driver too, and he took me under his wing. … I think once you find the right people, that just all goes together. It’s a marriage made in heaven.”

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