Tough as nails and given to overly harsh criticisms, “Tex” Bondurant seemed to offer a telling assessment of himself. Asked about running with increasing paces, he had a simple reply: “It’s like being at a football match when the other team is running at you – unless you have some pace.” As a seasoned high-school and club-racing driver, Mr Bondurant, who died on Saturday at 88, at his home in Milford, Conn., was as experienced as any in pushing the limits of car speed. His on-field antics came in the wake of the South Florida legend Pancho Carter, who preceded him as an “NFL All-American” football player and, later, a track and field star. Read more . . .
If the stock car sport ran by itself, the man known as “Tex” would be an all-time legend.
Mr Bondurant came to NASCAR in the late 1950s, spurned by the inactivity of the national racing league in Florida. It was popular in New York and Connecticut. So in 1955, as its commissioner, he acquired a premier car, a Dodge Sundance, began racing it regularly, and took an army of volunteer mechanics to class from Timex drivers to former high school and college-level jocks, to coax them into that quarter-mile action, which produced famous moments such as a pair of blind-side passes and a record-setting run of 189.9 mph.
Texas Dave, as he was known to all, was competitive and well liked by the NASCAR racing community. He passed away on Saturday, May 11, 2017, after a battle with colon cancer.
In recent years, he conducted a series of Texas Daring Re-launch runs, where returning drivers jumped in new cars to familiarize themselves with those races for which Mr Bondurant had become a famous and celebrated figure.
In his later years, Mr Bondurant suffered from heart and kidney problems, but he never relinquished his passion for driving, this newspaper wrote in 1999.
His challenges in early racing trips propelled him to the Formula 1 ranks and a position as a crew member with Mercedes. He earned an MBA from Harvard and worked as an accountant before starting his own auto-repair business in New York. He retired in Connecticut in 2002.
Bob Bondurant endured the odd brush with fame, but none made him a household name – until, that is, he was able to tell his story of what it was like to train the drivers for the Talladega Superspeedway, a pivotal moment for a sport still adjusting to the sedentary lifestyle of pre-Modern America. In a sport defined by drivers’ exuberance and daring, his recollections of keeping hyperactive foot-dragging teens busy while working on engines stood out.
“You could not get in a race car and not think something like that was going to happen – that they were going to get knocked out on the way down,” he told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2004. “Once they’d pass, you’d notice that they were breathing heavy and slower, almost like they couldn’t move.”
He was famously blunt about the rough conditions. “I remember being on the rideabout a lot of different cars, and I learned that the ones that had very subtle corners in them, they would finish you off,” he said. “The ones with crazy lines going into them were on an easy pace. But there were others that didn’t finish you off.”
An African-American born in Alabama to a conservative, Presbyterian family, Mr Bondurant, nicknamed Tex, grew up in Florida and attended Miami High School. After graduating in the mid-1940s, he enlisted in the Marines and was stationed in Norfolk, Va., but after being hospitalized for tuberculosis, returned to his college diploma and his love of cars.
His family will not dispute his passion and success as a racer. His son, Clay, recalled going racing and looking at the race cars each day. “My dad was much, much more about educating me than putting it all together and winning. My dad would always argue that the cars that won the races were those with the best crews.”
In 1959, Texas Dave, as he was known in racing circles, received a challenge from fellow driver Johnson “Red” Saunders, who wanted to challenge the team driven by Texas Mr. Bondurant with a lager car, a steel-bodied car. Texas Dave said he would drive with Saunders for a week and determine the equipment. And because Red Saunders was a diabetic, Texas Dave said that at their race a day earlier, they had passed a stringent test