Fabulous People: Pat Bondurant

Pat Bondurant is the CEO/President of Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving/ Bondurant Racing School. Pat is being recognized this year as the 2019 honoree of the Letitia Frye Humanitarian Award for her tireless efforts in chairing, volunteering and donating her time and resources to help raise millions of dollars for hundreds of charities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Learn more about Pat Bondurant….

HOMETOWN: Born on St. Patrick’s Day in Memphis Tennessee to the thrill of my Irish Grandfather, Benjamin Baxter O’Smart.

FIRST JOB:My first paying job was runway modeling when I was a teenager, primarily for the European and Italian Gown designers who cornered the bridal market in the sixties and seventies. As my biggest fan, my Dad liked to say, my first real job with 40 hours a week kind of job was working for NASA/Teledyne Brown Engineering on the first Space Shuttle. My senior year in high school I had so many credits from transferring to a new high school that I only needed my last English credit to graduate. I was the Captain of the Tennis Team, so I took other easy classes to stay on campus in order to be with my tennis team at 3 P.M. for practice and matches. The choices for me were art classes, home economics and drafting. 

That drafting course got me the job with NASA/Teledyne Brown Engineering, and it certainly did not hurt that I was not only doing commercials on most of the TV channels for Ford, but also was on a billboard and in the newspaper, either winning tennis tournaments or modeling the latest bridal gown in a fashion spread.

The publicity may have influenced me getting hired. However, there was no doubt that the promotions I received were well deserved. My exceptional drafting and innate grasp of engineering put me in an atmosphere that I absolutely excelled at and enjoyed – each and every 12-hour day we put in to meet the deadlines for the shuttle’s launch date.

Eventually we were all laid off as NASA ran out of funding and I found my way into architecture. My very first building as lead designer was the Tomahawk Cruise Missile Facility. Within a few years, I took my last paycheck and founded my own architectural and development firm. My first year I won the National Design Award on the world’s first two story fitness center. I have a very colorful and blessed life.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT:In our Paradise Valley home, we have an enormous kitchen with a 9-foot square island where I love, love to cook southern comfort food, but this city has so many exciting restaurants that it’s like being on a perpetual vacation with so many fabulous restaurants to choose from! WOW!

My very favorite restaurant in Phoenix is North for lunch and lately Ocean 44 for dinner. Although you will see us in Tarbell’s quite a bit too. If I am in Sedona, my bestie girlfriend Lisa Dahl has the corner on the best restaurants in the state, Mariposa, Dahl & DeLuca, Cucina Rustica and Lizza Pizza. My husband Bob and I agree, that not even Florence, Italy can compete with this town or Lisa for exceptional restaurants.

PERSON WHO IMPACTED YOUR LIFE THE MOST: The most dynamic and unlikely person who really influenced me the most in my life, aside from my amazing parents, was my old boss Al Trott at United Technologies. Al was about 5′-5″ tall, wore a terrible toupee, had a wooden leg, one glass eye, riddled with cancer surgery scars, was demanding, expected excellence in return for your paycheck and smoked black cigarettes while he looked over our shoulders as we worked on these huge drafting boards, perfecting our designs for the next corporate project. Al was the head of Facilities at NASA/ TBE before moving to United Technologies after the big layoffs. He said he remembered how dedicated I was, keeping up with the men on the arduous overtime hours for the shuttle project, and that I was well respected for my flawless drafting skills. 

He called me to apply for an architectural position, going on a hunch that I would be a great protege and a fast learner in his architectural department. He sent me to the University of Alabama for courses in interior design but quickly realized my natural aptitude and interest was more for the architectural side of the projects. After putting in the efforts to complete many projects for him, he promoted me to the lead designer of the Tomahawk Cruise Missile Facility. 

Al stood there with deepened eyebrows as he listened to my presentations in front of the big wigs, with the face of defiance as the war-torn warrior beating cancer many times since childhood. One day I was sitting at his desk being reprimanded for sneaking out for milk shakes skipping the United Way meeting, he softened and sympathized with seeing the burden on my face of a divorce and custody battle, fighting a very violent, abusive man. He leaned over his desk as he shared with me that despite what life throws at you, no matter how vicious the attacks are on your character, to regularly stop and look at your life and all the people in it. His advice was to remember to honestly evaluate everyone in your life, then decide if you will promote them, demote them or fire them.

There is no one in my life who could compare to the positive impact on my life that Al did. That man took the chance to train me, to promote me, believe in me, and in humor instill the old southern saying that you just don’t go and wrestle with pigs, because you both get dirty and the damn pig likes it. Because of his impact on my life, he inspired me to make it a point to be the person who inspires people to say what I would like to say to Al,” because of you, I did not give up.”

YOUR BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN YOUR EYES:My life is filled with some pretty significant accomplishments and to choose the biggest one is a bit like picking your favorite color, but there is one area that stands out. It’s not being the rare female hired on the space shuttle team, or winning national architectural design awards, runway modeling, owning a TV station, running a world-famous racing school or even marrying my dream space boy Bob Bondurant. The single greatest accomplishment is getting the opportunity to give my time to charity and those in need. After a fatal car accident when I was seventeen years old, I returned back here, and I was to never be the same again when I saw those in need with no voice and no choice. 

If only everyone could understand what a divine privilege it is for all of us to be here as participants on this world stage as human beings. We only get this one life to embrace and master the challenges with our duality and, above all else, give of ourselves to help those in need, both humans and animals. My favorite memories of giving back are the ones when no one knew that I had helped. However, when I do get an award for my charitable work, it confirms that, as a human, we do need validation that our efforts do matter to people. 

Despite the humanitarian or community awards I have received, I have to admit that being chosen as this year’s Letitia Frye Humanitarian Award Honoree at the St. Jude Presents: A Night in the Crimson Tide gal this April 5, just might be on the very tip top of my joys in this lifetime. When I think back about all the cancer battles that Al Trott persevered through in his lifetime, fighting to just have the privilege to remain here on this earth, I see his spirit in the faces of these St. Jude children. Honestly, I can say that I have seen the true perseverance in a human being to fight to live another day. It is my nature to remind the hopeless to “expect a miracle.” I will be sharing that as my hash tag this year (#expectamiracle) for St. Jude children when I visit the famous research hospital in my hometown of Memphis this February. I am nervous because I know I will cry a lot and big girls don’t cry. But, I’m very excited because I will be bringing them words of hope from my heart.

BIGGEST OBSTACLE YOU HAVE OVERCOME: The biggest obstacle I have ever had to overcome in my 64 years would be my divorce custody battle in 1979-1986 for my premature baby boy, who along with me, suffered abuse from his violent, abusive father. The weekend visitation abuse was so horrific that the Tennessee courts literally removed the father’s name from my son’s birth certificate. Growing up, my little guy had the sweetest disposition a mother could dream of for her son. I thanked my lucky stars that he seemed okay, but I’ve learned as a mother that the scars do not disappear.

As a member of the Arizona board of directors for Childhelp, raising millions of dollars for their advocacy, and being close personal friends with the founders, I have learned volumes on how to accept the actions of children who have had their minds manipulated through abuse and neglect. I have learned that unless you can connect these children with counseling, your love alone, cannot reverse the mental and emotional damage that is embedded inside their minds – the scars will never be erased. This subject must be talked about and made public. That’s why I am admitting that this has been my biggest obstacle in my life. My amazing husband Bob adopted my son when he was 31, in order to give him a legal name. My newest endeavor in helping where I can on the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome is serving on the board to support the new PTSD Foundation of Arizona, forming now.

As the President/CEO of the world-famous, iconic Bondurant Racing School, I am now managing the second equally biggest obstacle in my life. With a professional team helping us through the fast-moving Chapter 11 reconstruction of the school, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  The automotive industry, our sponsors, the Gila River Indian Community, the students and the fans have been overwhelmingly supportive. The classes are full, adjustments are nearly completed and our front line – the senior instructors – remain dedicated to providing world class service at the school.

When I reflect on who inspires me, I do count myself. I feel so lucky to have so many incredible and fiercely loyal friends who inspire me daily. You must have friends, you have to share in all the highs and the lows with the ones whom you have “evaluated and promoted” to remain in your life. Missy Anderson and Camerone McCullough, Sara O’Meara and Yvonne Fedderson, the children and staff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, all inspire me to the moon and back.

FAVORITE QUOTE:My favorite old quote was David Bowie saying “I don’t know where I am going from here but I promise it won’t be boring.” But, my new FAVORITE quote is amazing — “We live on a blue planet that circles around an orange ball of fire, next to a yellow moon that moves the aqua sea, and you don’t believe in miracles?” The GOODVIBE.CO

ADVICE TO SOMEONE PURSUING A CAREER PATH IN WHAT YOU DO:So here is my advice to anyone wanting to successfully run a world class racing school:

  1. Learn how to master our track, the only purpose-built race training facility in the world – this is to secure that you can walk the walk. 
  2. Understand that the racing/car-enthusiast community is a tight family and we stick together. If you disrespect one of us, the word gets out and it’s just as devastating to your reputation as if you disrespected all of us; so become a family and learn to respect our car culture.
  3. Learn about horsepower and torque and why tires matter. Learn the history of the different racing series, from the past to the present. Become very, very knowledgeable in the ones that interest you the most. In my case, I have become a strawberry dipped in chocolate up to my stem in learning my husband’s racing career, and I am able to challenge most of the truths from the facts because I defend his legacy with the facts. So now you can talk the talk.
  4. Understand that a man’s car is his other woman. Understand that you must get your wife or girlfriend on the track to learn your language of pure joy in fair exchange for holding her purse while she is shopping in the mall expressing her pure joy.[JS1] 
  5. Learn every word of what the instructors are teaching so that you can recite their expertise, not to become one of them, but to translate what they are saying when others find out that you run a driving/racing school. You will have a mesmerized, captivated audience, so have a bottle of water nearby – you are going to talk… a lot.

WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES SOMEONE FABULOUS:My radar detector for identifying a fabulous person is pretty simple: if they can just walk into a room, light it up and their fabulous energy and smile speaks before they open their mouth, now that’s how someone is naturally incredibly fabulous! I believe that your secret Superpower is just being yourself.


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