Woman driving her car

The Bondurant School of High Performance Driving is no more.

The storied school on the Gila River Indian Community that bore the name of  Paradise Valley racing legend Bob Bondurant for 50 years has been renamed the Radford Racing School by owner Stig Investments.

The renaming, announced last week, not only brings a new storied name in automobiles to the site but also resolves a three-year legal fight that school founder Bondurant and his wife Patricia waged in a desperate bid to hang on to the debt-ridden school.

First, the Bondurants tried to keep the school from being sold at an auction in federal bankruptcy court to pay off some of its $3.5 million in debts. That effort failed when Stig Investments bought it in May 2019 for $1.7 million. 

Then Patricia Bondurant sued Stig in state Superior Court to stop it from using her husband’s name. That suit was resolved in a settlement three months ago, though the terms are sealed.

In renaming the school, Stig has teamed up with another legendary name in the world of automobiles.

Radford is a global luxury automotive coachbuilder “with a British heart and soul, creating on-trend vehicles based on classic timeless designs,” according to its website. 

It has its own storied past that has been invoked by the new owners of the Radford brand – English television celebrity Ant Anstead, F1 champion Jenson Button, car designer Mark Stubbs and business partner Roger Behle.

Founded more than 75 years ago by Harold Radford, the company made the bodies for luxury cars like Rolls Royce and Bentley. According to autoweek.com, Radford & Co. was particularly famous in the 1960s, when it produced custom Minis for all four Beatles as well as model Twiggy and comic actor Peter Sellers.

“The renaming marks the school’s new association with the team behind the Radford brand, a name legendary among auto enthusiasts for its coachbuilding legacy,” according to a release.

The four partners are reviving the Radford name “into a modern lifestyle brand that celebrates auto design and performance, high-performing driving and racing,” it continued.

The Radford partners also will be building and testing new vehicles at the school, located just south of the I-10’s intersection with the Loop 202 freeway.

“The racetrack is the perfect environment for building and testing Radford-built cars,” said Anstead.

The Radford Racing School bills itself as “the only purpose-built driver training facility for performance enthusiasts and the largest driver training center of its kind in the world.”

The release said the Radford “heritage brand” means the school is becoming a “destination for international auto enthusiasts, everyday drivers, new drivers, racers, celebrities and influencers.”

General Manager Mike Kessler said among the school’s offerings are open-wheel and drag-racing courses. New formula racing courses are in development.

He said the name change will “broaden the appeal of the school while retaining its legendary reputation” and positions the facility “as a place for speed, professional race car instruction and experiences, in addition to world-class driving instruction.”

He also said Stig’s multi-million-dollar investment has included the main track’s first resurfacing in 30 years, significant upgrades of the visitor center and related facilities, the diversification of course offerings and becoming the first school of its kind to offer professional drag racing instruction to the public and the chance to earn an NHRA Drag License. 

The school came close to being evicted by the Gila River Indian Community’s economic development arm in 2018 when the Bondurants failed to pay its rent in 2018.

That rent was part of $3.5 million debt that drove the school into bankruptcy.

Stig has spent the last year and a half fighting a suit filed by Patricia Bondurant over the school’s use of her husband’s name.

The suit was prolonged by Stig’s efforts to depose Bob Bondurant over a claim by his wife that he had revoked the use of his name before the bankruptcy auction.

Stig contended that Bondurant had lost that right because he had trademarked his name and the trademarks were part of the auction.

Further complicating the suit was the inability of Stig’s lawyers to depose the 87-year-old racing legend because he has been in a care home since at least early 2019, “unable to care for himself or be cared for by his wife,” court papers said.

Lawyers could not even visit with him since early last year because the pandemic had forced the care home to prohibit visitors.

Inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame in 2016, Bondurant’s racing accomplishments in Corvettes and Selby’s between 1959 to 1965 earned him numerous accolades both in the U.S. and abroad.

He founded the school in California in 1968 but relocated in 1990 to the Gila River Indian Community site.

Over the years the school has taught beginners how to drive and trained thousands of race car enthusiasts, professional drivers and law-enforcement and military personnel advanced-driving skills.

Court papers alleged that his wife assumed day-to-day control of the school several years before the bankruptcy and Stig alleged it was “financially mismanaged for the past several years, which coincides with Patricia Bondurant’s time running the school.”

For information: RadfordRacingSchool.com or 480-403-7600.