Former employees of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, an Arizona-based racing school that’s been around since 1968, said they walked out of work last month in protest of a hostile environment. The allegations, which include belittlement, racism, unequal treatment and fears that they wouldn’t get paid, come from a thorough report in the ClassicCars.com Journal substantiated by interviews with Jalopnik.
The walkout came just one month after the school’s October bankruptcy filing and caused an abrupt but temporary closure, which the new head of the school called a “disruption in service.” But former employees claim it was far worse than that.
The allegations revolve around Pat Bondurant, the school’s president of eight years, CEO since 2017 and wife of founder Bob Bondurant. Pat Bondurant has denied the claims.
The catalyst of the walkout was this, according to the ClassicCars.com Journal’s conversation with the school’s vice president Jason Bondurant:
Jason Bondurant said he and former financial controller Lavida Arvizu were instructed by Pat Bondurant not to tell employees the school was running out of funds as she mulled filing for Chapter 7, which would have immediately shut down operations. [...]
The pair went against Pat Bondurant’s wishes, informed employees and walked off the job. Others followed suit, which forced the brief closure.
Jason Bondurant is the son of Pat Bondurant and the adopted son of Bob Bondurant. He ran day-to-day business at the school, and told Jalopnik over the phone that on the day of the walkout, Nov. 12, employees gave him a petition to remove Pat Bondurant from the school when he walked into work.
Jason Bondurant said the alleged petition, to the left, was signed by 22 of the school’s 33 employees, and that eight more would have signed but had not been into work for their shift yet.
When he took the petition to Pat Bondurant, he told Jalopnik, she threw it at him and said, “Fuck you.” She did not respond to the individual allegations here or on ClassicCars.com Journal, with a representative for the school instead sending a statement similar to the one given to that outlet.
“Bob and I are deeply saddened by the negative rumors that have been published around the School’s recent Chapter 11 filing,” the statement from Pat Bondurant read. “We vehemently deny the allegations that have been made by a handful of former employees about how the school was being managed. This entire matter has broken Bob’s heart. We’re working through the proper legal channels to make the best choices for the long-term health and success of the school. We’re confident that once all of the legal matters are behind us and the school emerges from the restructuring, the truth will be told through the proper channels.”
No one from the school, including Bob Bondurant himself, have issued a comment beyond the statement.
A spokesperson for the school said they could not provide expansion on that statement or interviews right now, as they said the team there is focused on the school’s restructuring.
Jason Bondurant told the journal that working at the school “truly was a very hostile, horrible environment.”
The ClassicCars.com Journal report includes numerous detailed, on-the-record accounts from multiple former employees, and many of those accounts are substantiated in the site’s comment section.
There were also claims of derogatory comments about employees, pressure not to hire “too attractive of women [sic],” withholding important information from employees, and outright racism by Pat Bondurant, according to the report.
Here are a few of the claims, via the ClassicCars.com Journal, emphasis theirs:
Multiple employees said Pat Bondurant made derogatory comments about people who lived in certain Phoenix suburbs.
“She said to me that we should stop hiring people from Chandler or Gilbert,” Arvizu wrote. “Her feeling was that was why we were attracting lower-caliber people… I asked what’s wrong with Gilbert and she said that is where the poor people live. I actually live in Gilbert so I let her know. She changed the subject.” [...]
For her part, [front desk employee Heidi] Johnson said she overheard Pat Bondurant say that staffers should tell female students to not dress like prostitutes.
Not all of the alleged remarks were in relation to the school, though. Here are allegations of more general derogatory comments, via the ClassicCars.com Journal report:
Two years ago, on the advice of an external human relations company, Jason Bondurant said he sent his mother home for two weeks after a worker overheard her making racist comments. He said she appeared to avoid such language for a few weeks but made another remark after attending President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration.
“This was said in a group of all my managers in a managers’ meeting: When she got back from Washington, D.C. for Trump’s inauguration, she came back and said, ‘Oh my god, when President Obama was elected all the black people must have followed him there because it was like going through Planet of the Apes,” Jason Bondurant recalled.
Tim Rose, the former general manager of the school, also told the above story to Jalopnik. The ClassicCars.com Journal report has more examples of specific allegations of Pat Bondurant’s conduct at the school, several of which were also confirmed to Jalopnik via email.
Jason Bondurant also told Jalopnik that he didn’t lead the employee walkout, but rather gave Pat Bondurant a pre-planned ultimatum that Monday that either he was staying at the school or she was. When he made the decision to leave, he said, other employees went with him. The walkout, he claimed, included all of the employees at work that day—26 including the night shift. Only four have returned since, he said. The school did not directly respond to this claim.
Jason Bondurant also said employees are looking at their options for legal action in regards to the alleged hostile workplace environment, but that some fear retaliation from Pat Bondurant. He also said employees stayed around for so long despite the alleged environment because he “treated them like family.”
When the school filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 2, a statement said it planned to stay open and “emerge from this [bankruptcy] process as a stronger company.”
The school closed a month later, though, with no information as to why and no indication of whether it would reopen—or how the closure would affect existing agreements, like Bondurant’s customer obligations to the brands it works with. It’s the official racing school of Dodge and its SRT performance division.
In a bankruptcy document signed by Pat Bondurant, the school mentioned Dodge and SRT as one of “four factors” that led to the bankruptcy-protection filing. The document said the primary factor was the school’s inability to pay rent in September without jeopardizing its ability to do payroll and expenses, and others were a training contract from the U.S. government canceled “with little warning,” inconsistent payments from primary sponsors Dodge and Fiat, Dodge requiring the school to return its Vipers “for safety and regulatory reasons,” and a potential investor agreement that hasn’t been reached yet.
Jalopnik has reached out to Dodge for comment on these alleged inconsistent payments and on the Vipers, and will update this story when we hear back. (Update: A Fiat Chrysler spokesperson said that due to the ongoing litigation, the company cannot comment on the claims in the bankruptcy documents.)
When the Bondurant school did reopen, new chief restructuring officer Timothy H. Shaffer said the school was working to reschedule classes from the closure period. There was still no real comment about the closure itself until last week, when multiple employees of the Arizona driving school told the Arizona-based ClassicCars.com Journal about the claimed walkout a month after it happened.
As funds dwindled leading up to the bankruptcy, the school’s former financial controller Lavida Arvizu, who also walked out, said employees didn’t trust they would get paid without herself or Jason Bondurant around to make sure it happened.
Jason Bondurant told Jalopnik that about a week after the walkout, the school’s accounts wouldn’t have had enough money to make payroll as things were, but that he had a plan to get the school through Jan. 1—hence the fears about payroll.
Pat Bondurant, again, “vehemently” denied claims from the former employees about the management of the school. In response to the claims that employees feared they wouldn’t get paid without Jason Bondurant or Arvizu, Shaffer told ClassicCars.com Journal Bondurant never missed or were late on a payroll, citing school records.
Pat Bondurant secured a 51-percent stake in the school in 2010, about two months after she married Bob Bondurant, their son told Jalopnik. They met at a Russo and Steele auction.
Bob Bondurant stepped back from the school’s daily operations because he wanted to do “the fun stuff” later in life, Jason Bondurant said. He also said Bob Bondurant, 85, isn’t in the physical and mental shape at his age to comprehend what’s allegedly going on at the school or stand up to Pat Bondurant, who Jason Bondurant said is 63 years old.
“[Bob Bondurant] is a very good man,” Jason Bondurant said, mentioning his adopted father’s stroke, knee replacement and other health problems. “It’s sad that in this stage of life, he’s not competent or mentally there like he was 20 years ago. If my dad was mentally there like he was [then], we would have never gotten to this place. I’m telling you, I know this would’ve never happened.”
As with the others, Pat Bondurant didn’t respond directly to this allegation, but denied all of the allegations about school management.
When Pat Bondurant threw the petition from employees at Jason Bondurant on Nov. 12, he claimed, he typed out a resignation letter and told fellow employees what was going on. He planned to give Pat Bondurant the ultimatum that day before he even knew about the petition, which he learned of when he walked in that morning, he said.
“I said, ‘I know you signed the petition, please do not leave because of me,’” he recalled telling employees. “I am leaving because I have to take a stand. If you leave, you’re leaving on your own. Everybody said, ‘We’re leaving under our own accord. If you’re not here, we know that we’re even more screwed, so we are leaving.’”
That was the beginning of the Nov. 12 walkout, Jason Bondurant said.
“I stayed for two hours telling everyone ... ‘Let’s leave these cars locked up, make sure the buildings and gates are secure. If we’re going to leave, let’s leave the right way and not be spiteful,’” he said.
Jason Bondurant said one of the more hampering parts of working at the school was how badly things were going when he felt like there was “a solution to the math problem” the whole time.
“When I was handed that petition is when it really hit home to me how bad it had gotten company wide,” he said. “It’s sad.”
This story has been updated with allegations from the Bondurant school’s former general manager, Tim Rose, and comment from FCA.