An internationally known East Valley racing school may be heading for a final ride.
Unless they come up with $245,402 by Friday, Valley motorsport legend Bob Bondurant and his wife will lose the cash-strapped Chandler racing school bearing his name to an economic development arm of the Gila River Indian Community – and lose nearly 80 cars with a total value of more than $9 million.
The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving owes Sun Valley Marina Development Corp. four months in back rent – part of a massive $3.3 million in debt that has driven the operation into federal bankruptcy court since last summer, court records show.
Earlier this month, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brenda K. Martin said that if the Bondurants don’t make that payment by next Friday, their “lease shall be deemed rejected, and the debtor shall surrender the premises.”
In addition, she ruled that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles can repossess a fleet of Vipers, Challengers, Durangos and Chargers with racing, executive, law enforcement support and other packages.
“Sun Valley and the debtor will cooperate with FCA in facilitating the immediate return of the FCA vehicles pursuant to an orderly process to be developed by and between Sun Valley and FCA and shall work together in returning or disposing of the other FCA items,” Martin wrote in her Feb. 15 order.
The only potential lifeline for the school, which Bondurant moved to the Valley from California in 1990, is a special “debtor in possession” loan of $674,000, court records show.
Some creditors are opposing Bondurant’s request for court permission to obtain the loan because that unidentified lender would have a higher priority than other creditors if the school is forced to close and sell any remaining assets to satisfy what debts it can.
Timothy Shaffer, the Scottsdale bankruptcy expert who is the school’s court-appointed chief restructuring officer, told the court in a Feb. 8 petition that the Bondurants have “been engaged in discussions and negotiations with numerous parties and groups” about that special loan, although he declined to give specifics because of confidentiality agreements.
But while the petition states “the interest by many of these parties in ensuring the debtor’s continued operation has been significant,” it goes on to admit “however, despite our diligent efforts, the debtor has been unable to obtain DIP financing” under terms that some of the creditors said they would accept.
Sun Valley objected to the loan on grounds that the Bondurants would pay $212,000 or the $242,000 in back rent if they get the loan.
Sun Valley Marina Development Corp. owns the former Firebird Raceway next to the school and has been working for several years to upgrade the 500-acre venue, now called Wild Horse Motorsports Park, located on the reservation just off Interstate 10 south of Chandler Boulevard.
Right across the street from Wild Horse Pass Resort and Casino and a retail outlet complex, the school itself could become part of the Gila River Indian Community’s efforts to turn that part of the sprawling reservation into a tourism and entertainment destination.
Patricia and Bob Bondurant, who live in Paradise Valley, founded the school in 1968 and turned it into an educational and recreational mecca.
The school boasts of serving nearly 500,000 go-kart and amateur racing enthusiasts, teens just learning to drive and military and law enforcement personnel developing chase and evasion skills. The school employs 31 full-time and two part-time people.
“Both national and international students attend the Bondurant School on a regular basis and learn competition driving, police pursuit driving, evasive driving, and stunt driving, among other types of high-performance driving and racing,” the school said in bankruptcy filings, noting it also taught “recreational high-performance driving to individuals and corporate groups.”
Before relocating to the East Valley, its students included the late actors and racing enthusiasts Jim Garner and Paul Newman, who, like others, were drawn partly by Bondurant’s own successful racing career.
Billing itself as the “largest purpose-built driving school in the world,” the school sports two training tracks – a 15-turn, 1.6-mile road course and a nine-turn, 1.2-mile road course – as well as an eight-acre asphalt skills pad.
While it has been struggling to reorganize its finances since filing in October for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the school already has lost a lucrative military training contract and has contended with a blizzard of court motions from many of its creditors.
Goodyear Tire has asked the judge to release it from a sponsorship agreement that gave Bondurant an apparently unlimited supply of tires in return for promoting the company exclusively.
The Bondurants’ lawyers in court records have raised the possibility of selling the school, stating through their lawyers that a sale of the assets might yield more money for their creditors than a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
In its Chapter 11 filing, the school lists $2.69 million in secured debts and $766,000 in unsecured debts against $619,000 in assets.
The school leases the track and fixtures, which are valued at $2.7 million, according to the filings.
When it filed for bankruptcy, the Bondurants posted an announcement on the school’s website, stating, “Our plan is to emerge from this process as a stronger company and continue to drive this company into the next 50 years.”