The future of the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving is bright despite its ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, according to an official working to stabilize the facility’s financial problems.
“I think the future of the company is actually really pretty bright,” Timothy Shaffer, the school’s chief restructuring officer, said in an interview with the ClassicCars.com Journal. “We’re in the process of going through and getting some lending in place that’s going to preserve some of our capital and our liquidity, and I think the school is going to be just fine.”
Shaffer said he was retained by school owners Bob and Pat Bondurant one day after the facility filed for bankruptcy in early October. He compared his role to that of an emergency room doctor, in that he bandages the business before setting it back on its course.
In relative terms, the school doesn’t need that much work to be back on its feet, Shaffer said.
“There are a lot of great, great, great things about the Bondurant School,” he said. “There’s a lot of value. People in my industry, we think in terms of value. There’s a 50-year legacy. There’s still an affiliation with Bob Bondurant. There’s still a Bob Bondurant method of teaching and instruction that makes his school unique from other types of driving schools.
“There’s a facility — it’s a great facility. That particular track has some characteristics you just don’t find in other types of racing schools and other facilities.”
Shaffer said the key to retaining that value is letting people know the school is still open despite a brief closure caused by an employee walkout in November.
“We are open for business, we are conducting classes,” he said.
A majority of the school’s employees — including the Bondurants’ son, Jason, who was the facility’s vice president — walked out after they claimed they had experienced a hostile work environment and were worried they would not be getting paid for their work.
Shaffer said he was unaware of what happened in the lead up to the walkout but that the spread of information could have been handled better. He also pointed out the school never missed a payroll.
“It’s just an unfortunate incident. I see a lot of rumor and conjecture that people took as gospel and things just kind of ramped up and spun out of control,” he said, adding that he met with employees after he was retained.
“I listened to their concerns,” he said. “I told them as candidly as I know how to speak that there was a lot of misinformation and a lot of the assumptions they based their actions on were not realistic assumptions and they chose to do what they wanted to do. There clearly are some issues there. It does not me any good, it does not do the company any good to look into the past. It’s about looking into the future.”
The Bondurants took on a consulting role after Shaffer was retained. He said he is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the school to prevent the Bondurants from getting overwhelmed, which can happen to business owners unfamiliar with the bankruptcy process.
“I consult with Pat and Bob on a daily basis,” he said. “I keep them informed. They have some valuable institutional knowledge that I would be just an absolute fool to ignore, but I’m essentially in there running the show, making the decisions and Pat is doing what Pat needs to do, which, essentially, is to take care of Bob.
“She now has a level of comfort that the school is going to be properly run and administrated and she’s got some competent people helping her with the Chapter 11 so she doesn’t have to become overwhelmed by any of this.”
Legendary racer Bob Bondurant, 85, founded the school in California 50 years ago. The current campus — the largest purpose-built driving school in the world — was opened in 1990. His wife started at the school in 2010, two months after the couple married.
Shaffer feels the bright future for the school will be arriving sooner rather than later; he hopes to have the Chapter 11 process wrapped up by midsummer.
“I don’t see any complications in this particular case that would make it last that long,” he said. “There aren’t that many problems that need to be resolved that would take that much time. If I’m not out of Chapter 11 by the end of June or the Fourth of July, I’m not doing a good job.”
In order to reach that goal, Shaffer will have to determine the best path for the school to take. He planned to have a framework submitted to the courts in January.
One of those paths could see an investor group brought in, something Shaffer said he has been contacted about.
“We have had a high level of interest of people wanting to get involved with the future of the school and they want to do that with some form of an investment,” he said. “We do have a lot of interest.”