Barrow visits Bondurant

Barrow visits Bondurant

Third Annual Driving to Excel Event

Bondurant School Hosts East Valleyites with Disabilities

David M. Brown

The Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving hosted Arizonans with disabilities and staff of the St. Joseph’s Barrow Neurological Institute Nov. 15 at Firebird International Raceway in Chandler.

The third-annual Driving to Excel event — the only one of its kind of this caliber — encourages post-injury patients to participate in adaptive recreation. In the four-hour program, approximately 75 disabled individuals, many paralyzed, took part.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix is recognized as one of the top ten hospitals worldwide for neurological and neurosurgical expertise, and the 44-year-old world-destination Bondurant School has taught more than 400,000 students — professional racers, teens, chauffeurs, amateur enthusiasts and go-karters — how to be safer and more efficient drivers.

“It was so much fun to see the Driving to Excel participants smiling and laughing,” says Bob Bondurant, CEO and founder of the school, who himself survived a near life-ending injury 45 years ago in a race track accident in New York at 150 mph. “It feels great to be supporting Barrow, whose important work has benefited the lives of so many.” Bondurant rose from his hospital bed to found the world-famous driving school.

Everyone received classroom driving instruction from Mike McGovern, the school’s chief instructor. Then, about 25 people experienced track driving in steering-wheel-adapted Bondurant cars, and, finally, these and others were passengers for hot laps up to 110 mph with Bondurant drivers, McGovern, Pete Miller, Tim Rose and Cory Hosford.

East Valleyites attended from Mesa, Tempe, San Tan Valley Gilbert and Chandler. In addition, others traveled to the Bondurant School from Buckeye, Cottonwood, Glendale, Peoria, Surprise, Laveen, Cave Creek, Scottsdale and Prescott.

And, Tucson’s Jeffrey Bristol, a high school junior, celebrated his 18th birthday, in his motorized wheelchair, accompanied by his mother, Herma. When he was 3, Jeffrey slipped into a coma, and Dr. Robert Spetzler, Barrow’s renowned neurosurgeon and director, performed lifesaving surgery.

Jody Robertson, a recent Arizona State University graduate and a four-year resident of the San Tan Valley, who drives every day, had an old-fashioned blast in her second straight visit for Driving to Excel: “It is a great event for all, and I enjoy seeing everyone out enjoying the excitement of riding or racing in a very fast car,” she says.

Nathan Junker, an Apache Junction native and Mesa resident for 12 years, adds: “The Bondurant event meant that I was going to have some fun and meet some new people and see some that I already knew — and that I would get to drive the new Camaro.”  A daily driver, he also attended last year’s event.

And Rich Hamill, a Gilbert resident for eight years who also drives daily, notes, “It was awesome, getting the experience in a true sports car and learning how to corner and drive more controlled and safer on the road.” He adds that he also learned how to look several seconds ahead while driving — and not just look at physical distance between vehicles — and to handle a vehicle while it is skidding out of control.

Keeping Control of Cars and Lives

“We want everyone to have access to live life to the fullest,” explains Jo Crawford, program coordinator for the Barrow Connection at Barrow Neurological Institute/St. Joseph’s Hospital. “Sometimes when a person goes through such a traumatic experience they are not always aware of the things they can do, and being connected with those who live an active life is what they might need to stay connected and get active after their injury. St. Joseph’s Barrow believes that everyone has the right to live an active and productive lifestyle,” she adds.

The Barrow Connection connects the hospital and community with events such as “Driving to Excel” and the “Annual Day on the Lake,” in which Valley residents with neurological and physical disabilities annually experience water recreation such as jet-skiing, boating, kayaking and fishing at Bartlett Lake.

The purpose of Driving to Excel is twofold, Crawford explains. In addition to providing disabled drivers with the skills of accident avoidance and skid recovery, the program also introduces “timed driving” as an adapted recreation interest. 

“Not everyone is interested in sports or the arts, and some people just want to get back into competitive driving,” she says, “and this is the only event of its type in the country that pairs up the professional driver with the disabled driver to enhance their safety and driving skills.

“People often assume that after injury a person’s activities are limited,” she continues. “Events like Driving to Excel remind everyone that anyone can do whatever he or she wants to do. We are honored to partner with Bondurant for the Driving to Excel Program because it promotes living an active lifestyle for those who have been affected by physical or neurological injury/illness.”

An Event Comes Home

Todd Crutcher, the Bondurant school’s director of marketing and originator of Driving to Excel, was affected.

On Christmas Eve 2009, Crutcher, who lives in Chandler with his family, was airlifted to St. Joseph’s after becoming unresponsive from a seizure. Barrow’s doctors diagnosed him with a cavernous malformation, abnormal clusters of blood vessels embedded in normal tissue which can cause the brain to hemorrhage.

After complex surgery, he made what Dr. Spetzler and other members of the operating team called “remarkable.” Says Crutcher: “I had a 30 percent chance of surviving, and Barrow was there to save my life. This annual event is one way the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving says ‘thank you’ to the community and to Barrow and offers our disabled neighbors an opportunity to benefit from our driving experience and knowledge.”

Mesa’s Bob Bruce, 74, Mesa, was injured in 2008 and attended to by Barrow’s Dr. Nicholas Theodore. He’s been a Bondurant School fan for years. “I never thought I would ever get a chance to actually drive at Bondurant especially after I was injured,” he says. A daily driver, he learned from the skid pad and power slide, maneuvers in which the car is brought back into control by the driver’s skill. 

“I want to thank Bob Bondurant, all of his skilled employees, Barrow, and my sponsor, Dr. [Matthais] Linke and all the great volunteers that helped us get in and out of the great cars we were given access to,” he says, noting as well his son, John, who traveled from Long Beach, Calif., to support him.

Chandler’s Tim Surry, a daily driver and “go fast guy,” also benefitted from his second event. “I’m learning about the weight-shifting of the car, how much tire is actually on the ground during different phases of the turns, breaking, always looking ahead of you, and what is the optimum way to enter and exit a turn,” he says.

Surry refers to a talk by Eddie Alexander, a former professional rugby player who now works with the Audi Club and other groups to acclimate enthusiasts to race track driving and speaks to the disabled community about driving stress and developing skills at the wheel. Alexander drove in from his home in Corona, Calif., to take part in the event as a speaker and driver.

“Eddie talked about this as a part of rehab, and how it turns into everyday living,” Surry says. “He said you have to be part of the community and get out there — not just sitting at home —and driving is a big part of getting out there.”

At the adapted wheel of his car, Alexander notes: “An event such as this is all about creating opportunities that some people might say aren’t there. Who would think about taking a group of disabled people out on a race track? That’s crazy. But this event asks, ‘Why not?’ Why not?’”

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