Bob Bondurant, the car racer and TV personality who recruited promising young stars like Ed Helms and Matt Damon for his 1996 ESPN The Magazine series Car Masters, died in Los Angeles on Tuesday after a battle with lung cancer. He was 88.
Mr. Bondurant, who lived in Los Angeles, was born in Georgia and spent much of his early childhood as a jet-setter, his daughter, Anaie, told The New York Times. In 1933, at age 10, he bought his first car, a Ford pickup truck. At 17, his mother took him back to Atlanta to finish high school. At the time, Mr. Bondurant had a physics degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Having become a star on the track in Atlanta, Mr. Bondurant eventually moved to Hollywood, where his son, Lee, said, he began taking classes with Olympic champ Dorothy Hamill. When movie director Alfred Hitchcock realized his prospective young stars were car enthusiasts and wanted to star in his classic adaptation of Verne’s “Dial M for Murder,” the legendary filmmaker asked Mr. Bondurant to find them a car to model it on.
When he did, he found a 2005 Ford F150. “I don’t think it was a sports car,” Mr. Bondurant told E! News in 2016. “It was a regular commercial truck. But these kids loved it. They were so fired up about the experience.”
The five young actors who starred in the ESPN Car Masters series were: Erin Hill (Danny); Adam Reed (Ted); Jeremy Renner (Tommy); Matthew McConaughey (Nick); and Maggie Grace (Mackenzie). But their on-screen passion and professional competitiveness translated well for the production, Mr. Bondurant’s son said. “What he saw was how they became likable actors,” he said. “He felt like he was helping them develop as people. He didn’t come down on anyone very harshly. He didn’t put all these young people down and say how terrible they were. He felt they weren’t athletes. They were knowledgeable individuals.”
Mr. Bondurant taught the young stars how to handle engine problems, handle midlife crises and talk to women, as they raced cars driven by themselves and others. “If you’re having an affair, then go home,” he told Mr. Helms, who played Mitch in the Car Masters series. “That’s a good idea. But you will not want to discuss it over the radio.”
When he was asked who helped him in his coaching sessions, Mr. Bondurant responded simply: “Dad.” Mr. Bondurant also hired actor Denis Leary to create a Web series about flipping cars and was a friend of Richard Pryor.
“It was a pretty magical experience for me,” Lee Bondurant said. “Most of these kids were pretty fearless. They were ready to make things happen. And Dad really gave them direction. He just wanted the best for them.”