Driving lessons at the Bondurant Racing School come standard with a new Viper or Hellcat.
From the passenger seat, my instructor barked, “Steer harder!” Too late: Our Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat spun a 180 on the tarmac at the Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz. The car was equipped with a device that looked like training wheels and enabled the instructor, with the push of a button, to make the tail end lose traction and slide across the road surface. When he did that, I was supposed to steer and counter-steer to set the car straight. On the next try I got it right. The Charger swerved and squealed and wobbled, but I regained control of it and drove on.
This exacting car-control exercise is part of the Dodge SRT Experience, a complimentary 1-day driving program that comes with the purchase or lease of one of Dodge’s performance-oriented SRT models, including the 707 hp Challenger and Charger Hellcats and the 645 hp Viper.
Legendary racer Bob Bondurant, now 83, has been teaching people how to drive high-performance cars for nearly 50 years. He opened his first school in 1968, a year after a crash ended his racing career. Among his first students were Paul Newman and Robert Wagner, whom he trained for their roles as racecar drivers in the 1969 film Winning. The SRT Experience serves as more of a sampler of the Bondurant curriculum than a thorough training session, especially when as many as 50 participants are rotating through the skid and accident-avoidance drills and road-course and racetrack driving lessons.
On the facility’s 15-turn, 1.6-mile main racetrack, instructors use a lead-and-follow method to teach the proper driving line, when to brake, and when to accelerate. “This is the way Bob has been doing it for 25 years,” one of our instructors said. Participants can spend a short time driving each of the SRT models on the track. In the Challenger I began gingerly, but after a few turns I was confident enough to grab the Hellcat by the scruff of the neck and push it hard around the corners. The Charger Hellcat has the same 707 hp engine as the Challenger Hellcat, but its longer wheelbase made it feel more stable on the track. Neither car handled as well as the Dodge Viper, a purebred racing machine that hugged every curve.
Track-experienced owners of new SRTs may want more than the Experience offers. These drivers can use a $1,000 credit from Dodge toward one of the school’s other high-performance driving or road-racing programs. Classes have student-to-teacher ratios no greater than 3-to-1 and range in duration from 1 to 4 days. Prices range from $1,225 to $7,999.