Thrill ride: Radford Racing School drives enthusiasm to new heights at Barrett-Jackson auction

Attendees explore the Radford Racing School exhibit at the Barrett-Jackson car auction to learn more about driving high-performance vehicles. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – During a week where supercars like the Acid Green Porsche 918 Spyder and Donald J. Trump’s 1997 Lamborghini Diablo VT Roadster were auctioned for millions of dollars, the Radford Racing School sought to tap into the crowds of car enthusiasts who attend the annual Barrett-Jackson car auction at WestWorld of Scottsdale.

The auction has taken place in the Valley since 1971, and the company carries a rich history of bringing one-of-a-kind collector cars to the auction while also giving back to the community.

The Radford Racing School, which is at the site of the former Bondurant High-Performance Driving School on the Gila River Indian Community near Chandler, sits only 20 minutes south of the Sky Harbor International Airport.

But a makeshift exhibit was created in Scottsdale for Barrett-Jackson, where people go to look at fast cars. The Radford Racing School takes it a step further by offering them the chance to get behind the wheel of fast cars.

Before it became the Radford Racing School, it was formerly the Bondurant school, which started in 1968 in southern California and moved to the Valley in 1990. The current owners bought the school out of bankruptcy in 2019. It is the largest purpose-built, driver-training facility of its kind in North America.

The school has a variety of vehicles beyond typical race cars. Instead, they offer SUVs, Ligier JS F4 single-seaters and gas-powered go-karts to test drive and practice.

Radford Racing’s leader of group sales and partnerships, Andre Rizzotti, has been with the company since March 2021 and credits racing events and the resurgence of TV shows like Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix for the increased interest in motorsports across all demographics.

A patron climbs into the driver's seat of a Dodge Challenger at the Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

A patron climbs into the driver’s seat of a Dodge Challenger at the Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

“Motorsports is such a powerful sport and with the resurgence of motorsports through different shows, whether it’s Netflix or a different racing series, we’re getting more funding and more and more people are getting interested,” Rizzotti said. “More people are wanting to get behind the wheel and learn how to drive like that. The cars we use, they’re big, they’re loud, they’re exciting.”

Rizzotti isn’t joking about the cars the school provides. The Radford Racing School has an exclusive partnership with Dodge SRT, the high-performance version of several Dodge models. Behind Radford’s booth inside Barrett-Jackson, a door leads outside to a 2024 Dodge Ram TRX series truck that patrons can climb into. The 6.2-liter, HEMI V-8 with 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque is unique for a vehicle of its size.

Craig Jackson, the CEO of Barrett-Jackson, noted that the auction isn’t all about the cars on the auction block, rather it is a gold-mine opportunity for local businesses like Radford to take advantage of all the automobile enthusiasts the event draws each year.

“You’re up at Super Bowl-type economic impact, and we’re here every year and (Scottsdale is) wanting to grow,” Jackson said during a media availability a week before the auction. “The question has always been, ‘Is WestWorld supposed to make money or is it a park or is it just something that drives tourism and feeds the city?’ I think that’s where everybody is sort of settled and understood that WestWorld feeds the city, just like the Phoenix Open.”

Rizzotti echoed Jackson’s sentiment. With only about a 30-minute drive – depending on traffic and horsepower – between the school and Barrett-Jackson, there is potential for a strong connection.

“Scottsdale is one of the biggest events for the school … it’s in our backyard, it’s like our Super Bowl,” Rizzotti said. “We go to all these different events and it’s great talking to people, but there’s something special about talking to the local community. They know we’re here, they know the history and they’re really excited to hear about what’s new and what’s changing.”

Toward the very back of the Barrett-Jackson exhibition, there is a drifting course, where passengers can ride in one of the Radford Racing School staples, either a two-door Dodge Challenger or a four-door Dodge Charger. Cars were drifting all over the course, as passengers took advantage of the thrill ride. The moment reminded Rizzotti of his favorite moment about hopping in a race car for the first time.

“My favorite moment has been getting into the cockpit of our Formula One car for the first time,” Rizzotti said. “It’s a surreal feeling you’re in there. There’s no power steering, there’s no power braking. You feel like a race car driver for the day…”

Passengers enjoy the adrenaline-pumping experience of drifting in a Dodge Challenger at the Radford Racing School course at the Barrett-Jackson car auction. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

Passengers enjoy the adrenaline-pumping experience of drifting in a Dodge Challenger at the Radford Racing School course at the Barrett-Jackson car auction. (Photo by Joe Eigo/Cronkite News)

Lance King knows all about racing. He was in the Speedway World Team Cup from 1983-85, and then again in 1988 – speedway motorcycle racing – as a representative of the United States. In those three years, King was a finalist for the country.

King became a part-time instructor at the Radford Racing School – then under the Bondurant banner – during his professional riding career. Nearly 25 years later, he went back to his stomping grounds and was named the USA World Team Captain in 2016 and 2017.

The former Junior U.S. National champion brings experience and perspective to the Radford Racing School. Although he focused on two-wheels instead of four, King explained that the transition from focusing on racing motorbikes to cars was seamless.

“I believe that going from two wheels, four wheels is the best transition you can have,” King said. “Everything that you get from the motorcycle, you try to get from riding and transferring your weight, not only your body, but also you do that with the brakes and the gas. I think that correlates into driving a car, right?”

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The growth of motorsports continues to rise, as the industry is projected to reach $7.47 billion by 2028, according to the Motorsports Market Research Report. The Radford Racing School has also seen an influx of teenagers fall in love with the sport.

“With the younger generation, a lot of them are looking to actually get into racing and motorsports,” Rizzotti said. “The older generation, a lot of people are checking off things on their bucket list that they’ve been wanting to do for years. They’ve worked all their life and now they’re at the point where they can afford to do something thrilling and fun and rewarding like this.”

When King is at the track in Chandler, he experiences all types of people wanting to learn more about the art of racing. He encourages the younger generation to concentrate on the fundamentals of driving early on if they hope to make racing a career.

“Get instruction, get as much instruction as you can early on because that way there’s no substitute for what we call seat time, meaning driving,” King said. “If you don’t have those basic skill sets, then you’re really just turning laps. But when you get that professional advice up front, then you have something to work on.”

Maybe Rizzotti described the attraction of driving fast cars the best.

“I mean, it’s Disneyland for anyone that’s 16 years or older,” he said.

Hayden Cilley HAY-din SIL-lee (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Hayden Cilley expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Cilley covered the Phoenix Mercury in 2022 for The Next Hoops and is writing and podcasting about the Mercury for PHNX Sports.

Joe Eigo joe EYE-go (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Joe Eigo expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Eigo is in his third semester at Cronkite News. He has previously worked with Inferno Intel, WCSN, The State Press and The Racing Experts.