A pedal-to-the-metal guy
The sudden passing of Red Deer’s own 240 Gordie Bonin was a big loss to the car guy community in our area and all over the world, for that matter.
I wrote a piece in the Advocate about Gordie a few years ago, after I was introduced to him by some of the local car guys.
I was well aware of 240 from a fan’s point of view because he was a local guy who competed on the biggest stage in drag racing against the top National Hot Rod Association drivers, including legends like Don “the Snake” Prudhomme.
Drag racing at this level is reserved for the best drivers in the world and 240 ran with the big dogs every year during the height of his career.
Gordie got into the Alberta track scene early in his career but he was ready for the big leagues by 1972 and he hit the ground running very hard in the NHRA Funny Car class that year.
The nickname “240” was earned when he broke through the 240 mph barrier on the quarter-mile track; a feat first accomplished by Prudhomme but, as Gordie pointed out, 240 rhymes with Gordie and it became his handle.
Gordie set the then-current world Funny Car speed record of 245.49 mph at the 1979 World Nationals and further cemented his ownership of the 240 moniker with that milestone speed mark. At the time I thought: “Wow this guy’s from Red Deer and he is a world class driver.”
So I was really happy to actually meet 240 Gordie Bonin right here in his home town of Red Deer back in September 2009.
Gordie may have been born in Prince Albert, Sask., but he moved here as a kid and his heart was always in Red Deer. He had begun to split his time between his home in the States and back here in Red Deer to spend time with his parents and later his widowed mother after the death of his father Joe in 2007.
I wanted to talk to Gordie about his career so I met him with his mother Marie two years ago at a local diner for lunch. I was amazed at how much information Gordie had about the details of his race career. For a minute, I thought he should change his name to Google Search Gordie because I was hard-pressed to write fast enough to keep up with him as he relayed his race history to me.
That was kind of fitting because 240 Gordie never ran his life at a slow idle; he was a pedal-to-the-metal guy all the way in his life. He had lived a fascinating life in the fast lane as an NHRA Funny Car driver and enjoyed every minute of his adventures along the way.
I ran into 240 at car events many times after my initial introduction to him, but I also discovered another side of Gordie when he was introduced to a young car guy named Aidan Fitzgerald. Aidan had muscular dystrophy and was confined to a hospital bed when 240 met him. The two of them became good friends and Gordie arranged for Aidan to attend a major drag race event at Castrol Raceway a few months before Aidan passed away at the young age of 20 on Oct. 31, 2011.
What I learned about Gordie after he met Aidan was how much he cared about people and would do whatever he could to help them.
He never wanted any credit for this element of his life, in fact he seemed to prefer to keep his people side quiet, but it was obvious to me that Gordie wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to others.
I last talked to Gordie about a month and a half ago when he called to tell me about his future plans to get back into the race game as part of a nostalgia promotion. I was always impressed with the amount of enthusiasm Gordie had for everything he did in life and he was very excited to talk about his game plan.
Unfortunately, the next chapter in 240 Gordie Bonin’s life will never be written, but the man had already written a very thick book of incredible life experiences, all of them in the fast lane where he really loved the view.
Car people all over the world will miss him.
Jim Sutherland is a local freelance columnist.