GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — After quickly and deftly maneuvering a 40-foot bus through a series of turns, cones, barrels and alleys, Grand Junction's Sherry Hartiman recently wrangled the title of 2012 Statewide Bus Roadeo champ from nearly 70 competitors.
The road supervisor, trainer and safety manager with Grand Valley Transit said winning the competition was "pretty cool," collecting $500 and a big belt buckle in the process.
The big competition happened in Denver earlier this month at the Regional Transportation District bus barn and featured an extremely tight course for drivers to negotiate. Buses are guided through a maze of left- and right-hand 90-degree turns, cones located just inches from the sides of the vehicle and tight alleys where drivers are compelled to back up in reverse and stop on a dime.
Buses make quick service stops, go through a wash bay and follow serpentine paths — all under five minutes to avoid point deductions.
At one point, drivers floor it to get above 20 mph, then negotiate a series of barrels and finally slam on the brakes to come to a precise stop.
"It's pretty intense, especially when you get on a bus that you have never driven before," Hartiman said. "The cockpit is totally different" from the ones in the GVT fleet.
Hartiman competed with one of her co-workers, Cheryl Gibboney, and at the end of the competition, the two weren't planning on sticking around to hear the final results. Hartiman said she thought she "didn't do very well."
But it was her name that ended up being called as the statewide champion, meaning she'll fly to Indianapolis for a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to the national competition later this year.
"I expect to win!" she said with a laugh. "It would be an amazing thing for Colorado, the Western Slope, to bring that title home."
As to the common perception of bus drivers, Hartiman said there may be a gap between what people know about the difficulty in controlling the big machines and the reality.
"It's just like driving a 53-foot tractor-trailer," she said. "Four-wheelers just don't understand what it takes to stop a bus or a truck, and I hope that people just pay more attention to what they are doing out there."