Best in the bus business, again

Brent Carman, sitting in the bus, competes in the 38th Annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition on July 20 in Calgary, Canada.

Morgan Hill driver, SJB native earns fourth international title
in ‘bus roadeo’
video interview about the win and the challenges of the
competition.
MORGAN HILL

When we last saw Brent Carman, he was making stops, turns and headlines while prepping for his fourth trip to the international ‘bus roadeo,’ the Olympiad of school bus driving.

Everyone close to the sport was reading about Carman – everyone except Carman, of course.

“I’m a superstitious person,” said Carman, who’s been driving Morgan Hill Unified School District buses for more than two decades. “That’s just how I am. I don’t like to read something about me before I compete and then be thinking I have something to live up to.”

Carman has plenty more ink to avoid. He’s a world champion once again.

The 47-year-old native of San Juan Bautista improved to 4 for 4 in international contests last month, winning the small bus category of the 38th Annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Calgary, Alberta. Carman scored 543 out of a possible 725 points in the National School Transportation Association-presented event, which closely tests basic skills in parking, braking, loading, turning and in-line driving.

Carman qualified for the July 19-20 internationals after placing first in small bus and third overall at state.

“Any time you get a ‘W’ it’s a great feeling – it never gets old,” Carman said. “(543) was not a good score for me, not at all. I think the judges got a score wrong, because I had a zero in one of the events.

“I was aiming to score just under 600. When I heard the second-place winner scored in the low 500s, I knew I won.”

Although modest in victory, Carman was mobbed by friends after his name was called for first place at the awards banquet. He celebrated with a side trip to Vancouver, British Columbia.

“I went to the competition expecting to win,” said Carman, who came home with three plaques. “It’s the same expectation I always have.”

The small bus title was a first for Carman, who won conventional bus championships in 2000, 2002 and 2004. Conventional buses, although much larger than small buses, make for much easier driving in competition, Carman said. That’s part of the reason why Carman doesn’t plan on defending his newest title next year.

“I told a few other drivers afterward they will never see me in small bus again,” he recalled. “There are just too many variables, too many little things, too many problems you have to work out.

“My teammates and me, we decided to stick with conventional bus next year.”

Like the competition, those “problems” were a matter of inches. Carman spent most of his one-hour predrive inspection looking at his mirrors, which were slightly – but significantly – different from ones used on MHUSD buses.

“The brackets that held the side mirrors up were way too low,” he added. “I measured them during inspection. The door on the side was a lot wider, too. I looked at that and the mirrors and thought, ‘this is going to be a problem.'”

Carman was especially worried about diminishing clearance, an event in which drivers maneuver down a narrowing alley, outlined with standards.

Carman said he usually hugs one side of the alley.

“I couldn’t do that this time,” he recalled. “The mirrors were so low they’d hit the standards. That costs big points.”

Carman also struggled in the straight line event, which asks drivers to navigate their tires between tennis balls like a slalom skier. The distance between tennis balls is less than a foot larger than a bus’s rear-wheel base.

“The mirrors were throwing me off there, too,” Carman said. “You have to make quick adjustments. I thought I might have hit two balls. I ended up hitting three.”

Although Carman didn’t get his scoresheet back, his costliest demerit probably came during the parallel parking competition, when he failed to use his turn signal. If penalized, that would have set him back 50 points.

“Any time you mess up, it counts,” Carman said.

Room for error was tight, considering only eight of the 96 drivers at the roadeo competed in small bus.

“That puts a lot more pressure on you,” Carman said. “That’s like Tiger Woods playing against three other guys instead of 50. The difference between first and last is pretty narrow.”

Carman doesn’t necessarily liken himself to Tiger, but his dynastic credentials do make a comparative case. He’s now tied with one other driver for the most career international roadeo titles. Two others have three.

Carman plans to enjoy the rest of summer before the school year starts. Even if he hadn’t placed first, Carman said his days of competitive small-bus driving would still be over.

“My mind doesn’t work that way,” he said flatly. “I don’t do what-ifs.”

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