Even the judges stopped to watch yesterday as four-time champion John H. Durant wheeled his 40-foot bus through an obstacle course toward victory in the Mass Transit Administration's 1992 Roadeo.
"That one's going to do a perfect back-up," said one judge, who had just measured Mr. Durant's distance from the curb at a passenger stop along the course.
"He's got the perfect angle," a second judge agreed.
But the 24-year veteran driver wasn't sure of victory in the 15th annual bus operators' event: As he started his run, he checked his left side mirror, adjusted it again, then backed up a little to get a start on the opening tight left turn.
Even after a near-perfect run, he said, "This year, the competition is a little more keen than it ever has been." And he should know, because Mr. Durant has been helping his challengers practice on weekends for the big event.
About 20 drivers completed the 11-maneuver course, set up in the parking lot of the Reisterstown Plaza Metro Station, as the MTA threw a picnic for about 600 employees and their families in the nearby woods.
In addition to the driving event, there were several competitions yesterday for maintenance crews, who competed against each other and the clock to get a malfunctioning engine started, and to find -- and correct -- 18 defects that were planted inside and outside a bus.
One in-your-face trick that fooled all but two crews was a bright yellow fare sticker by the door that showed the wrong amount, said maintenance foreman George Sherman. Some crews found little things missing that weren't on the tricksters' list -- such as missing air-conditioner ribbons, which show the system is on -- but they didn't get any extra credit, he said.
The winning driver, Mr. Durant, 50, of Slate Mills Court, will represent the state in national competitions in San Diego in October, while the top maintenance crew -- "Nasty Boys," consisting of Tom Ogden, Dan Hoff and Bruce Owens -- will head for their national competition in Orlando, Fla., in November. These national Roadeos originated as a rivalry between Baltimore and Washington bus drivers 15 years ago, said Jim Buckley, MTA's assistant general manager of operations.
Mr. Durant said the most difficult part of the course is the two "docks," or "reverses," in which the driver must back the bus first to the right, and later to the left, into a narrow slot marked by orange cones.
"Most drivers say the reverse is the hardest part, because they are blind. You can only see one side of the coach," explained W. William Schneeman, manager of training.
Scott Dozier Sr., a 16-year MTA veteran, noted thankfully, "We don't have to back buses up very often." But his trouble on the course came when he brushed a couple of cones on the "offset street" -- a test of the driver's skill at pulling tightly around an
obstacle and backing close enough to the curb at a bus stop.
The course "has a lot to do with what we encounter out there . . . because you've always got to be ready for anything," said Mr. Dozier, 45, of Center Street in Dundalk.
"I love it," he said of his fourth competition. "It takes a lot of stress, when you're out there on the streets. What you're accomplishing out there is not just a job.
"This is good therapy. Good therapy."