It hasn’t just been gearing up for competition lately. San Dieguito Union High School District bus driver Antonio Perez has also spent a good chunk of his summer training for another major showdown, the 42nd annual School Bus Driver International Safety Competition, which
During the event Perez had to prove his behind-the-wheel prowess on a closed course, facing off against dozens of the best drivers from across the U.S. and Canada. The competition was tough, Perez says, but ultimately he pulled it off, brining home the 2012 title in the transit bus category, arguably the hardest of all the brackets because it involves the largest vehicles.
Here the hometown champion takes a minute to chat with Patch about his recent big win.
Patch: How long have you been driving school buses?
Antonio Perez: I started driving buses when I was 20, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve spent the past 10 years driving buses for the San Dieguito Union High School District.
Patch: Is this your first national win?
Perez: Yes, but I’ve competed three times. I competed once in 2006 and again in 2007. I guess the third time’s the charm. This year I also won my third state title, and I started competing in local bus rodeos in 2006.
Patch: What was your strategy heading into competition?
Perez: Practice really does make perfect, so I did a whole lot of that. I was putting in about ten hours a week, mostly on the weekends. Whether it was parallel parking or student loading, I’d just break down each maneuver step-by-step until I perfected it.
Patch: Do you think natural talent plays a role at all?
Perez: I do. I was asked to start training other bus drivers a year-and-a-half into my career, so I grasped it pretty quickly. My father also drove buses, so I’m thinking maybe genetics have something to do with it.
Patch: What’s one of the most challenging things about driving a bus?
Perez: The amount of blind spots. I don’t think most people realize how many there are. As bus drivers, we depend on our mirrors. It’s important we set them up just right because we have trust what we see in those mirrors.
Patch: So, how does it feel to be deemed the very best at what you do?
Perez: It feels awesome. I do this to test myself, to find out how good I can really be. Ultimately, the goal is to also keep all the students on my bus safe, and I do my best to relay that message to every bus driver I train.
Patch: Are you’re coming back next year to defend your title?
Perez: Oh yeah—I don’t plan on stopping. I’ll keep doing this as long as I still have it in me.