When it comes to Broward bus drivers, he's a Sure Shot for the win
Feb 25, 2013 (Sun Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
POMPANO BEACH -- Well before they started their engines Sunday, the eight challengers knew Rendol Whidden -- a.k.a. "Sure Shot"-- was the man to beat. This was far from his first rodeo.
The 66-year-old Broward County Transit driver has won so many state and local Bus Safety Roadeo titles that many of his colleagues have given up even trying to top him in the annual driving skills competition.
"I did have a dream last night," said San Penaloza, 59, who has been driving a Broward transit bus for 10 years. "And in the dream, I won and he was second."
But that dream remained a dream on Sunday.
Once again, Whidden -- who has won the local Roadeo 14 times, the state contest nine times and in 2010 was the international grand champion -- smoked the field. He scored 569 out of a possible 650 points, beating runner-up James (Roger) Vance by 84 points. In third place with 313 points was Santiago Arroyo Jr.
Penaloza did not place.
"Rendol is a phenom," said Pat Cunningham, a retired supervisor who helped oversee the event at the Pompano Beach transit facility on West Copans Road. "At the state competition, everyone is afraid of him."
The Roadeo tests drivers' abilities to pilot a 40-foot bus through an obstacle course that includes tight turns, reverse maneuvers and judgment calls, all within seven minutes. Competitors have to run through a narrow path of cones at 35 miles an hour, pull up to within six inches of the curb at a bus stop, and face other common driving challenges while being judged on safety habits and posture. Experience is required.
Whidden, a Davie resident who drove a Greyhound before joining Broward transit 20 years ago, said he owes his success to an ability to keep calm and concentrate. "And I just enjoy it," he said. "The competition gets me going."
He said he employs the same calm and concentration when he is driving county streets with 40 noisy or rambunctious passengers sitting behind in place of the three judges with notepads who rode with him Sunday.
"Driving is the easy part of the job," said Whidden, who was named 2011-12 operator of the year by the Florida Public Transportation Association. "Working with the public is hard; there are so many personalities." He was attacked in 2000, he said, by a passenger who did not want to extinguish a cigarette.
In the 34 years since he first got behind the wheel of a bus, Whidden said he has never been faulted in a crash. Twice, he said, cars hit him when his vehicle was stationary at a stop.
Now assigned to the "extra board," he fills in on routes throughout the county. The hardest routes to drive, Whidden said, are Federal Highway and State Road 7, from Golden Glades to the Palm Beach County line. "They are the busiest, the toughest," he said.
Whidden said he owes a lot to buses. He met Maria, his wife of 25 years, when he went to her hair salon to get spruced up for an assignment driving the CEO of Greyhound on a visit to Miami. "That changed my life," said Whidden, who has two children and two grandchildren.
Off the job, Whidden's way of relaxing is almost a busman's holiday: he sets up his collection of American Flyer model trains.
For his efforts Sunday, Whidden picks up a plaque and a ticket to Jacksonville next month for the state competition. If he wins there, it's on to the international competition, this year in Indianapolis.
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