Norman Ewen took home serious bragging rights from the 2019 United Motorcoach Association EXPO. He won the third annual International Driver Competition for motorcoach drivers—on his first try.
But the longtime driver was so shocked to hear his name called at the Awards Dinner he could barely stand up.
“I was still sitting there and just looking at everyone else, and they looked at me. They said, ‘Are you going to go up?’” Ewen recalled.
He did make it up to the stage to collect his award. He was joined by first runner-up Anthony Griffith, with AW Griffith Transportation Consultation in Springfield Gardens, New York, and second runner-up Rick “RJ” Johnson with MTRWestern in Seattle.
An unfamiliar bus
The hardest part of the competition was driving a bus he wasn’t familiar with. He drove a Prevost, but he drives a Van Hoolon his job with Escot Bus Lines in Largo, Florida.
“Every bus has a different turning radius. The steering is totally different. The Prevost is a little looser, and the Van Hool is a little tighter,” Ewen said.
Drivers were tested on their ability to parallel park, do a blind backup and an offset into another lane.
“I don’t think there were too many people who got that one,” he said of the offset that required backing up into the next lane over. “I even ticked one cone when I was first coming in.”
The blind backup proved the most challenging for him.
“You are pulling up and backing in on the driver’s side, so you can’t see anything on the passenger side.”
‘Elite of the elite’
Ewen was a little intimidated about competing with about 28 drivers from across the country, he said.
“You never know who you are going to be up against. I was told it was the elite of the elite,” Ewen said.
His advice to drivers considering entering the contest is to study and drive different buses. What bus you are assigned is the luck of the draw.
“You don’t know what you are going to get. They all have their little quirks. That’s just the way the buses are,” Ewen said.
The Florida man was one of four people selected by his employer to participate in the contest. Those selected had to have a clean driving record, with no accidents or scratches on a bus for the past two years.
No longer lonely on the road
Ewen, 54, has been a bus driver for 12 years. Before that, he was a truck driver for about 20 years. He decided to go into motorcoach driving because he was lonely on the road.
“You have nobody to talk to,” said Ewen, who now shuttles people to cruises from fall to spring and drives tours to the Northeast to Canada and along the Eastern seaboard during the summer.
Motorcoach driving offers better work-life balance compared to long-haul trucking, he says.
“At least sometimes I get to stay home, because when you are in a truck, you don’t get that chance. They like to keep you out.”