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Friday, May 5, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Practice made perfect for world's best bus driver

Times Snohomish County Bureau

Try snaking a 40-foot transit bus between orange cones without toppling any and see how far you get.

Not far, most likely.

For Community Transit driver Matt Chomjak, that skill has taken him the past five years to the International Roadeo sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association. This year, he placed first among 60 drivers, earning him the title of world's best bus driver.

That honor has never before been bestowed upon a Community Transit driver, despite some heavy local talent, officials there say.

"We've had drivers place in the top 10 before but never actually win the event," said Tom Pearce, a CT spokesman.

On the job only five years, Chomjak, 35, is a five-for-five winner in Community Transit's own event, earning him the chance each time to compete against the best bus drivers from the United States, Canada and Australia.

In his first year in the international event, he finished 35th among 85 entrants. The second year, he moved up to 21st out of 70. His third year, he was 14th out of about 70 drivers.

The fourth year: 35th out of about 70.

"Hmm, that was a bad year," he said, recalling the poor showing in Dallas. Blame it on the heat.

Then came this year's big win in Anaheim, Calif., complete with $1,000, a trophy and peer accolades.

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What's his secret?

Practice. Lots of driving practice.

Chomjak drives the course about three times a week for 30 minutes to keep his skills honed.

Though he's top of his "sport," it's unlikely he'll retire soon. But he also doesn't want to feel as if he stayed in the game too long like some one-time sports greats who competed long past their prime.

"I'll probably participate again next year, but after that, who knows," he said.

The "who knows" should keep other drivers' feet to their gas pedals as they look to unseat the driving king. Bring them on, he says.

Looking at a practice area behind Community Transit's headquarters in Everett, Chomjak just smiled and said, "I own this blacktop."

Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or cschwarzen@seattletimes.com

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