Raymond “Elmo” Aylmer wanted to go out on a high note.

Raymond “Elmo” Aylmer wanted to go out on a high note.

The driver at Gulf Public Transportation was thinking that competing in 11 Florida Paratransit Roadeos and four National Paratransit Roadeos over the past 16 years might be enough.

He had won two more first-place trophies at the Florida competition last month, stamping a ticket to the national competition and wondered if maybe this would be it.

Then he reached nationals the first week of June in Albuquerque, NM and, after three previous attempts had come up just short, took home a national title and a huge trophy to add to his collection.

“It took four times and I finally did it,” Alymer said. “I was thinking about going out of Roadeo this year on an up note. After winning at nationals, I don’t think I can get out.”

To finally win that coveted national title – in the Van Division – Aylmer had to face down a familiar foe.

Every time Alymer reached nationals - he has been in the top three in state eight times and finished second once at nationals – Alymer had competed against the same driver from the same organization in Alabama.

Each and every time that driver got the best of Aylmer.

This year, it was Alymer’s turn.

The margin of victory: a single point, 856-855 on a scale that tops out at 1,000 points.

“The competition was tight,” Aylmer said. “In another division, the top five places were separated by just 35 points.

“This one driver from this one organization in Alabama always won. Every year. He won in 2008 when I was second. I told myself I have got to beat him.”

As the final scores were posted and read aloud to the competitors, Aylmer heard he wasn’t in third place.

“I had either bombed out or got number one,” Alymer said. “The second they said ‘Port’ everything went in slow motion. It was really a good feeling.”

The Paratransit Roadeos are competitions for organizations that provide public transportation to the disabled, seniors and needy.

The national Roadeo, Aylmer said, is where the competition truly ratchets up.

“The level of competition is a lot different than at state,” Aylmer said. “The competitors there you are competing against are all winners.”

Driving and winning in various weather and road conditions, from the snow and ice in New Jersey to the heat of California or the scorching temperatures at the University of New Mexico, where the competition was held adjacent to “The Pit”, the University of New Mexico’s fabled basketball arena.

“It is a good learning experience,” Aylmer said. “You learn how different operations operate different vehicles. You watch other competitors, see how they do things. You can learn some things you can bring back home.”

The competition is in three phases.

The first, a written test, was taken on the Saturday night prior to Sunday’s driving competition.

The second component is driving a course, laid out with cones of varying sizes (and point totals) and a series of turns and reverses (also earning a specific number of points), a “standard” layout Alymer said in which drivers encounter various “scenarios.”

They must complete the driving course in seven minutes, each nicked cone, too wide turn or “scenario” performed erroneously bringing point deductions.

Aylmer drew the first spot among the drivers in this component, not the ideal position.

“It does impact you because you only have one chance to know how the course is laid out and how you have to drive it,” Aylmer said.

Also part of the driving component is securement of a wheelchair to the vehicle.

For Aylmer this proved an advantage compared to the field – the equipment used was equipment Gulf Public Transportation long ago invested in.

“The equipment was the same as what we use,” Aylmer said. “We went to top-of-the-line wheelchair securement equipment years ago. It is the best.”

The final component was the vehicle inspection during which drivers must identify four “defects” on the vehicle in seven minutes, each driver inspecting while the rest of the field was facing a wall inside a building adjacent to the course.

“It was like we were being punished,” Aylmer said. “We literally had our faces toward a concrete wall.”

The “defects” in this competition – they are the same for every competitor – were a missing power steering fluid cap, a right rear taillight not functioning, an interior dome light out and the absence of a first aid kit.

“You have to do that inspection and find where they have sabotaged the vehicle in a systematic way to be properly scored,” Aylmer said. 

And, in the end, Aylmer had his first national title and a check for $750 to go along with the $300 won at state.

“I didn’t have a bad month,” Aylmer said with a chuckle.