LOUDON -- It might seem an odd concept — school superintendents racing school buses around an “almost impossibly difficult” track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
But a $10,000 prize for the winning school district was at stake in Tuesday’s winner-takes-all race.
And though most of the drivers were seemingly calm top-level school officials, the superintendents threw caution to the wind in hopes of winning the big money, driving their buses like they were race cars.
“I felt like Bode Miller out there,” said the winning driver, Goffstown Superintendent Brian Balke, who finished with a time of 2 minutes, 32 seconds, including several one-second subtractions for hitting cones on the track.
“I just went for it. The idea was to go fast and minimize the cone hits. I wanted badly to bring that oversized check to Goffstown,” said Balke, who said his district will use the $10,000 to buy an all-terrain vehicle for the district’s athletic teams and for other uses.
The race was the idea of the speedway, which has held similar races the past two years featuring town officials and law enforcement officers. This year, the event was called “Race to Benefit Education: Superintendents Edition,” and featured 10 representatives from school districts around the state.
Most of the drivers were superintendents who had little experience driving a bus, though Exeter Superintendent Mike Morgan had been a bus driver for several years in a northern New Hampshire school district many years ago. A few superintendents could not make the race, but representatives of the districts were sent in their places.
The speedway, which provided the prize money, made the course difficult, with hairpin turns and short lanes that caused many drivers to knock over cones.
“We made the course almost impossibly difficult so the superintendents would appreciate the challenges faced by their bus drivers every day,” said speedway spokesman Scott Spradling.
The race was tight. Manchester, which was represented by the district’s truant officer, John Cruikshank, came in second with a time of 2 minutes, 34 seconds. Cruikshank said had won, the prize money would have gone to a rewards program for truant students who improve.
Sanborn School District finished third at 2 minutes, 37 seconds, and Derry finished at 2 minutes, 48 seconds.
Derry Superintendent Laura Nelson, the only woman driver, said she had never driven a school bus before. Many of the other superintendents said they had practiced for several hours in their buses on school parking lots.
“I didn’t train like my competitors,” said Nelson, who laughed when she was asked if she is a fast driver because her bus was zooming at times.
“I’m a confident driver, and I did my best.”
Nelson said she would have used the prize money to buy new books and notebook computers for her district. Exeter’s Morgan said his prize money would have gone to a district program called “End 68 Hours of Hunger.” Londonderry Superintendent Nate Greenberg said the money would have bought tablet computers at his school.
Franklin Superintendent Richard Towne, who finished with a time of 2 minutes, 55 seconds, said the money would have gone to help underfunded programs in Franklin schools.
Towne may have been an underdog because the schools were required to bring their own buses.
“I had the oldest bus in the race,” he said. “But I did my best, and it was fun. I did learn from this that these folks who drive our school buses are skilled drivers.”