Auto racing has a problem

Auto racing has a problem. It’s a problem that affects both the short tracks across America and the super speedways.

It involves drivers getting out of their cars following a crash before it’s safe to do so. Normally they exit to check the amount of damage done to their racecar. But often it’s also to shake a fist at a driver they blame for their accident the next time he drives by.

As a 38-year auto racing official (track announcer) and someone who handled publicity for NASCAR’s Midwest-based All-Stars Series from 1990 to 2001 and the Midwest-based World Dirt Racing League from 2002 to 2008, I’ve seen this happen time and time again.

Racing is a dangerous sport even when a driver is buckled in his car and using all of the available safety equipment.

But when a driver climbs out following a crash before other competitors have sufficiently slowed, he is particularly vulnerable.

That recently resulted in the death of a 20-year-old sprint car driver, Kevin Ward Jr. He was killed when he climbed from his car following an on-track incident at a short track in upstate New York.

Ward walked down the racing surface under a caution period and was hit by a sprint car driven by Tony Stewart.

It was a nighttime race on a black dirt track. The driver was in a black fire suit and wearing a black helmet. It’s very likely that Stewart did not see him until it was too late.

The death was a tragedy, but it didn’t have to happen.

Most short tracks around the country and national sanctioning bodies encourage drivers to stay in their car — unless it’s on fire — following a collision until the safety crew arrives and tells them it’s safe to exit.

But penalties for violating this often are not spelled out or are not severe enough to keep it from happening.

NASCAR recently added a rule, effective immediately, that addresses on-track incidents as part of its race procedures in what it calls “continued efforts to evolve the safety” of the sport. Here it is:

During an event, if a racecar is involved in an on-track incident and/or is stopped on or near the racing surface and unable to continue to make forward progress, unless extenuating emergency conditions exist with the racecar (i.e. fire, smoke in cockpit, etc.), the driver should take the following steps:

• Shut off electrical power and, if driver is uninjured, lower (the) window net.
• Do not loosen, disconnect or remove any driver personal safety equipment until directed to do so by safety personnel or a NASCAR/track official.
• After being directed to exit the racecar, the driver should proceed to either the ambulance, other vehicle, or as otherwise directed by safety personnel or a NASCAR/track official.
• At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach any portion of the racing surface or apron.
• At no time should a driver or crew member(s) approach another moving vehicle.

All vehicles not involved in the incident or that are able to continue afterwards should slow down to a cautious speed as outlined in Section 10-4 (Yellow Flag), use extreme care as they approach an incident scene, and follow any directions given by safety personnel or (a) NASCAR/track official. Cars in line behind the safety car should not weave or otherwise stray from the line in the vicinity of the incident.

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition and racing development, calls safety the No. 1 priority at NASCAR and says the new rule is “part of the evolution of NASCAR’s rules and regulations.

“When we believe we can do something to make our sport safer and better for the competitors and others involved in the competition environment, we react quickly,” he says.

A NASCAR news release adds, “as with other behavioral infractions, NASCAR will handle each instance separately when assessing potential penalties.”

It often takes a tragedy to get people’s attention. Yes, racing has a problem, but most people involved in the sport are now well aware of it and may take steps to resolve it.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece ran as a column in the North Scott Press, Eldridge Iowa.

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Posted by on August 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


Karts to return to The Rock for 20th year of street races

kart logo*kartingROCK ISLAND, ILL – It’s a milestone that few karting events ever come close to. This year the Rock Island Grand Prix presented by AT&T celebrates its 20th anniversary. If not for a flood in 1993 and a year skipped in 1997 it would be well into its third decade when racers take to the streets August 30-31.

“Since the very beginning this race has been about two things – doing a fun and safe event for kart racers and an event from which the entire community can benefit,” said Roger Ruthhart, president. This year’s them “The Most Fun You Will Have in Karting On And Off The Track” is fitting because of the great experience racers have and the fun memories that are always made once the racing is over.

“While I know there our race promoters who profit from karting, our goal as a not-for-profit organization has always been to keep the cost low to the racers and at least break even, which has been hard to do the last few years,” said Ruthhart. “In the end, whether we make it another 20 years just depends on the degree to which racers enjoy and support the event.”

Again this year, The Rock will be the only race in the world where you can see 2 cycle, 4 cycle, shifters and vintage karts all racing at the same venue. Featured races this year will be the Briggs & Stratton LO 206 Heavy race, MG Tires King of the Streets stock Honda and Yamaha Super Can Heavy sponsored by the International Trophy Cup Series.

This year will again feature Saturday racing with the Valspar Race Against Hunger for TAG Senior. Starting position is determined by the pounds of food donated to the local food bank on behalf of the drivers. Saturday will also feature a vintage kart race featuring karts from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

Organizers are also asking spectators to bring a donation of non-perishable food for the River Bend Foodbank. Food will be collected both Saturday and Sunday at the three main crosswalks on the track. Cash donations can also be sent to River Bend Foodbank on behalf of the Grand Prix. River Bend Foodbank provides food to partner organizations in the Quad-Cities and a surrounding 22 county area.

“We thought this was a good opportunity not only to try something different on track but focus attention on the needs of the food bank,” said Ruthhart. Last year racers contributed four skids of food.

Sunday’s Opening Ceremonies will be at 11 a.m. with the Driver’s Parade followed by the Kid’s Autograph Session at the Start/Finish line. In addition to the two races on Saturday, 15 races are scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, the Quad City Camaro Club will hold a car show from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on 18th Street north of the race track near WHBF-TV4.

Jumer’s Casino & Hotel is sponsor of the purse. Holiday Inn in Rock Island is the host hotel and race headquarters. General admission to the races is FREE, although there is a daily charge of $10 for the pit area.

Action starts Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. and concludes around 5 p.m. The Rock Island Grand Prix has drawn top drivers from coast to coast as well as Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, Italy, Poland, Costa Rica, the Philippines and England. The races will be web cast live on .

Others sponsors of this year’s Rock Island Grand Prix include: Verizon IndyCar Series, O’Reilly Auto Parts; International Trophy Cup Series, Curry’s Transportation, MG Tires, Advanced Medical Transport, Valspar paint, Rock Island McDonald’s restaurants, Schurr Power Racing Engines; Modern Woodmen Financial Jose Schuur agent; L&W Bedding, Sunbelt Rentals, Modern Woodmen Bank, Full Circle Media, CBS4 TV; Tennant Trucking Co., radio stations B100, 97X, ESPN Quad-Cities and KBOB; The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus newspapers; Briggs & Stratton Motorsports and Mediacom.

Sponsors also include Coors and Euclid Distributing, Triple E Sales, 61 Kartway, Zimmerman Honda, Courtesy Car City, VP Fuel, Communications Engineering Corp.(CEC), Gas & Electric Credit Union, Rogan Inc. and J&J Camper.

Race details are available on the Grand Prix website at or

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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


1880 Cloran Mansion is beautiful and well run

Cloran 1 Cloran 2 Cloran 3 Cloran 4 Cloran 5 Cloran 6 Cloran 7(Photos above are by Sherry Roberts)

If you are headed to historic Galena, Ill., and appreciate well-run bed and breakfasts, consider a stay at the 1880 Italianate Victorian Cloran Mansion ( My wife and I stayed there one weeknight in July and were pleased with it.

Located just a 5-minute drive from the many downtown shops and restaurants, the Cloran is a beautiful brick house furnished with antiques.

Its operators, Cheryl and Carmine, are very cordial and have thought of everything, right down to bath salts for the two-person whirlpool and shower in our private bathroom.

We stayed in “John’s room” on the second floor. It is one of seven rooms and offers a beautiful view of the grounds and gardens. It was medium in size but offered a comfortable queen bed, two easy chairs, robes, a fireplace, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and a DVD player. The mini-refrigerator in our room was stocked with complimentary soda pop and water.

A library just down the hall has hundreds of complimentary DVD’s, books, games, magazines, popcorn, cookies, coffee and teas.

The Cloran has central air conditioning. But it was turned off and the windows were open during our visit because the area was experiencing an unusually cool July week. The total cost for our one night was right at $160.

Before settling in for the night, we shopped and ate dinner downtown, then enjoyed the Cloran’s nicely landscaped front yard. There is a fire pit surrounded by seating and with firewood ready to go for anyone who wants to use it. But we opted to spend time in a screened-in gazebo with comfortable seating. It was next to a pond stocked with coy.

Breakfast the morning of our departure included coffee, orange juice, Cheryl’s “jelly doughnut” pancakes (they were great!), hash brown potatoes, fruit, Carmine’s made-to-order eggs and large slabs of sausage (Carmine told us they buy part of a pig every few weeks at a butcher shop for sausage and bacon), all served family style between 9 and 1030 a.m.

We highly recommend this B&B.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized


WQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois, has hired a Rockford, Illinois, meteorologist to replace Terry Swails

swailsWQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois, has hired a Rockford, Illinois, meteorologist to replace the Quad-Cities’ most experienced meteorologist, Terry Swails.

Channel 8 did not renew Swails’ contract. In these days of big corporations owning most media outlets — and concerned more about the bottom line than their viewers, listeners or readers — it probably means Swails was earning too much money, and the new guy will work for a fraction of the Swails’ salary.

(Note: there are some corporations and independent owners, locally and nationally, who are doing media right because they care about their customers. But sadly I think they’re in the minority these days.)

Whether you are a fan of Terry Swails or not is not the point. I think it’s a shame to see anyone who is doing his or her job fired because of past poor corporate financial decisions or downright greed. I’ve been there.

I was “downsized” five times in 45 years of working, most recently in 2009 by Clear Channel, which many fellow, former employees call the “Evil Empire.” It’s not fair, and it’s not fun.

David Burke’s article:

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Posted by on June 13, 2014 in Uncategorized


Restaurant offers throwback pricing

buffet-300x200The Iowa 80 Truckstop is one busy place. The world’s largest truck stop, located at the Walcott interchange of Interstate 80, serves 5,000 customers per day.

And many of those people visit its busy eatery, Iowa 80 Kitchen, which serves two million cups of coffee and 18 million eggs every year. The restaurant was especially full of customers on June 4 when it celebrated its 50th anniversary with throwback menu pricing from the year it opened.

“All of the managers got together, and we wanted to do something fun,” said Chris Hahn, a restaurant shift manager whose grandparents, Ruth and Bill Peel Sr., founded the business.

“We figured we’d do an appreciation event for the customers who have been with us for so long,” she said.

So on June 4 coffee at Iowa 80 Kitchen sold for a dime just like it had five decades earlier. Two eggs, hash browns, toast and bacon or pork sausage went for 95 cents. A cheeseburger and French fries were 55 cents. And half of a fried chicken, choice of potato, coleslaw and roll were $1.65.

Those prices surprised Hahn, who wasn’t yet around in 1964.

Customers showed up in big numbers, she said. “We had a line at the door from about 8:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night.”

Now one of the area’s largest restaurants, Iowa 80 Kitchen began, you might say, as a 23-seat snack bar at a bowling alley on Black Hawk Road in Rock Island.

The Peels and two of their four sons, Bill Jr. and Greg, operated it. (The other two sons, Tim and Terry, worked at Iowa 80 Kitchen in later years. Of the four brothers, all but Tim are now deceased.)

The late Bill Moon, who was working for Standard Oil, heard about the Peel family from a restaurant supply company and stopped by the snack bar during the summer of 1963.

He told them he was looking for someone to run a restaurant in a truck stop that Standard would be building north of Walcott along what then was a fledgling Interstate 80.

Moon then drove the family to the site of the future truck stop, Bill Peel Jr. related in The Perfect Spot, a book Iowa 80 Truckstop published 10 years ago to commemorate its 40th anniversary.

“But at that point in time, it was just a cornfield,” Peel recalled. Y40 was a gravel road and, as yet, there was no overpass.

“There was nothing here. He (Moon) told us, ‘I know it’s going to be hard to envision, but this is it.’”

Moon, a visionary, “did a pretty good sales job,” Peel noted, and convinced the family to operate the restaurant when the truck stop was built.

The first Iowa 80 restaurant was quite cozy. It had just 50 seats and a six-seat counter. There were no hand-carried menus back then. Meals were listed on a menu board with push-in letters and numbers. It could be read from anywhere in the room.

But since its 1964 debut, the place has expanded regularly. The first expansion came just a year after it opened and took it from 50 seats, not counting the counter, to 150 seats.

Today there are 300 seats and a horseshoe-shaped, 50-foot salad bar in a 5,693-square-foot facility that recently received a facelift.

While Iowa 80 Kitchen’s prices in 2014 are higher than they were in 1964, one thing hasn’t changed. The place is still a family operation with the third generation of Peels now in charge.

Bill Peel Jr.’s son, Chris Hahn’s cousin Jeff, operates the restaurant and shares ownership of it with his mother, Beverly.

As for that day with the throwback menu prices, Jeff Peel said, “It was a good day; I’d do it again.”

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. Submitted as a column to The North Scott Press.

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Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


New Era production is always a pleasure

1781945_10202463301401652_516786276_nMy wife and I love live theater and attend performances around the area regularly. The amount of local talent never ceases to amaze us.

Something we always look forward to is the annual New Era Dinner Theater production at Ziegler Memorial Lutheran Church in the unincorporated village of New Era on New Era Road just west of the southern entrance to Wildcat Den State Park in Muscatine County.

We missed the first show in 1994 but have attended every one since, accompanied in recent years by our friends the Harpers.

Multiple performances of each show take place in late May and early June. The home-cooked meal prior to each performance is delicious, and proceeds from ticket sales have always benefitted church needs and other charities.

On June 8, 2014, the fourth and final performance of this year’s show, “Dear World: A Musical Fable,” took place, and it was terrific.

An added treat was seeing director Bill Turner of Muscatine also act in the play.

I’m sure the cast and crew are looking forward to a little rest now. But I can’t until next year!

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Posted by on June 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Memorable commencement speakers

I don’t remember the names of the commencement speakers or the speeches they delivered when I graduated from high school in 1967 or college in 1971.
They may have been important people who had important messages. But I just don’t recall. It’s been too long.

Seniors in three recent graduating classes, however, have heard speeches from people they may well remember in the future.

One group of graduates is from Haverford College in Haverford, Penn. They got an earful from former Princeton president William Bowen.

You may have read that Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, withdrew from speaking at Haverford’s commencement. That came after some Haverford students had said his presence would have constituted an endorsement of his handling of a 2011 “Occupy” protest, where riot police were called in.

Bowen, who was already scheduled to speak at Haverford, told the grads he defends students’ right to protest, but “a liberal arts college like Haverford should be focused on encouraging debate, not shutting it down. He added that it was wrong for a leader of the Haverford protest to call Birgeneau’s decision not to appear a small victory.

“It represents nothing of the kind,” Bowen said. “In keeping with the views of many others in higher education, I regard this outcome as a defeat, pure and simple, for Haverford — no victory for anyone who believes, as I think most of us do, in both openness to many points of view and mutual respect.”

He said more, but you get the idea.

Another memorable commencement speaker was Jill Abramson, who was recently fired as the New York Times’ executive editor after three years at the job.

“What’s next for me? I don’t know,” Abramson, who had worked at the Times for 17 years, told graduates at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “So I’m in exactly the same boat as you are. I’m a little scared but also excited.”

Abramson advised “anyone who has been dumped” to “show what you are made of.”

Another memorable commencement speaker was actress Sandra Bullock, who made an unadvertised appearance at the graduation ceremonies of Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans.

She told the grads to stop worrying so much and find their joy.

“It’s what you’re going to remember in the end. It’s not the worry, it’s not the what-ifs. It’s the joy that stays with you.”

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This ran as a column in The North Scott Press.

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Posted by on June 8, 2014 in Uncategorized


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