Someone is watching, listening

Someone once offered some advice that went something like this: “If you don’t want your grandmother to read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper, don’t say it.”

That could be expanded these days to, “If you don’t want your grandmother to read it on the front page of tomorrow’s paper or potentially everyone with a computer read it on Facebook or see it on YouTube, don’t say it, write it or do it.”

That’s because in this age of instant communications and social media, someone or some device is generally near you, ready to capture your every written or spoken word and all of your actions.

Broadcasters and public figures, like politicians, have always been warned to treat microphones as if they are live because they could be. But now all of us — not just broadcasters and public figures — are at the mercy of not just open microphones but surveillance cameras, miniature audio recorders and cell phones that record sound, take photos and make videos.

Drones equipped with video cameras can peer into your window and watch you get dressed or hover over your backyard and watch you sunbathe.

Some people have learned about the lack of privacy the hard way.

They have been caught making private remarks to individuals or small groups that ended up going public and came back to haunt them.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa made some remarks to a group of lawyers at a Texas fundraiser that no doubt cost him some votes in his unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

Braley, a lawyer, was caught in a videotape posted online disparaging Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is a farmer.

“If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice — someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way — on the Senate Judiciary (Committee),” Braley told the group. “Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary.”

Braley later apologized to Grassley, but the damage was done.

Another person whose comments have recently caused controversy is MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, described by many as an architect of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Romneycare in Massachusetts before that.

In a 2013 video Gruber said of Obamacare, “If you have a law that makes explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it wouldn’t have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage and, basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

Gruber has apologized on MSNBC for what he calls his “off-the-cuff” remarks.

On the local level, a staff member of Illinois U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos resigned in October for saying that constituents in some parts of Rockford spend more time in jail than in church.

District director Heidi Schultz quit after Bobby Schilling, who later lost to Bustos in the November general election, released an audio recording of Schultz making the comments to a constituent last winter.

Schultz said she did not know she was being recorded. Bustos called the comments “unacceptable on every front.”

Yes, someone’s listening, and someone’s watching. We worry about Big Brother — the government — keeping track of us. But maybe we should worry more about being studied by others like ourselves.

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

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , ,

Have some wine after dinner in Balltown

P1000609P1000606P1000607P1000608A good way to spend a few minutes after your delicious meal at Breitbach’s Country Dining in tiny Balltown, Iowa, is a visit to the Breitbach family’s Wine Shed, located adjacent to the restaurant in one of Iowa’s most picturesque towns.

It offers a variety of wine, including free tasting; some antiques and collectibles; and T-shirts to purchase. An affable retired farmer is the host.

After tasting several of their wines, we bought a bottle of Cabin Fever, a sweet white table wine, for about $13. It is bottled by Promisedland Winery in Guttenberg, Iowa.

The Wine Shed is open daily except for Mondays during the spring, summer and fall through Thanksgiving, when it closes for the winter. Call the restaurant at 563-552-2220 for the store hours or other information.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , ,

Everyone could use a little Sunshine in January

sunshine ramseyEveryone could use a little sunshine in January. And you’ll find lots of it at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse in Rock Island.

Walcott-area native Sunshine (Woolison) Ramsey returns with another cabaret-style show, “A Night of Sunshine,” on Saturday, Jan. 3, and Friday, Jan. 9.

In 2010, Circa ’21 producer Denny Hitchcock came up with the idea for a show headlined by Sunshine and featuring a live band and a variety of music. His idea was no surprise to anyone who has heard Sunshine’s powerful pipes. She can really belt out a song.

“A Night of Sunshine” has been a hit from the beginning. This is the second year for two performances of it. The second performance was added because prior years’ shows were sellouts.

Doors open at 6 both nights, and the music begins at 7. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. They sell quickly. Phone (309) 786-7733, extension 2, for reservations.

Sandwiches and appetizers will be available for purchase, as will drinks from Circa’s bar.

Sunshine has been a member of Circa’s singing wait staff, known as the Bootleggers, since May of 2002. In addition to waiting tables, the Bootleggers perform a musical pre-show prior to each play performance.

Sunshine is no stranger to performing. Her resume includes recording songs in Nashville, and she has appeared on stage in more than half a dozen Circa productions.

By all rights, Sunshine and her sultry singing voice should be cranking out songs somewhere on tour or recording them in Nashville.

But as I wrote in 2010 prior to the first “A Night of Sunshine,” Nashville’s loss is the Quad-Cities’ gain.


I’ll admit it – my hearing isn’t what it used to be.

That was evident recently when I was having breakfast with a group of fellow broadcast media retirees. One woman in the group was talking about her pet dog. She said that particular breed, a Basenji, doesn’t bark.

I misunderstood what she said.

“Did you say your dog doesn’t fart?” I asked in all seriousness.

The group erupted in laughter.

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

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

The Pie Lady moves on

Beth HowardThe state-owned American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, made famous by painter Grant Wood, has lost its tenant. Beth Howard, who has been living there and baking and selling pies from the house since moving in back in 2010, becoming famous in the process, has moved out.

Though she is a graduate of Davenport Assumption High School, Howard was born in Ottumwa and spent her early years there.

Howard returned to Iowa as a new widow to operate Pitchfork Pie Stand and become known as the Pie Lady.

According to her blog,, Howard started her business for fun, but it has grown to the point where she could no longer contain it in the historic little house. She said she has looked at many possible solutions to manage the volume. They include buying a commercial oven, baking off-site at a bigger kitchen and renting a storefront.

“But first and foremost I am a writer, and it was never my goal to run a pie business,” she writes. “My true mission is to encourage others to make and share their own homemade pie, as I believe the act of giving makes the world a better place.

“At the pie stand I was selling, not giving, and I’ve always been uncomfortable with that. Therefore the best solution — for me personally — was to stop doing the pie stand completely.”

She now plans to start on her next book. She already has written two. “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie” was published in 2012 and a cookbook, “Ms. American Pie,” was released last April.

My wife and I traveled to Eldon in August of 2012. We stepped into the American Gothic House, met Howard and bought some pies from her. They were delicious, by the way.

Howard told us at the time she was a journalist. “But I don’t have time to write anything anymore,” she lamented.

But that has now changed, and she encourages people to make their own pies.

“I believe the world needs more pie. Especially homemade pie,” she writes in her blog.

“I promise you, when you make your own pie and share it with someone, you will experience the win-win joy that comes from giving and sharing.”

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

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 11, 2014 in Uncategorized


Tags: ,

Quad-Cities: Lots of racing for lots of years

*barney oldfieldNote: Following is some history of racing in the Quad-Cities area of eastern Iowa and western Illinois. I am indebted to some friends who supplied some information for it: Ken Paulsen, Jim Gerber and Roger Ruthhart.

The Quad-Cities area has been a hotbed of racing activity for many years. We have hosted many types of racing vehicles at a variety of locations.

The first stock car race in Iowa took place in Davenport at what used to be a 1-mile track.

As near as I can determine, the track was located at the One Mile Track Club Grounds outside of Davenport at what is now the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport. The track was built originally for horse racing in the 1890s and sat about where the Davenport half-mile now sits. People from Davenport got to the track’s rural location by train.

*mile track*aerialThe Davenport Mile Track in 1900 hosted an exhibition race between two automobiles, which were a new invention and a rarity at the time.

*pete petersenDavenport’s Pete Petersen won a 1904 road race in Scott County. The drivers raced so-called speedsters or big cars from Davenport’s Vander Veer Park out Brady Street and over Blackhawk Trail to LeClaire and back. The trip took a full day because competitors had to make stops to clean spark plugs etc.

The first race of cars actually built for racing and among professional drivers on a track took place at the Davenport Mile Track in either 1904 or 1906 — I’ve seen it reported both ways — and it was won by Petersen. The 10-lap event featured just three cars and was not much of a race. One car ran out of water. Another had engine trouble. Petersen completed the 10-mile race all alone, averaging 33 mph.

Races on the mile track were held weekend afternoons up to World War I days.

Also, in 1906, the Brady Street Hill Climb in Davenport became the first of several hill climbs of race cars.

*gerber 1*gerber 2*gerber 3A successful speedster driver was John Gerber of Davenport, who later hired Maynard “Hungry” Clark of Milan to drive a second car. Gerber and Clark took the two cars out East to race in the 1930s.

One promoter called them the Iowa farm boys, and they played the part. They wore bib overalls and straw hats and smoked corncob pipes. They slept in a tent in the track’s infield. The promoter even arranged for them to lead a baby pig around on a leash.

*pigThey re-enacted that in 1977 in Davenport.

*midgetWhen World War II was over, midget auto racing was king and John and Rose Gerber promoted stock car and midget races in Davenport and elsewhere with as many as eight races a week. With others, they even bought the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds and used it as a flagship for their races.

Stock cars began to get popular in the late ‘40s and remains popular to this day.

*bennerBert Mahoney bought some property west of Davenport for an amusement park and moved in back in 1943. He farmed the property in the beginning but, when the war ended, he formed a one-fifth mile track in a natural bowl. He named the place Mahoney’s Variety Park.

Construction and the weather delayed the opening to June 19th, 1949. On that date, midget cars staged a six-event program. The track also later hosted motorcycle races, a weekend rodeo, a thrill show and hot rods, which were highly modified passenger convertibles. Stock cars became the main attraction at the track and first appeared on July 4th, 1949.

Mahoney would often dress as a cowboy, complete with 10-gallon hat and boots. He began showing movies on Thursday nights and hired a clown named Stinky McNasty entertain the fans between races.

The track closed in 1951 due to competition from other areas speedways, and it eventually became Lake Canyada.

The competition for spectator dollars grew with the opening of the quarter-mile dirt Quad City Speedway, located in Coal Valley between Route 6 and the Rock River.

*qcsCo-owners Ray Corey and Marcel Van Acker constructed the high-banked track at a cost of $175,000.

Stock cars were the inaugural show on June 22nd, 1950, with 3,200 fans on hand.

As if the regular races weren’t enough, several novelty races were staged throughout each season. For the “Soups-On” race, drivers jumped from their cars after the first lap and consumed a cup of dry oatmeal. After the second lap they ate a box of popcorn. After the third lap it was a piece of cake and there was a quart of milk after the fourth.

Another time they ran four laps forward and one lap in reverse. One night promoters had the cars start six abreast in four rows.

Other unusual races included a donkey race. The drivers raced for three laps in their cars and then mounted a donkey for the fourth lap. Shorty Bennett was thrown 11 times trying to get that last lap in.

Powder puff races — featuring women drivers — weren’t normally very exciting except for one night in 1953.

As the race ended, two of the cars came to a stop in front of the grandstand. The ladies got out and a war of words developed into a sparring match with one of the gals losing her dress. It was then that the fans discovered that regular drivers Roy Blinstrup and Bud Benner had staged the fight.

The 1959 season was the last. A new Interstate 280 cut through the track, which was located about where the weigh stations now sit.

NASCAR’s Grand National Division, now known as the Sprint Cup Series, held a race in Davenport in 1953.

*thomas 1It was a 100-mile, 200-lap NASCAR Grand National Series event held on August 2nd, 1953, on the dirt, half-mile Davenport Speedway oval.

Back then, NASCAR’s top series contested races all across the country on various racing surfaces. The Davenport race was short on cars – only 14 drivers signed in.

*thomas 2Herb Thomas, of Olivia, N.C., driving a 1953 Hudson Hornet, won at an average speed of 62.5 mph. Thomas’ prize was $3,300.

Buck Baker of Charlotte was second and Lee Petty, of Randleman, N.C., was third. Fourth and fifth places went to Georgia drivers, Dick Rathman, of Atlanta, and Fonty Flock, of Decatur.

The leading Midwest driver was Bill Harrison of Topeka, Kansas, who finished sixth.

The quarter-mile Quad City Raceway, also once called East Moline Speedway, is called Quad City Speedway these days. It opened in mid June of 1960 at the Rock Island County Fairgrounds in East Moline. It originally had a one-fifth mile asphalt surface, but drivers could not get good traction on it. So the asphalt was broken up and covered with dirt.

*qcrThe track remains in operation to this day with stock-car races on Sunday nights. In the early 1970s when figure 8 races were popular, the track hosted figure 8 events on Wednesday and Saturday nights in addition to the Sunday stock car races.

Hawkeye Raceway — also referred to over the years as Hawkeye Speedway and The Track — was located along U.S. Highway 61 four miles west of Blue Grass. It opened in 1963 as a quarter-mile dirt oval.

ronnie11coupe copyMany owners and promoters are part of the Hawkeye Raceway legacy. LaVerne and Kathy Schumann bought the track in early 1982 and promoted races there through 2005. They leased the facility to a former driver and his wife in 2006, then closed it. Plans to sell it were unsuccessful, so the Schumanns have started a housing subdivision at the site.

Motorcycle racing has taken place in the area for years and is still an annual attraction in September at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds.

*motorcycleAccording to a May 1949 article in The Argus, an event at the Tri-City Motorcycle Club grounds in Coal Valley attracted an estimated 4,000 spectators.

Karting, where most Formula 1 and Indy Car drivers and many NASCAR drivers learned the basics of racing when they were young, has had a place in Quad-Cities racing for years.

Sprint Kart Speedway, near the Davenport Airport at Mt Joy, started out in the early 1960s as Dusters Kart Club and hosted weekend racing until the late 1980s when it transitioned to Sprint Kart Speedway with racing Friday nights. It is run by Steve “Spider” Duffy.

Ken and Candy Williams also promoted kart races on an asphalt track behind the grandstand at the Davenport Fairgrounds for several seasons.

*kartingThe Rock Island Grand Prix started in 1994 — this is it’s 20th year. It annually hosts racers from coast to coast and has had competitors from eight foreign countries. It is the largest karting street race in the world.

It was begun by The Rock Island Argus newspaper and has grown and is run by its own not-for-profit corporation in conjunction with the Arts & Entertainment District. Back when it started there were quite a few street and parking lot kart races. But today, due to safety concerns and insurance regulations, only a handful that remain.

The beauty of a street race is that it transfers the action from a purpose-built track in the middle of a cornfield somewhere into a major downtown area where thousands of spectators can come and watch, providing great exposure to the sport, sponsors and participants. It also gives competitors and their teams a full weekend.

Drag racing in the area dates to the mid ‘50s. Cordova Dragway Park is an IHRA-sanctioned quarter-mile drag strip located three miles north of Cordova.

*cordovaThe World Series of Drag Racing is without dispute the granddaddy of them all. And Bob Bartel of Moline, the man who built and nourished it, said the race is also the oldest continuous drag racing event in the world.

Bartel was there when it all started. His interest in drag racing started in about 1954 or ‘55 when he visited primitive homemade drag strips near Oswego and Peoria.

A group of guys convinced him to build a track.

Bartel; his brother, Dan; Ken Roberts from Moline Engine Service; and the late Keith Cordell, a Moline police officer, each invested $10,000.

Bartel quit his job at Sears, where he had been selling heating and plumbing supplies, and took over managing the construction of the track. Then, after it was built, he managed it for 30 years.

Bartel operated the track until 1985 when Bob Gipson of Bettendorf bought it. Scott Gardner took over in December 1995.

There used to be a local group that was dedicated to the preservation of auto racing history. The group was called Midwest Oldtimers. It ran from 1977 through at least 1996, and perhaps longer.

*MWO flyerThe Oldtimers had a three-day event every September at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds. Antique race cars of all sorts, along with their owners, who were in many cases retired drivers, were on display Saturday and had a banquet Saturday night.

On Sunday the Oldtimers held exhibition races on the Davenport half-mile.

The group earned its money from a modern midget race the prior Friday night and a demolition derby that took place on Saturday night. The group ceased operation as the old drivers began to die and organizers grew older themselves and, without young people to replace them, got burned out.

Copyright 2014 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

Leave a comment

Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Uncategorized



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.

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.