My sincerest condolences go out to the family of Bert Peterson Jr. of Coal Valley, Ill. Bert, who was 70, died Jan. 9, 2009.
Bert had worked as a racing official at Quad-Cities area speedways.
Although our paths didn’t cross much in recent years, it was an honor to know Bert.
I hosted the “Around the Track” program on radio from 1973-1990 and my wife Sherry and I spent a lot of nights, particularly in the early years of the program, watching races at Quad-City Raceway.
In those years Bert was an assistant to flagmen like Skip Chick, Dave Copeland and the late Doyle Bennett.
There was no flagstand per se on the quarter-mile dirt oval. The flagman and his assistant stood at the start-finish line on top of the straightaway wall, where an opening the size of a door had been cut in the catch fence.
The flagman would hold onto a fence post with his left hand, lean out through the opening so the approaching drivers could see him and wave the appropriate flag with his right hand.
During an interview in the 1980s or so, Doyle told me how Bert had likely saved his life.
During a race, a car’s spinning rear wheel threw up a clod of dirt that hit Doyle between the legs. He said the pain was so bad he nearly passed out and, if he had, he would have fallen onto the speedway in front of the stock cars.
But Bert saw what had happened. He instantly grabbed Doyle by the belt with his left hand and held him up. With his right hand, Bert grabbed Doyle’s right hand, the one with the green flag, and held it in place.
He did this until Doyle had sufficiently recovered that he no longer needed assistance.
Bert was a great guy, and a top-notch racing official. But he was also a hero. May he rest in peace.
Copyright Jan. 17, 2009, by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.