Monthly Archives: February 2009

Football: Here’s why I played

Why did I play football in junior high and high school?

Sometimes I think back to those days more than four decades ago and ask myself that question.

My first thought is, I did it because I have always loved the game. But you can love a game without playing it. In fact, I get a lot of enjoyment these days watching someone else play football.

There were reasons other than liking the game to play football — and more than a few reasons not to.

Football’s a rough sport with lots of contact. The hard hits often hurt; you get lots of bumps, scrapes and bruises. Sometimes you receive concussions. Sometimes worse than that.

A few of my buddies got broken bones playing football. One of them ended up in a leg brace, crippled for life. Another hurt his knee so badly he needed major, season-ending surgery.

The game is going to hurt you. Maybe a little, maybe a lot. You know that from the outset. Whether or not it cripples you depends on a roll of the dice.

Another reason not to play football is that it’s very uncomfortable.

Your ankles are taped for support, you stick a molded piece rubber in your mouth to protect your teeth and you wear uncomfortable pads and a helmet — and let’s not forget the important, well-placed “cup” — to provide at least some measure of protection.

Then you practice and play in that getup in all sorts of weather conditions. I remember being so dry during some hot summer practices and a few games that I couldn’t even spit. And back then — in the pre-Gatorade ’60s — the infrequent squirt of liquid we were allowed was saltwater.

It’s not just hot weather a football player has to contend with. There’s bone-chilling cold late in the season, rain and sometimes snow. If you’re really unlucky, you get all of the above at the same time.

No, I didn’t play football in grades 8 through 12 because I got a kick out of getting hurt or being uncomfortable.

I did it for other reasons:

1) Being on the football team was the cool thing to do back then. I hope it still is but somehow I doubt it. Back then you were part of the “in crowd” if you were a jock, even if you weren’t a star player. In high school I couldn’t wait to get a letter sweater and wear it proudly on game days.

2) All of my close friends played football. I was with these guys in class and in our free time. I wanted to share the experiences as well when they played sports.

3) I liked being part of a team. I still do. You work together, you laugh together and you cry together. Sure, you depend on your own skills to succeed when you’re on a team, but you also depend on the skills of your teammates. Football, more than some other sports, is a team effort; it takes 11 people on offense and 11 on defense doing their jobs if they’re to have any hope of winning the game.

4) I wanted to please my dad and make him proud of me. My dad, H. Raymond Roberts, never told me I had to go out for football or even that he wanted me to.

But I knew he hoped that I would. “Have you gotten an invitation to join the team?” he’d ask early each summer, before practices started.

Dad always wanted to play sports when he was growing up but wasn’t allowed to. He grew up during the Great Depression and its aftermath. His family was poor and had no medical insurance. His parents were afraid he’d get hurt.

So Dad really enjoyed watching my brother Bruce and I play sports. He was probably the best fan any football player could have. He’d often stop by practice to watch on his way home from work, and he never missed a home game even though I spent plenty of time on the bench some seasons.

I did provide him a few moments of pride like my sons have done for me since then. In eighth grade, the first time I got my hands on the ball, I scored a touchdown. I was a fullback, albeit a short, skinny one, and I more or less fell into the end zone from a few yards out. Though he later joked that I had tripped over my own feet, Dad thought a star had been born. Sadly, he was wrong.

My next few minutes of fame didn’t come until my sophomore year in high school. I was on defense playing a linebacker position when the ball suddenly appeared over head and sailed right into my arms.

I put the ball on my chest and covered it with both arms like Dad had taught me to do to avoid fumbling, and took off. I got to about the 20 yard line of the opposition before someone on the offense caught me from behind and brought me to the ground hard.

The tackle “knocked the wind out of me,” as they say, because I was already out of breath from running and fell on the ball when I hit the ground. But I’d intercepted a pass, something I never thought I’d accomplish. And for a few fleeting minutes, though gasping for air, I felt like a hero.

Moments like that when all’s right with the world are a guy’s reward for going out for football.

Copyright 2009, by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.


Posted by on February 27, 2009 in Uncategorized


Thanks, Speedway-Fire Rescue

Last night was a typical nasty February night in Iowa. Cold. Windy. The four inches of snow that had fallen nearly 24 hours earlier was blowing and drifting on rural roads. It was the kind of night where you’d like to be inside, wrapped in a blanket and curled up with a good book near a warm, crackling fire.

But at a banquet I emceed at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, there was a warmth that only friendship and fellowship can bring. And I was happy to be a part of it.

Each year for the last decade or so, I have been asked by Gil Short or one of his associates to be the master of ceremonies at the annual awards banquet of Speedway-Fire Rescue, which Gil founded some three decades ago. I think I’ve only missed one, and that was due to another commitment. My friend, Steve Donovan, subbed for me.

SFR is a dedicated group of volunteers who provide fire protection and rescue and medical services at speedways and a dragstrip in eastern Iowa and western Illinois plus the annual Quad-City Air Show.

They’ve saved lives and property, and they’ve eased a lot pain and anxiety over the years. I’ve seen it first hand. They’re a great group of people, and I’m happy to help them in any way I can. In fact, Sherry and I have donated three sets of “turnout gear” over the years to SFR.

I’m also honored to be a part of that group. No, I’m not an active member. When I’m at a race track, I’m working as an announcer or media relations guy. And my volunteer firefighting days (27 years of them) were spent in my community, Walcott. Although I’m on the WFD Auxiliary, I retired from active duty in 2003. Firefighting is best done by people younger than me.

I’m part of SFR, though, because some years back the group began periodically appointing honorary members in appreciation of the support they’ve given the unit.

Along with my friends, retired race driver and promoter Jim Gerber and racing flagman and racing photo historian Doug Haack, I was in the first group of honorees.

I couldn’t be prouder of that honor.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

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Posted by on February 22, 2009 in Uncategorized


I love Iowa, except….

I love Iowa.

I love our family values, work ethic and common sense way of approaching things.

But I’ll admit I love Iowa more in the spring and fall than I do in the summer and winter.

In general I can handle the warm summer weather and the cold winter weather. But it’s the temperature extremes in Iowa and many other states that get to me. I sure I’m not alone.

A 95-degree summer day with high humidity almost takes my breath away. It’s like being in a sauna all the time you’re outside. And I can’t describe how miserable I was that morning in January when the temperature on the insurance agency sign in town flashed minus 27. That wasn’t the wind-chill reading; that was the actual temperature.

Some people, whom I admit I envy now and then, have good weather almost year-round where they live and work.

When my wife and I left the wintry Midwest to vacation for a week in San Diego some years back, I thought we had discovered paradise. Maybe we had. The average daily temperature there is a little more than 70 degrees year-round.

As says “San Diego’s location makes it the perfect year-round destination. Few demands will be put on your wardrobe. Casual sportswear is ideal for San Diego’s comfortable weather. You’ll rarely need a topcoat (or rain coat) in the winter months. Evenings are cooler, even in the summer, so be sure to bring a jacket or a sweater. The temperatures are on the warm side during the day so make sure to have shorts and swimming attire handy.”

As one who’s been there, I can tell you that’s 100 percent true.

But even for a guy in Iowa who sweats like a butcher many days each summer and shivers like an Eskimo many days each winter, 70 degrees year-round sounds – I hate saying this – maybe a little boring.

I prefer a place that has four distinct seasons but perhaps not as distinct – OK, I mean brutal – as those in the Midwest.

Employers have given me an opportunity to leave this area a couple of times through my working life.

In the mid 1970s I was the assistant personnel director for National Tea Co., which had 26 National or Del Farm grocery stores in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. When the company closed its division office in Davenport, I was offered a transfer but turned it down.

After a few short stops at other employers, I ended up working in the shop at the Davenport Caterpillar plant in 1977. By late 1978 I had been promoted to a job as a material requirements analyst in the office, ordering castings and forgings from outside suppliers among other duties.

When the CAT plant closed in 1988, I was offered a transfer but turned it down.

Taking either the National transfer or the CAT transfer would have been a good thing from a career standpoint. (Heck, with CAT’s “30 and out” provision, had I stayed with the company I could have retired two years ago.) But I turned down both National’s and Caterpillar’s transfer offers for various, mainly family-related reasons.

The locations weren’t an incentive to take either of the job moves either. They weren’t to places like San Diego.

The National transfer would have been to Chicago, and the CAT transfer would have been to Peoria.

Those are places where, had I moved, yet today I’d be sweating like a butcher in the summer and shivering like an Eskimo in the winter.

Copyright 2009, by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This “Everyday People” column appeared in The North Scott Press.

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Posted by on February 21, 2009 in Uncategorized


Victory Lane Talking Tips

You’ve won a big race, and you’re headed to Victory Lane. There will be a trophy presentation and photos. Reporters and the track announcer will ask you to make some comments and answer some questions. What should you say or do? Or, perhaps more important, what shouldn’t you say or do?

Our informal panel of experts — people who know lots about racing, reporting and public relations — offer these pointers for successfully dealing with post-race interviews:Don’t forget the sponsors and car owner, adds Bill Desmond Jr., who was a longtime racing media coordinator for NASCAR and others.

* Do your homework

“Many drivers seem ill prepared,” says motorsports journalist Ernie Saxton, publisher of the Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News.

Dennis Huth, president of ASA Racing, which sanctions 11 regional touring series and 31 racetracks through its ASA Member Track program, suggests each driver complete a public speaking course.

“Think about your responses ahead of time and the questions you may be asked,” advises former newspaper sports writer Craig Cooper, who now works in public relations. He says to practice at home. “The big guys have to go to class to learn how to deal with the media, but it really isn’t that hard.”

* Speak up and speak clearly

Joe Skotnicki, a racing writer who also has years of racing PR experience, says, “I’ve seen guys interviewed at short tracks, and you wondered what they were saying because it actually appeared they were afraid of the microphone. Don’t be! You don’t know when you are going to get that chance again.”

* All you’ve gotta do is act naturally

Yep, it’s just like Buck Owens said in his song. Don’t copy those canned driver interviews that the comedians imitate.
“Things have become way too plastic and regimented,” says Huth. “Be candid without stepping over traditional lines.”

* Be humble

People like a gracious winner. “… Most folks don’t like it or understand when the racer who wins is brash and bragging,” says Skotnicki.

* Be positive

Choose your words carefully. “You’ve earned the right to talk to reporters with your win,” Skotnicki says. “Just remember, when it gets written it’s awfully difficult to turn it around or take it back.”

Also consider this: “Drivers in Victory Lane naturally have some fans in the stands, but many, many more who will get a first impression from their comments,” adds sports writer and racing historian Bill Haglund, former editor of a racing trade paper.

* Excited or emotional? Good!

“Some drivers act like it’s old hat to win a race, not to mention the money,” says Cooper.

“Any victory is emotional, or it should be,” adds Skotnicki. “Even for the guy who wins every week at his local track.”

* Make it fun

“I’ve always enjoyed a sense of humor, a driver who seems like he is having a lot of fun doing what he is doing,” says avid racing writer and former racing trade paper editor Barry Johnson. “I know everyone gets all tense and serious, but weekly racing is still pretty much a hobby, and everyone should be having fun with it, or it really isn’t worth doing.”

* Look ’em in the eye

It’s called eye contact. Huth says to look at the person who is asking you the question and keep looking at him or her when you start to answer. Then, as you continue, make sure you stare eye to eye with the rest of the media.

* Repeat the question

There are several reasons for this. “Do that to make sure everyone hears the question and to make sure you heard it right so that you can answer it correctly,” says Huth. “It also gives you a second or two more to think about your answer.”

* It’s OK to skip a question

Heck, politicians do it all the time. “If the question or your answer makes you uncomfortable, skirt it,” Cooper says. “You don’t have to answer every question.”

* Be specific with your car talk

Don’t just say your car was fast. “Tell them how it felt, how it was on the corners, why you were faster than everyone else on the straightaways,” Cooper says. “Talk about something you’ve done differently or some car changes you’ve made.”

* Give credit where it’s due

Face it: “It probably wasn’t all you or the car,” Cooper says.
Drivers sometimes don’t thank crew members, says Haglund, many of whom work for nothing, buy their own pit passes and are vital to the driver’s success.

 But Saxton says not to rattle off a list of all of your sponsors. “The top two or three — the major sponsors — are all that can be included under normal circumstances.”

And Saxton and Skotnicki both warn not to read the names of your sponsors off the sides of your car. That’s “a bit tacky,” says Skotnicki.

Huth says to show appreciation for the promoter and track, too. “Whether they made money or not, we need more positive comments directed toward our entire sport and the stadiums,” he says.

Others you should consider thanking? Fellow competitors, family members and the fans.

* Get personal

It makes for a more interesting story. Says Cooper: “The reporter talking to you many not have seen your recent successes or even know much about you. Personal insights are always interesting to a curious reporter.”

* Don’t whine about other drivers or poor track conditions

As for fellow competitors, Desmond says, “Victory Lane is no place for grudge matches. I don’t believe I ever did a Victory Lane interview where a driver was hostile toward another driver. But if something in the race was important, that helped or hindered the eventual winner, a good interviewer could bring it up.”

Saxton says not to blame another driver for an incident,

“Every racer has made mistakes. Blaming another racer sounds petty and causes resentment by fans who just might take it out on your sponsors.”

Desmond suggests you say something like, “I know we rubbed a few times, but that’s racing.”

As for track conditions, Saxton favors no mention of them unless the comments are positive. He says you can say something like, “Conditions could have been better, but we all had to race on the same track and that would not have been possible without the support of my sponsors.”

Huth also favors the “soft approach” in most instances. “When asked about a rough track, say something like, ‘Yes, turn four was certainly a challenge tonight but, you know, it was the same for everyone.'”

Johnson says the track conditions are obvious to everyone in attendance, so commenting on them is OK. He says it’s good to hear from a driver how he handled conditions or what he thought of the track. “But a little tact doesn’t hurt ….”

Haglund agrees a rough or dusty dirt track, for example, shouldn’t be ignored. “But it also shouldn’t be the basis of comments. Drivers can remain positive by telling fans how they overcame those obstacles.

“Promoters have a big job and put a lot of money on the line each race night, and drivers have a big stake in the success or failure of all racing promotions,” adds Haglund, a former race track manager. “More drivers need to feel a responsibility for the success of a track. It’s a two-way street. The promoter has to make a buck to continue to provide a place for racers to race.”

* Don’t block that car

This is a no-brainer but often violated. “The sponsor pays big bucks to have his name seen by fans, photographed by the media etc.,” says Saxton. “When there are a dozen people in Victory Lane blocking the view of those names, the sponsor is being denied the exposure he has paid for.”

Whew! Our experts have given you a lot to think about. But don’t worry, the Victory Lane ceremony will come and go quickly. Says Saxton: “In my mind, the perfect Victory Lane interview is about two or three questions.”

“My experience is that most tracks don’t like a long Victory Lane ceremony because generally there are other classes to run,” adds Desmond.

You, the driver, have some control over the amount of time spent in Victory Lane. Says Johnson: “If a driver has the time and hasn’t been able to say what he needs to or thank who he needs to, he should be sure and speak up.”

Copyright 2008 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article appears in the March 2009 issue of Late Model Illustrated magazine.

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Posted by on February 18, 2009 in Uncategorized


Home on Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m home and I appreciate that.

For many years, when I worked as a subcontractor for NASCAR, I was often out of town for that special day.

I was the media relations guy — they called people like me media coordinators — for NASCAR’s All-Star Series, a Midwest-based touring series for dirt track Late Model stock cars. I did this from the summer of 1990 to late 2001, when the series ended.

NASCAR called its series directors and key people, including media coordinators, to Daytona Beach each February a week or two prior to the Daytona 500 for a series of business meetings and seminars. Sometimes we also helped with publicity duties at the speedway, including NASCAR Media Day. NASCAR paid the tab for everything.

It was a nice winter break for those of us from cold weather country, and we learned a lot and assisted a lot.

Part of the deal was we received credentials to enter the Daytona International Speedway pit and garage areas and were also allowed to stand along pit road, just outside of the retaining wall, during the various SpeedWeeks races.

We also spent the Sunday prior to the 500 socializing with NASCAR-sanctioned track operators from around the country in a hospitality area, then watched the Busch Clash (now called the Bud Shootout) and an ARCA race with them from a reserved grandstand section.

I’d normally fly back home the day after the Gatorade Twin 125 races, held on the Thursday before the 500. Then I’d watch the 500 on TV from the comfort of my home.

The only downside to all of that was often being out of town, and not with my sweetheart, on Valentine’s Day.

That’s why I now can say it’s Valentine’s Day and I’m home and I appreciate that.

Copyright 2009, by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises

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Posted by on February 14, 2009 in Uncategorized


What were they thinking?

Note: This guest blog was written for my friend Brian Allen’s blog at KSFY-TV. Check out his blog regularly at You’ll be glad you did!

My Grandpa Roberts always said, “There’s nothing dumber than people.” A new group of them proves that every day.

They make me want to ask them, “What were you thinking?” Following are some examples.

What is Congress thinking by delaying the Feb. 17 switch from analog to digital television to June 12? That was an Obama Administration idea. The president thinks some consumers won’t be ready for the switchover by Feb. 17. Does he really think they’ll be ready four months from now? Do you? I don’t think so.

What the heck was swimmer Michael Phelps thinking? The eight gold medal winner in the Olympics was photographed smoking pot last November. The photo showed up in a British tabloid. Didn’t he realize that he’s a public figure. Didn’t he know he was a role model? Wasn’t he smart enough to know that everything he says and does is open to public scrutiny? Kellogg Co. says it won’t renew his endorsement deal. Others may follow. For Michael Phelps, that was one expensive joint.

What was Nadya Suleman thinking? The southern California single mother already had given birth to six children by artificial insemination. Then, using the same method, she recently gave birth to eight more. She doesn’t believe her actions have been irresponsible. I beg to differ. She obviously has a screw loose and needs therapy. How will she support them? She intends to go to school. Suleman’s children — all 14 of them — need to be placed with adoptive or foster parents who have the resources to care for them. And the doctor who emplanted the most recent eggs in her needs to be disbarred. Then he needs to be sued by those who most likely will ultimately foot the bill for raising the children — the people of California.

What is Richard Williamson thinking? The German Catholic bishop denies there was a Holocaust. Then, when Pope Benedict demanded he publicly recant, Williamson said he first would have to study the historical evidence. I wasn’t the best student in school, but I graduated with no doubt there was a Holocaust. Since then, as a newsman, I’ve heard the tragic stories of Holocaust survivors as they’ve made presentations to students. Maybe, while Bishop Williamson gets his history lesson, he needs to be reassigned to, say, Israel.

Copyright Feb. 8, 2009, by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises

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Posted by on February 9, 2009 in Uncategorized