Monthly Archives: April 2010

There is life after Clear Channel

My home audio studio, located in a basement office.

April 28, 2010, was a memorable day for me and lots of my friends who formerly worked at the six-station Quad City Radio Group in Davenport. It marked one year since Clear Channel released us for economic reasons. That corporation, like many other large media companies, is heavily in debt for a variety of reasons, including over-expansion.

The firing wasn’t a total surprise – thousands of CC workers nationwide had been given the boot in January 2009 – but it was still a shock. It was also a shame; we were dedicated employees and good at what we did. Many of us had worked in Quad-Cities radio for decades, long before there was a Clear Channel.

I was the second-shift news reporter/anchor at WOC-AM and was replaced by a so-called “news hub” at sister station WHO-AM in Des Moines. Someone there records daily newscasts that are fed to and heard on CC stations around the Midwest. That made it possible for the company to get rid of news people like me at those stations. Yes, your local radio news isn’t always local anymore.

The reporting I did on evening city council and school board meetings also was discontinued when I left WOC because I had been the only reporter working second shift since my friend Terry James left in December 2006 and, per CC, could not be replaced.

My deejay friends who were fired by CC a year ago were victims of what critics call “repeater radio” – syndicated music shows hosted by announcers from afar. Listen carefully sometime, and you’ll notice they don’t talk about events in your community or the local weather. That’s because they’re in L.A., Miami or who knows where.

Are news hubs and repeater radio the best way to serve what remains of the local radio-listening audience? I don’t think so, but anything the big corporate owners want to do to save a buck or make a buck is OK, thanks to deregulation of the industry.

I dearly miss my job and the folks I worked with, but I’ve moved on emotionally. I have, after all, been through downsizing four times now in my more than four decades of work. It’s not pleasant, but it’s nothing new. And it is survivable.

Luckily, my wife has a good job, and I’m a year away from drawing early Social Security if I choose to do so – one of the few benefits of getting up in years.

In the meantime, I’m doing a lot fun things on a part-time basis, working out of my home. Truth is, I was doing many of these part-time activities while I still held a full-time job. I’ve just stepped it all up a notch now that I have the extra time.

I’m a freelance writer of magazine articles, an auto race announcer at two speedways, the advertising coordinator for a business, a newsletter editor, a news reporter for this paper (The North Scott Press) and the Wilton-Durant Advocate News, a correspondent for the Radio Iowa network and a reporter for a service that supplies news stories to a Muscatine radio station.

I was also the publicist for a racing series, but it went out of business earlier this year. I have tried to break into voice-over work (reading commercials for hire), but that’s a very competitive business.

My wife and I are now free to travel more, and I’m getting to my grandkids’ concerts and sporting events more than I ever could as a second-shift worker.

I took an online college course for fun and, for a change of pace, I’m studying my genealogy when I feel like it; scanning old photos into the computer; and archiving family videotapes and a variety of audiotapes.

I am Mr. Fix-it around the house when things break, and I prepare dinner most every night for my working wife. And, oh yes, she is reminding me I still need to clean my basement office. I’m working on that, dear. At least it’s in the planning stage.

I don’t miss Clear Channel. But I miss my full-time radio news job, and I miss seeing my former co-workers regularly, though I keep up with many of them on Facebook.

Jobs come and go, but good memories and friendships last forever. Sure, life is different now, but life is still good.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece was submitted as a column to The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.


Posted by on April 28, 2010 in Uncategorized


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From dropout to successful songwriter

Bobby and Helen Fischer. Phil Roberts photo.

Bobby Fischer chats with John Wayne. Contributed photo.

Bobby Fischer and Eddy Arnold. Contributed photo.

Bobby Fischer. That name may not be familiar to you. But some of the country songs he’s written or co-written just might be.

Some of the Wilton native’s better known tunes include “You Lie” recorded by Reba McEntire; “Writing on the Wall,” by George Jones; “What in Her World Did I Do,” by Eddy Arnold; and “Goodbye Says it All,” by Blackhawk.

Other artists who have recorded Fischer’s songs are a who’s who of country music: Moe Bandy, Charlie McClain, Mickey Gilley, Mindy McCready, Jeanne Pruett, Tanya Tucker, Roy Clark, Charlie Pride, Vern Gosdin, Conway Twitty, Lee Greenwood, John Conlee, Johnny Paycheck, Ray Price, Faron Young, Joe Stampley and others.

Fischer, who lives in Nashville, will be back in the area the weekend of April 24 and 25 for a family reunion. On April 26, he will be a guest at the Mississippi Valley Country and Western Music Association’s 50th anniversary celebration in East Moline. He is a lifetime member of the group.

Fischer’s life and his road to Nashville have the makings of a country song themselves.

He was the youngest of five children, all born two years apart, to Walter and Vivian Fischer of Wilton. They are both deceased.

Bobby Fischer’s siblings are Marjorie “Dolly” Neipert, who lives in Wilton with her husband, Don; Dick, of Coralville; Lois Ludtke, of Davenport; and Pat Maule, of Aledo, Ill.

Fischer was just 2, he says, when his father died in an accident in the Stockton or Walcott area. He was killed when the rendering truck he was driving slipped off the road and rolled in a ditch.

Fischer, who will be 75 in August, says he was 15 when he started learning to play the guitar and writing song lyrics. He may have inherited his love of music. His father had played piano in saloons, and his mother came from a family of musicians.

“I never got that great on the guitar,” says Fischer. “I learned three or four chords that were basic to play country songs.”

He wrote his lyrics to go with other people’s melodies until he discovered, quite by accident, that he could write his own tunes.

Fischer was looking for his sister Pat at her friend’s house when he saw the friend’s brother playing notes on a piano, then pausing to write them on paper.

“I’d never seen that before, and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘I’m writing a song.’” That’s when Bobby Fischer learned that someone could write his own songs.

Fischer left high school at age 16.

“I was just a crazy kid,” he says. “I was wanting to get out into the workforce, and I actually got tossed out of school.”

He says he and a buddy, Dean Sawvell, left school one day but expected to return later. “But they (the school officials) didn’t want us coming back in.”

Fischer believes Sawvell eventually was readmitted but dropped out prior to graduating. Fischer never went back.

“To me, I was thinking, ‘Boy, I’ve got to get into that workforce.’” And he did just that. He went over to Durant and took a foundry job that involved a lot of lifting.

“I thought, ‘Why in the world did I want to be in the workforce?’”

(Years later, after becoming a successful songwriter, Fischer was surprised to receive an honorary high school diploma while serving as grand marshal at a Wilton Founders Day parade. He said he was so overcome with emotion he could not speak. The diploma hangs proudly with his music awards.)

After his foundry job, Fischer subsequently worked other labor jobs at places like Pioneer Seed Corn in Durant; the Heinz plant and Huttig Building Products, both in Muscatine; Economy Lumber in Wilton; and Oscar Mayer in Davenport. He didn’t stick with them long.

“I had 12 different jobs one year,” Fischer says. But he admits, “I didn’t want any job, really.”

Fischer says he was still 16 when he went to work at International Harvester in East Moline but left at age 19 to join the Navy. He was honorably discharged in 1958 after four years and returned to I.H. He had married Helen Ryan of East Moline in 1960.

The Fischers had a son, Robbi, in March of 1962. He’s a youth pastor at a church in North Carolina. A daughter, Lori, was born in March 1964. She’s a New York singer, actress and playwright.

In the years after his return from the service, Fisher worked at I.H. by day and wrote songs and sang and played country music at pubs evenings and weekends.

He sang with the Rainbow Rangers from Atalissa and had bands of his own, including Bobby Fischer and the Tunesharks.

He also found financial backing and, with the help of fellow singer and former area deejay Jack Barlow, on three occasions he went to Nashville and recorded songs he’d written.

Fischer had 17 1/2 years seniority when he left I.H. in 1970 to move to Nashville to try to make it as a full-time songwriter. It was a risky move. But his wife, who was working at Servus Rubber in Rock Island at the time, told him to follow his dream and she’d stay behind with the children.

Fischer says, “She stayed working, and she told me, ‘Go ahead and try it.’ I just can’t believe she did that.”

Helen Fischer stayed at her job two more years.

“She made enough to pay the bills, and our bills were not that much,” Fischer says.

Then she and the children joined Fischer in Nashville, and she took a job at a department store. Later she went to nurse’s training and now is retired from that career.

Bobby Fischer says his first two years in Nashville were tough. He did odd jobs, worked for a publishing company and, when he qualified, collected unemployment, all the while writing songs when time permitted.

“I just had a cheap little apartment,” he says.

Fischer says he achieved some success while writing for Tommy Overstreet’s company, Terrace Music. He eventually left and formed his own company, doing record promotion. He’d call radio stations and try to get them to play his clients’ records.

“I got pretty good at that,” he says. “I had quite a few different accounts.”

Fischer also formed his own record label. If a recording artist had recorded a song and didn’t have a label, “we’d put it out on our label for them.”

Fischer still remembers his first big writing success. “My first hit was in 1972 when I wrote ‘Love Isn’t Love Til You Give It Away’. It was recorded by Bobby Lee Trammell. It went Top 20 in Billboard magazine.”

Fischer estimates he has written 2,000 songs over the years.

“I’ve had about 700 cuts now,” he says. “Some songs have been cut eight to 10 times (by various artists).”

Fischer can write both the lyrics and music. Many of the songs are co-written, and he says whoever has the best of either one is what they use.

“For a long time I had about 30 writers that I could call and line up — maybe write in the morning with one and in the afternoon with another,” Fischer says.

He says he used to start writing 52 songs a year, hoping to finish about 30 of them.

“You have to write a lot to try to get something to pop out,” he says.

These days Fischer is semi-retired, and he has only written eight to 10 songs this year. He’s not doing as many, he says, “because sometimes you’re just writing to be writing. What I’ve been trying to do is write with somebody who has a record deal or they’re a producer. If you just write with other writers, they’ve got the same problem you have — getting somebody to listen.”

Where do his ideas come from? Anywhere and everywhere, Fischer says. He says his “Hit the Ground Runnin’ (When Your Heart Gets Hurt)” by John Conlee is a good example.

He and his wife were leaving a Cracker Barrel restaurant one morning after breakfast when he saw a newspaper in a rack with a story on its cover about a team that had lost a game but had “hit the ground running.”

He used that in a song he wrote in less than an hour. In addition to Conlee’s recording of it, you made have heard that tune and these revised lyrics on a TV commercial a while back: “Hit the ground runnin’ in your new Ford truck.”

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article was submitted to the Wilton-Durant (Iowa) Advocate News.

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Posted by on April 22, 2010 in Uncategorized


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Family secrets uncovered in old trunks

Beth and Todd Roehlk of Walcott display some of the documents, including prisoner-of-war letters written by a great uncle, that he found in two old trunks full of family history. Photo by Phil Roberts.

A couple of old steamer trunks have yielded a treasure trove of family history for a Walcott, Iowa, man. That includes an intriguing story of two brothers, his great uncles, who fought on opposite sides in WWII.

Todd Roehlk, son of Donald and Sandy Roehlk, ended up with the trunks that were owned by his great uncle, the late Erwin Roehlk, who emigrated to Davenport from Germany. “They went from mom’s garage to my garage,” he says of the trunks.

The trunks are filled with documents, letters, naturalization papers, passports, newspaper clippings and photographs.

He’s always wanted to go through Erwin’s trunks, Todd Roehlk says, “because I knew there was a lot of history in there he kept.”

Roehlk finally accomplished that last fall on a day off from his job at ALCOA. “It was a nice fall day, and I spent 12 hours in my garage. I went through it all.”

The trunks were full. “I probably threw away more than I kept,” Roehlk says. That’s because his great uncle kept everything, including a receipt for a 25-cent bag of seed from 1930.

Roehlk explains that Erwin, his only ancestor of that era that he knew, and Erwin’s relatives were from Stein, Germany. Erwin was born in 1908 and came to the United States in 1925. Many other family members, including a brother named Ernst, stayed behind.

As was customary, Erwin received a visa to enter the U.S., and Roehlk found a medical form associated with his application for it. Topping a list of conditions the applicant had to be free of were idiocy and feeblemindedness.

“He worked for a farmer in Nebraska, who I guess he kind of got sponsored by,” Roehlk says of Erwin, “and became a U.S. citizen in 1934.”

The trunk also contained some information about another great uncle, Henry, who was born in 1868 in Schleswig-Holstein and, in 1888, had become his first ancestor to emigrate to the U.S. Henry became a citizen in 1894 and worked as a gardener for Davenport’s wealthy Putnam family.

In 1921, Henry spent $6,000, payable in three years, for 15 acres, which included a house and a couple of buildings, north of Davenport along what is now Division Street at Cheyenne Boulevard.

Henry apparently farmed the land for 20 years, Roehlk says, then leased it to his brother Erwin. Henry died in 1945, and Erwin inherited everything. Erwin, a bachelor, lived on the property, which Todd vaguely remembers visiting, into the 1970s. Then he sold the land and moved to a farm located northwest of Walcott.

Someone who knew Erwin back when he lived north of Davenport told Roehlk that Erwin’s house never had a toilet or heat. Erwin reportedly kept warm on winter nights with an electric blanket.

Adds Roehlk: “And he’d sit in his truck a lot with it running, the heater on, reading the paper.”

Erwin worked at John Deere for 30 years and died in 1989.

The most interesting part of Roehlk’s genealogy research, in which his wife Beth is assisting him, deals with World War II.

Erwin was drafted into the Army in 1942 and spent three years fighting for the U.S. in WWII, serving as a medical aide in England, France, Belgium and Germany. He won some awards including three bronze service stars, Roehlk says, “which I found in a little matchbox.”

Ironically, Erwin’s brother Ernst fought for the Germans in WWII and was captured and held in a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp.

“That was the biggest find of all this,” Roehlk says of his research.
Roehlk discovered letters from Ernst to Erwin written while Ernst was a prisoner of war. But they are written in German, a language Roehlk does not know.

So, he says, he contacted the American/Schleswig Holstein Heritage Society, based in Walcott, and Jack Schinckel and Glenn Sievers of the group stepped in to assist.

“Glen and Jack really helped me a lot,” he says.

A Muscatine woman, the sister of a man Beth’s brother works with, translated Ernst’s letters over the Christmas holidays.

Most of the sentences in the letters, Roehlk says, are “pretty generic. ‘How are you doing? I hope you’re doing fine. How did your discharge go? Write me. Come visit.’ That sort of thing.”

He says Ernst, despite being a prisoner, seemed well informed as to how family members in Germany were doing, and he passed that information along to his brother, Erwin.

It also appears, Roehlk says, that even though Erwin received a lot of letters from Ernst, he did not write back very often because Erwin would sometimes inquire, “Did you get my last letter?”

Roehlk notes he has some 40 additional letters from the trunks, some of which have been translated, that were sent to Erwin from Ernst and other family members. “It’s all in German,” he says, “and some of it is not even legible. Some of it is swirl marks. It’s amazing that even back then they could understand it.”

Some letters, Roehlk says, from his grandfather, Werner Roehlk, who was a brother to Erwin and Ernst. Werner had emigrated to the U.S. and was a farmer.

“My grandfather Werner died when he was 33 years old and my dad was only a year old, so obviously I never met him,” Roehlk says. He says he doesn’t yet know the details of his grandfather’s death. Werner’s wife, Wilma, remarried when his dad was 5, he adds.

Roehlk says he also has a letter dated 1932 addressed to Werner and Erwin from their parents. It expresses hope that Germany will improve under Hitler and have no unemployment. They say, “We don’t know what will happen if Hitler doesn’t make it.” The letters also discuss the weather and the family farm in Germany, lamenting low prices for apples and eggs.

Roehlk has met with Sievers, who can speak some German, a couple of times and provided him with the names of family members in Stein. Roehlk says Sievers has a German phone book, found some Roehlks in that area of Germany and phoned them. Those he spoke with, Roehlk says, were middle-aged people who were familiar with his ancestors.

Roehlk’s next project is writing those German folks in hopes they can provide more information about his roots.

“It’s a slow process,” he says of the research. “You try to devote as much time as you can here and there. I’m just taking baby steps, I guess.”

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article appeared in The North Scott Press, Eldridge, Iowa.


Posted by on April 22, 2010 in Uncategorized


Harris has a message: It can happen to you!

Brian Harris is shown at a 2001 NASCAR All-Star Series race in Harlan, Iowa. Phil Roberts Photo.

Dirt Late Model driver Brian Harris has a message for fellow competitors: Don’t take your safety for granted. Accidents will happen, and they can happen to you.

Harris knows. The Davenport, Iowa, native who now lives in Walcott, Iowa, was in a devastating crash Sept. 22, 2007, at the West Liberty (Iowa) Raceway.

He was leading the Liberty 100 on the dirt half-mile when tragedy struck on lap 68.

“We were lapping some cars, and the track was rubbered up, so everyone was kind of single file,” Harris recalls.

As he was coming up on lapped traffic for the fourth or fifth time, Harris says he got “tagged from behind.”

The impact spun his car around, and the driver’s side hit the concrete wall hard.

At the time, Harris Racing, which was owned by Brian Harris’ parents, Allen and Karen, had two cars. One had a full containment seat, which adds support for a driver’s shoulders, head and neck. The other did not.
The night of Harris’ crash, he was piloting the car without the state-of-the-art seat, and the left side of his helmeted head hit the roll bar when the car struck the wall.

In addition to the head trauma, Harris broke the C2 vertebra in his neck, which forms the pivot upon which the first cervical vertebra, which carries the head, rotates.

The head injury and broken neck, which could have ended Harris’ driving career – or worse, put him in the hospital for two weeks and abruptly ended his 2007 racing season, eliminating him from a possible World Dirt Racing League (WDRL) points title.

Following the sheet time, there were two months of rehabilitation. But Harris made a full recovery and has had no recurring problems from the head trauma and no paralysis from the broken neck.

“It could have been a lot worse than what it was,” Harris admits.

Harris, 31, began racing go-karts at the age of 10. When he was about 17, he moved to Legends cars for a season. Then he spent a season racing a Late Model on the asphalt at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids.

Dirt Late Model driving legend Gary Webb, a family friend with a wealth of racing knowledge and lots of contacts, “helped us get our first Dirt Late Model car,” says Harris.

“We got a car from a friend of his in Chicago, and he (Webb) helped us out the first year. It kind of took off from there,” Harris adds. “I kind of fell in love with the dirt racing.”

Harris raced an IMCA Late Model with a spec motor his first season on dirt. Then the team branched out with an open engine and competed in WDRL and other series, racing weekly when possible at the same time.
His biggest years, Harris says, were 2007 – despite the crash – and 2008.

“We had all the resources in line,” he says, including sponsor support. “We had the team behind us, and we had a lot of success.”

The success included a World of Outlaws win in 2007 and contention for the WDRL title until the wreck sidelined him.

His success in 2008 came ultimately with NASCAR. Harris says he started the season with WDRL but left about five races into it because the series had lost its title sponsor and had not yet announced its year-end point fund.

So he decided to run the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, competing weekly at the tracks at Farley, West Liberty and Dubuque, Iowa.

He almost captured the series’ national championship.

“We went after that thing pretty hard, and we came up a few points short,” Harris says.

Harris ended up second, two points back (955 to 953), to the winner, Ruckersville, Va., driver Philip Morris.

Harris had 20 series wins, 35 top fives and 36 top 10s in 38 starts, winning track championships at Farley and West Liberty along the way.

“It was a very neat opportunity to race that deal,” he says.
One benefit, he adds, was seeing first hand how well NASCAR treats its champions and “meeting a lot of new, interesting people that you see on TV” at the series awards banquet that November in Las Vegas.

Says Harris: “It was a good time. It’s unbelievable.”

There were big changes for Harris Racing in the 2009 season. It closed up shop.

“We sold our cars because of the way the economy was,” Harris says.
His parents, the team owners, had operated a concrete construction company, he explains, but it had seen a downturn in business because of the recession. (Harris’ brother Jeff eventually bought his parents out and started his own firm, Concrete Central. Brian Harris, who had worked for his parents, now works for his brother.)

Harris wasn’t without a ride for long. He had driven the Ray Neltner-owned No. 75 car a little in 2008, he says.

A working relationship developed, and Harris drove the Late Model at Peoria Speedway and at some special events in eastern Iowa in 2009.
The weekly races in Peoria were a big change for a guy who grew up racing the big Iowa half miles at Davenport, West Liberty and Farley.

“Going down there to race at Peoria Speedway every Saturday was an eye-opening experience,” Harris recalls. “It’s a little bull ring, things happen real quick and I was learning to race with a different group of people.”

Though Harris no longer had to turn wrenches as he had done at the family racing operation, he did have to learn how to communicate with a new crew. But it was a good experience.

“They’ve been racing for 40 years as a team. There’s a lot of history there, and it was neat to be a part of it.”

He also says the season was rewarding.

“We won a few features and met a lot of new, good people.”

In addition to the 75 car, Harris drove a competitive Modified car out of Peoria once in a while in 2009 and won a feature in it at Farmer City, Ill., with it.

“That was neat. That was fun,” he says.

At press time, Harris is talking with various car owners, including Neltner, about the 2010 season but hasn’t yet made a driving commitment.

As an Iowa winter plays out, he also is reflecting on the support he received following his 2007 wreck. For a full six months after the crash, he received cards, calls and e-mails from well-wishers, many of whom he didn’t even know.

“I have a room in my house where I have a lot of my racing stuff,” he says. “And I go through that stuff. It meant a lot then, and it still means a lot today.

He notes that there often is a “lot of drama that follows the racing community and everybody has their favorite driver, but when someone gets hurt, they gather around him. That helps with the healing.”

Harris is also preaching racing safety.

“After an accident like that, you look at that safety stuff quite a bit differently,” he notes. “And you’ve got to just spread the word a little bit.

“Everybody in that pit area thinks that that stuff can’t happen to them, and I was one of those people. It can happen; some things are just out of your control. You’ve just got to be prepared for it.”

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This article was published in Late Model Illustrated magazine.

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Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Uncategorized


Honoring pioneer racers in the Quad-Cities

They still remember Shorty Bennett, left, 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, who signs autographs for a line of waiting fans on the rear deck of a replica of a Late Model he drove in the 1960s. Phil Roberts photo.

A 1968 photo of Jim Gerber in his Dodge Charger with the late flagman, Buzz Reed. From the Phil Roberts Collection.

Shane Davis following a 1987 IMCA Modified win in Princeton, Ill. Photo courtesy of Shane Davis.

Brian Stuart was just 3 years old when he attended his first race at Quad-City Raceway in East Moline, Ill. Now 34, Stuart has just concluded his third season promoting weekly races at the track. And one of his proudest accomplishments was starting the Quad-City Raceway Hall of Fame, held annually in September in conjunction with a Hall of Fame race at the quarter-mile dirt oval.

“It was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, since before I became a promoter,” he said. “It needed to be done in the Quad-Cities.”
The Hall of Fame idea was on his mind when Stuart took over promotion of the track in 2007, and he quickly decided, “We’re hosting it. This is something we’re going to do.”

But he stresses the Hall of Fame is not just about those who’ve raced at Quad-City Raceway. It’s about racing history and those who made it in the Quad-Cities area of eastern Iowa and western Illinois.

“I love the history of racing around the Quad-Cities,” said Stuart, and he’s seen his share of it. His grandfather, Jack Stuart, turned wrenches on Terry Ryan’s cars and his father, Harry, later did the same thing.
Harry Stewart eventually covered racing at Quad-City Raceway for Hawkeye Racing News and the Milan (Ill.) Mirror newspaper, and Brian Stuart tagged along to the track with him. “My dad couldn’t go the races without me.”

Brian Stuart’s mother, Val, used her son’s love of racing to guarantee Brian’s good behavior. “If you sit still in church,” she’d tell him, “you can go to the races.”

Brian Stuart and I had breakfast one summer day in 2007 to talk about his Quad-City Raceway Hall of Fame idea, and we devised some pre-requisites for nomination to the Hall of Fame.

An inductee must possess one or more of these attributes:

* Success — Lots of wins or some big wins.
* Longevity — Ten or more seasons of racing competition or involvement.
* Notoriety — A Dale Earnhardt-type of guy.
* Congeniality — Great with fans no matter what the situation
* Racing ambassador — A model citizen and good with the media.
* Contribution to racing — An inventor, pioneer or risktaker.

The Hall of Fame, who inductees are selected based on the votes of a committee and racing fans, is not just about the number of driver wins, Stuart stresses.”It’s about drivers who stick around and sign autographs, too.”

The 2007 Hall of Fame inductees were current drivers Hershel Roberts and Gary Webb, retired drivers Shorty Bennett and Ray Guss Sr., deceased former drivers Benny Hofer and Ronnie Weedon and deceased racing sponsor Bob Eriksen.

In 2008, the class included deceased former drivers Dean Montgomery, who later flagged races, and Jerry Reinhart; and retired drivers Shane Davis, who later announced races, Jim Gerber, who later promoted races, Terry Ryan and Ernie Speth; and deceased contributor Doyle Bennett, who once drove but is best remembered for many years as a flagman.

The Hall of Fame inductees in 2009 were current driver Ray Guss Jr.; retired driver Duane Steffe; deceased drivers Tuffy Meyer, Charlie Moffit and Bill Starr; and longtime contributors Gene Freeman, a former crew chief for Ronnie Weedon, and Ken Reimers, a racing official.

Sometimes, Stuart said, racing people just don’t realize how much they are celebrities to racing fans.

He noted that two Hall of Fame drivers, Ray Guss Jr. and Hershel Roberts, recently stood under the grandstand after a night of races at Quad-City Raceway, to meet fans and sign autographs.

“They talked to everybody,” Stuart said. “They were there two hours straight. Drivers like this create their own fan base.”

So what has the response been to the Quad-City Raceway Hall of Fame? “It’s been very positive,” Stuart said, adding that he’s received lots of nice letters. Attendance at the ceremony is growing every year.

A 2007 inductee, Shorty Bennett, promised to return to the ceremony every year and has done so. Other inductees have, too.

“We’re just trying to pay respect to the racers who paved the way for competitors today,” said Stuart.


By Jim Gerber, Davenport, Iowa, who has driven everything with wheels but is best known for driving Late Model stock cars.

I was very flattered and surprised that the induction committee thought of me to be inducted into the Quad City Raceway Hall of Fame. As time goes by, there are new race fans, and the drivers of the past are not a part of their racing memories.

I drove at East Moline from 1963 to 1999. Had a lot of fun times as well as some heartbreakers. But that all comes with being a racer.

In those days we built almost everything ourselves. Even down to the wheels. I remember spending many hours making wide rims by cutting two Buick rims apart and welding the wide halves together, then welding the wide bolt pattern Ford centers into them.

A funny thing happened one day when I was starting to weld the center onto a wheel. I would put a spindle with the hub in the vice, bolt the center onto it, then set the finished wheel on the center to make sure it was straight. The assembly was high enough that I would stand on our anvil to do the welding.

One day I got on the anvil, flipped the welding hood down and promptly fell off. The garage doors were open behind me. And I saw the reflection in the glass of the welding helmet, and when I moved my head it disoriented me.

I enjoyed my two years promoting races at Davenport Speedway. I really thought an open wheel show would be successful. We ran Midgets and IMCA-type Modified stock cars one week and the next it would be Sprint Cars and the IMCA-type cars. The racing was really close and exciting, but it was always the same 700 or so spectators every week. Not enough to pay the bills.

One of the things that used to aggravate me was to go to a track that was a big mud ball and spend at least a half an hour ironing it out. When I prepped the track, it was ready to hot lap on. Smooth and tacky. About three or four laps to warm the engine and then go for it. The water was deep under the surface. It didn’t look tacky, but many Midget guys got a surprise in time trials when they missed the setup and ended up on their head.

I kept reshaping the track each week to give it multiple grooves. I remember one night in the Modified stock car feature when they ran most of the race three abreast lap after lap. Really exiting.

I tried a lot of unconventional things to try to draw new fans. One was a motorcycle wheelie contest. One-hundred bucks to the rider who could ride the farthest on one wheel. Guess who won that? Kevin Doty (who later died in a 2005 Midget racing accident). He borrowed a bike from a fellow contestant, who as I remember had gone the farthest up until then, and rode almost the whole way around the quarter mile.

I lost a lot of money but would do it again because I love open wheel racing.

By Shane Davis, Rock Island, Ill., who has driven Late Models but achieved most of his success in Modified cars.

I grew up the son of a race car driver. Back in the day, they were easy to find. Just head down to your local filling station, and you were bound to find a stock car parked out in front. Your local racing hero probably worked at the station, as the whole staff typically supported their driver’s racing efforts, and crewed on the car.

I grew up in a time when racing was cool. But not very refined. The races we ran had better purses than today, when you compare the cost of racing vs. what you were paid to win.

What money was won went back into the car. We weren’t getting rich, but we sure had a lot of fun! Our routine consisted of working all day at our jobs. Around 5 p.m., the family would gather in the kitchen for supper. After a short rest, we would head out to the garage to work on the race car. We would work in to the wee hours of the morning, and get back up the next morning, and do it all over again.

My dad always told me if you work hard, you will be rewarded. We worked hard on that race car, and it converted to success on the track.
I learned a lot about life in my years of racing. How to have respect for your elders or people in authority. How to work in a team effort. How to manage money.

I developed determination and a solid work ethic. But what I cherish most are the great friendships that were developed in the garage and at the track. Many of those relationships remain today, along with the great racing memories.

Winning the 1987 IMCA Modified national championship will always hold a special place in my heart. My Modified racing team always told me I was the best. But I never had a chance to race against the best — Dean Montgomery, Jim Gerber, Gary Kerres, Ray Guss Sr. or Ronnie Weedon. The list is endless.

As time passed, I knew it was time to hang up the fire suit. I had always enjoyed listening to the golden voices of Paul Liebbe and, later, Phil Roberts on the “Around the Track” radio show and at the local speedways.

The good Lord blessed me with a nice voice, and in 1993 I got my first announcing gig at the old Hawkeye Raceway near Blue Grass, Iowa. I have had the pleasure of announcing at a lot of tracks in my post-driving years. I never had a day when I didn’t look forward to going to the track and getting behind the microphone.

In 2008, I was inducted in to the Quad-City Raceway Hall of
Fame. It was the icing on the cake. The good Lord commands us to “Do your work with passion. Do it with all of your might.”

I would like to be remembered for my love and passion for the sport of dirt track racing. As a driver, I always tried to get everything possible out of my car to bring success to the team, and to put on a show for the fans in the stands. I treasure all of my racing memories as a driver and announcer. I have been truly blessed.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This story was published in Late Model Illustrated magazine.

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Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Uncategorized


I got a Scooter Store mailing, and it’s not so funny

It was warm and sunny on Sunday, March 28, when we arrived in Utah, to visit our friends Dan and Jini, as noted in the column below. This is the view outside their house of the Wasatch Mountains. It's breathtaking for folks from a relatively flat state.

We toured museums and other interesting places with Jini and Dan and ate at some great restaurants.

But, alas, we took some of the winter we left in Iowa with us to Utah. It snowed all day Wednesday, March 31, and part of Thursday, April Fool's Day -- their biggest snow of the season. This is Dan and Jini's deck on Thursday morning. But it soon warmed up, and the snow melted.

When I was in my 40s, I received Marine recruiting letters in the mail and thought that was funny. When I was in my 50s, I got AARP membership invitations and thought that was funny. Now I’m in my 60s. I got a letter from The Scooter Store, and that’s not quite so funny.


As Scott County was trying to shake winter’s icy grip a few weeks ago, the sign at the Walcott Family Pet Clinic said, “Think spring. Think harder.” More recently it said, “See, it worked.”


My bride and I visited our friends, Dan and Jini, the last week of March at their home in suburban Salt Lake City. It was warm and sunny the Sunday we arrived. The following Wednesday and into Thursday it snowed 6 inches in town and 15 or more inches in the nearby mountains.


What sort of commitment does it take to be a volunteer firefighter? A message from Buffalo Fire Chief Terry Adams in a recent issue of the Buffalo Shores Gazette, a community newsletter, gives an indication.
He reports the department responded to a record 323 calls in 2009. Add to that the time firefighters spent at meetings, in training and doing maintenance of equipment, and you have an idea what the job involves.
Thank God for those making that commitment throughout Scott County.


Government surveyors came to Ole’s Iowa farm in the fall and asked if they could do some surveying. Ole agreed, and his wife Lena even served them a nice meal at noon.

The next spring, the two surveyors stopped by and told Ole, “Because you were so kind to us, we wanted to give you this bad news in person instead of by letter.”

Ole replied, “What’s the bad news?”

The surveyors said, “Well, after our work, we discovered that your farm is not in Iowa but is actually in South Dakota!”

Ole looked at Lena and said, “That’s the best news I have heard in a long time. Why I just told Lena this morning, ‘I don’t think I can take another winter in Iowa.’”


I don’t have a problem with companies with which my wife and I do business reminding us that we can get their monthly statements online as opposed to in the mail.

But one place, where we have some money invested recently said it’ll charge us a fee each quarter if we insist on receiving paper statements.
Apparently they can’t afford paper, an envelope and a stamp to tell us how our investments are doing.


Did you ever stop to think about what’s missing these days from the area, thanks to advances in technology or changes in culture or consumer preferences?

I came up with these, and I’m sure you can add to the list:
* Most drive-in restaurants and their car hops. Remember the old-fashioned places like A&W, Riefe’s Drive-In and Heeters Chuckwagon?
* Spudnuts, those delicious potato flour doughnuts.
* 9-volt transistor radios.
* Movie and slide projectors in classrooms. Remember the science movies hosted by Dr. Frank Baxter and the “You Are There” reenactments of historical events hosted by Walter Cronkite?
* Educational network TV shows for kids, like “Meet Mr. Wizard” with Don Herbert.
* Drive-in movie theaters that supplied the audio with speakers that hung on your window glass and were attached to posts between the parking places.
* Stores that are closed on Sundays. Some still are, but most aren’t.
* Tollbooths on the Centennial Bridge and the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge (now called the I-74 Bridge.)
* Elevator operators.
* Walking right to the gate at the Quad-City International Airport to say good-bye to departing family members or hello to incoming passengers that you know. There was no need for security screenings.
* NFL games without numerous delays as officials revue plays on videotape to confirm or revise rulings on the field.
* Fire alarm boxes on street corners.
* Water fountains in public places.
* Police officers who wear uniform hats instead of baseball caps.
* Pay phones.
* Cases of pop in glass bottles.
* Infants standing up between their parents on the front seats of moving cars.
* Telephone party lines.
* Roller skates you clamped to your shoes with a key.
* People walking around who aren’t carrying a bottle of water, listening to an iPod or talking on a cell phone.
* Black and white TV sets.
* Network TV shows that don’t have a “for mature audiences” warning at the beginning.

Copyright 2010 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises. This piece was submitted as a column to The North Scott Press.

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Posted by on April 10, 2010 in Uncategorized