Outside the Keppy Pavilion on the grounds of the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport, it is cold, gray and ugly.
Inside, there is a pleasant, warm, work-together hum.
At one end of the room, driver-extrication methods are being tossed about. At the other, the Speedway Fire and Rescue cadets are being briefed on life as a racetrack first responder. Things are in order, and everyone has a purpose and a place.
The following day -- when the group will move outside to practice hands-on responses to fire and driver extrications -- could be wild. The group is not. Speedway Fire and Rescue always works under control.
I learned Speedway Fire and Rescue, founded 48 years ago by Gilbert Short, is a 55-member volunteer group. Members work at seven racetracks in a two-state area every weekend from April through October.
That means local racing outlets, such as the speedways in East Moline and Davenport, are staffed with trained volunteers every night of racing.
Speedway Fire and Rescue also mans the Quad City Air Show and special productions at Cordova Raceway Park and at tracks in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
"We work at trying to have four members onsite each night we go out,'' said Capt. Karri Coyne, who doubles as Speedway Fire and Rescue's media coordinator. It seems as if every member of the team doubles up in some area to make things run smoothly.
"Everyone does their best to make sure we are staffed and handling our end of the bargain.''
I am taken with many things on this day, especially the ease with which everyone relates to one another and the attention given to training details. The talk on extrication tools and procedures will give way to hands-on extinguisher training, mass-casualty scenarios, racecar safety equipment familiarization, air-and-ground transport procedures and other duties related to motor-sports safety.
"I had a friend -- a Bettendorf racer -- who was badly burned in the 1960s,'' said Short, explaining why he began Speedway Fire and Rescue nearly 50 years ago. "At one track back then, there was a five-pound fire extinguisher on the back straightaway. That was it in some places in the 1960s. Safety motivated me. Things have come a long way.''
Coyne, part of the Speedway Fire and Rescue family for 12 years, said there is a common thread among its volunteers.
"Every community needs people who want a way to give back,'' she said, singing the praises of Short and his plan many years ago to add a first-responder unit to local racing venues. "And that's what you have with Speedway Fire and Rescue. Everyone enjoys the sport we are a part of, but realizes driver -- and fan -- safety are most important. The recent accident at Daytona shows that anything can happen.''
In February, several fans were injured when a car sailed into the fence at Daytona International Speedway, and large chunks of debris flew into the grandstands.
Short, a modest and humble man of 75, said he hopes Speedway Fire and Rescue is a part of the local racing landscape long after he is gone.
"The future's there,'' he said, pointing to a table filled with cadets. "As long as we understand our role, stay current with our training methods and equipment, things will work.''
And work smoothly, as they have for nearly 50 years.
Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or email@example.com.
Today is Thursday, July 31, the 212th day of 2014. There are 153 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: A corps of surgeons now occupies the new hospital quarters at the Garrison Hospital on the Rock Island Arsenal. A fence has been installed to enclose the prison hospital. 1889 -- 125 years ago: B. Winter has let a contract to Christ Schreiner for a two story brick building with a double store front on the south side of 3rd Avenue just west of 17th Street. The estimated cost was $4,500. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Germany sent simultaneous ultimatums to Russia and France, demanding that Russia suspend mobilization within 12 hours and demanding that France inform Germany within 18 hours. In the case of war between Germany and Russia, France would remain neutral. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Civil service offices at the post office and the Rock Island Arsenal were swamped as more than 700 youths sought 15 machinist apprenticeships at the Arsenal. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Last night, American Legion Post 246 in Moline figuratively handed over the trousers to a female ex-Marine and petticoat rule began. Olga Swanson, of Moline, was installed as the first woman commander of the post . 1989 -- 25 years ago: The Illinois Quad City Civic Center captured the excitement and interest of a convention of auditorium managers this weekend in Reno, Nev. Bill Adams, civic center authority chairman, said the 10,000-seat arena planned for downtown Moline has caught the eye of construction firms, suppliers, management teams and concession groups.