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 Saturday, April 19, the 109th day of 2014. There are 256 days left in the year.
1864 -- 150 years ago: Miss McCorkindale has opened millinery rooms over Gimbel's dry goods store, where she offers a choice lot of millinery goods, which she will manufacture to order. 1889 -- 125 years ago: The little South Park Presbyterian chapel celebrated it first Easter decorated with flowers for an afternoon worship service attended by a large congregation. 1914 -- 100 years ago: The Wennerberg Chorus of Augustana College has returned from a 2,000-mile tour in the Eastern states and Illinois. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Col. Charles Lindbergh has stated that he is convinced that Germany's air force is equal to the combined sky fleets of her potential European foes. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Small gas motors may be permitted on boats in the lake to be built in Loud Thunder Forest Preserve. The prospect was discussed yesterday at a meeting of the Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission. 1989 -- 25 years ago: The annual Dispatch/Rock Island Argus Spelling Bee continues to be a family tradition. Ed Lee, an eighth-grader at John Deere Junior High School, Moline, is the 1989 spelling bee champion from among 49 top spellers in Rock Island, Henry and Mercer counties. He advances to the competition in Washington, D.C. Runnerup was Ed's sister, Susan.