At a time when most of the country is experiencing cold temperatures and snowfall, the Florida Winter Tour is heating up. Formula Kart Productions kicked off the 16th Florida Winter Tour presented by Ocala Gran Prix last weekend at the popular Homestead Karting facility on the grounds of Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The opening rounds of the 2014 edition of FWT featured the shifter and TaG classes of the Formula Kart Racing program. This week’s action will feature ROTAX karts. The FWT is one of the world's best opportunities for racers from around the globe to hone and sharpen their skills in great weather against fierce competition before their usual summer schedules begin.
“Go-karting” began in the late 1950s in parking lots across America as an informal (and more affordable) form of motorsports. As these grassroots events rapidly grew into organized competition, the phenomenon spread around the globe and spawned a multibillion dollar industry.
While the “go” in the name has been dropped by those who race, “karting” has gone on to become a primary recreational activity for an estimated 100,000-plus Americans each year. And in South Florida, the prime spot for such happens at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where track officials constructed a purpose-built 12-turn, 0.7-mile karting facility for the development of future motorsports stars.
“We want to be known as a hub where kids can cut their teeth in order to make the next step in racing—whether it’s in sports cars, open-wheel cars or NASCAR,” said Homestead-Miami Speedway Vice President of Operations Al Garcia.
To the naked eye there are hardly any similarities between, say, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car and a 150-pound kart. Yet, the handling characteristics of a kart do in fact mirror those of some of the world’s most technologically advanced racing machines.
“The biggest thing that young drivers learn, and the veterans work on constantly, is car control,” said Garcia. “Racing cars and karts move around quite a bit under heavy braking. Karting on a track like this helps to sharpen skills during hard braking.”
Indeed, a majority of today’s drivers at the highest levels of racing trace their beginnings to competitive karting including NASCAR veterans Tony Stewart, Sam Hornish Jr. and Danica Patrick.
Karting is really the beginning of the ladder system where drivers learn to employ the many different mechanisms involved in all forms of racing. Today’s kart racer is tomorrow’s racing star.
Drivers develop concentration, understand the concept of teamwork, improve their driving skills and start to build relationships with sponsors through karting.
“My overall goal is to develop the talents of the younger kids through instruction while offering technical support and becoming a mentor to these young drivers,” said Homestead Karting President Tony Schroeder. “Some of the fastest drivers in the world come through here.”
Regardless of an aspiring driver’s age, experience or budget, there is a karting class available, as organized events are available to individuals beginning at age 5.
“We host small intimate club events all the way up to one of the largest national events in the country,” said Schroeder. “We are full-service facility in that we offer storage, maintenance and instructional programs for everybody.
Drivers from around the nation are joined by international racers from as far away as Japan to compete in the FWT. Just how big an event is it? NASCAR veteran and sports car ace, Max Papis, is scheduled to race next week.
The two-time Rolex 24 At Daytona winner and former TUDOR United Sports Car Championship titleholder is widely regarded as one of the most versatile and accomplished race drivers in the world.
Papis has piloted numerous racing machines in a variety of disciplines including Formula 1, NASCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, Champ Car and sports car racing including the Rolex 24 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance races and Australian V8 Supercar.
As such, the Florida Winter Tour is expected to attract some impressive attendance numbers and a veritable “who’s who” from the world of karting. The promise of sunshine and spring-like weather can be reason enough to attend the Florida Winter Tour.
The FWT will continue with open practice at Homestead Karting January 14-15 followed by the ROTAX weekend finale January 16-19. For more information, visit HomesteadKarting.net.