Florida's weather has long been a major draw for Northerners looking to escape the cold. The same can be said about some open-wheel race teams with Sunshine State ties.
Odessa's Team E and Palmetto's RLR/Andersen Racing will compete this season in the Indy Lights series, a developmental circuit for the Indy Racing League. Both teams have entries in this weekend's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
"More and more teams are starting to see the potential for growth in this area," said Team E owner Neil Enerson, whose team fields a car for driver Bobby Wilson. "It's great for the area and it's great for Indy Lights, which I think is poised to have an ultra-competitive year this season."
Florida is becoming more attractive to teams, according to Enerson, because of the offseason weather. With performance tests essential from October to February, Florida's climate provides a more convenient option for teams based here.
"You need to test to race," Enerson said. "I think a lot of people make the mistake (of thinking) that we pack our operations into the racing season March through September, but it's in the offseason where improvements and strides are really made."
Dan Andersen, co-owner of RLR/Andersen Racing, moved his operation from New Jersey in January. Andersen found himself in Florida for testing during the offseason anyway and after weighing the economics, decided to buy an 18-acre facility in Palmetto.
"Part of it was the high cost of living up there for an operation our size and with the piece of land we acquired down here, it fit perfectly into our plans," he said. "The sun's always shining down here during those important testing months."
Andersen, whose team fields cars for drivers Andrew Prendeville and J.R. Hildebrand, said getting every nut and bolt down from New Jersey was "challenging to say the least," but the facility in Palmetto also features another perk: a test track.
"It is very rare for a team to have their own test track," he said. "To have one on site here is absolutely perfect."
Enerson said not being based around hotbeds of racing like Indianapolis can present problems when it comes to acquiring parts and service. But if the area continues to grow, as Enerson expects, that may change.
"It's nice to have a guy that does paint of exhausts right down the road, but I'd rather ship things in and be where we are," he said. "And yes, I do think that it's a trend that will continue."