Walt Disney World Resort has been a major fixture of Central Florida since 1971, and has understandably had to undergo major changes over the years in order to keep up with the times and remain exciting for guests to return to the parks over and over again. A big part of the resort’s evolution involves the various rides and attractions located in the parks. Many have had to close altogether or be totally re-themed, but a few popular attractions have been able to evolve along with the rest of the park in order to stand the test of time. One example of this is Test Track. The high-speed super-sized slot car experience has been one of Epcot’s most thrilling attractions since it opened in 1999 and although it is now one of the park’s most popular and longest-running attractions, it did not open without issue.
March 1999 – April 2012: Test Track Presented By General Motors
Once upon a time, just about all of Epcot’s attractions were sponsored by major corporations. General Motors began its relationship with Epcot by sponsoring the World of Motion ride, which was an opening day attraction at the park. The contract ended in 1995, and General Motors signed a new contract with Disney Parks for sponsoring a ride at Epcot. However, one of the company’s wishes was to be involved in an entirely new concept rather than continuing with World of Motion. World of Motion officially closed on January 2, 1996, and plans were immediately developed for a new ride focused on GM’s current vehicles rather than a history of transportation, which is what the original attraction was all about.
Immediately after World of Motion closed, the ride building was cleared out to make way for the new concept. The original opening date for Test Track was set for May 1997, but several problems during the ride’s development delayed the project. The first hurdle was the ride’s very demanding course. The wheels on the ride vehicles couldn’t hold up against the speed and track of the attraction. Once that was resolved, the next issue was that the ride’s programming system could not keep up with the amount of traffic that was required of it. Based on the average park attendance, the ride needed to be able to accommodate 29 vehicles. However, the system could only handle six cars at a time. This hiccup took programmers a lot of time to work out, but eventually they were able to get 29 vehicles could running on the course at a time.
The Long-Awaited Opening
Much later than anticipated, Test Track was finally ready for a soft opening starting December 19, 1998. During the soft opening period, several more technical problems and design flaws were exposed and the official opening was delayed due to frequent breakdowns. The ride officially opened to the general public on March 17, 1999, but was not running as smoothly as hoped. Over time, efficiency improved gradually and Test Track became one of the park’s most popular attractions. One major factor in the ride’s success was the addition of a single rider line. Cars could accomodate up to six riders, but seats were often left empty because guests would be in groups of two or four. Wait times decreased significantly due to the addition of a single rider option By adding a single rider option, which hadn’t really been offered at any other Disney attractions yet.
Original Ride Design
Originally, a General Motors Test Facility was the setting for the ride. where guests would hop into prototype vehicles to be evaluated with a series of tests. The ride queue started in a sample repair and test shop and moved through a welcome center, where you could see how cars and vehicle parts were tested before release. At the end of the queue, groups were taken into a briefing room to watch a video of assessments being performed on concept cars in an automobile testing facility. A host explained what riders were getting themselves into before announcing a surprise test at the end of the ride just as the video showed a crash test car slamming into the wall.
Once boarded into a test vehicle, riders would travel along a course experiencing a series of tests including:
- An accelerated hill climb
- Suspension tests on a variety of different road surfaces including German and Belgian block and cobblestones
- Turning off the anti-locking break system, which caused the vehicle to crash into a series of cones. Then, the system turned back on and the cars successfully navigated the cones. A video overlay displayed the difference between the two experiences.
- Environmental chambers demonstrated how the car held up in heat, cold, and corrosion
- A series of hills that tested car handling by increasing in speed at every turn and nearly crashing head-on into a semi-truck, swerving to miss it.
- The second to last test was the barrier test. Just before you thought the ride was sure to crash into a barrier ahead, the doors opened to the outdoor track.
- The final speed trial was (and is) the peak event on a track on the building’s exterior. Cars reached top speeds of 64.9 miles per hour, making it Disney’s fastest theme park attraction at the time.
The ride ended with a thermal scan of the ride vehicles that displayed the performance results on a large screen.
The Assembly Experience
Riders would exit the attraction and head into “The Assembly Experience.” The walk-through area resembled a large automotive assembly plant. Assembly line chainveyors carried automotive doors, car seats, and engines overhead. The room also had video monitors that showcased real GM workers explaining how they felt about their products and work.
December 2012 – Today: Test Track Presented by Chevrolet
Disney announced that Test Track would close for a major refurbishment in January 2012. During the renovation period, a musical show took called “Test Track All-Stars” took place at the ride’s entrance. In addition to a slew of physical updates to the attraction, the sponsorship changed as well. It is now presented by GM’s Chevrolet brand rather than the entire General Motors umbrella brand. The actual track didn’t change, but vehicles were updated with fresh paint and modern technology. The new and improved Test Track had its soft reopening on December 3, 2012. It officially reopened to the public as the ride we know and love today on December 6, 2012.
Revamped Ride Design
The queue area became Chevrolet’s Design Studio instead of a GM facility. First, guests get a look at two concept cars, the Chevrolet Miray and the Chevrolet En-V. Then, the line moves into an area with projections displaying the drawing process for model cars. A Chevrolet employee narrates the video, explaining the car designing process. The final section of the queue is now an interactive area. Riders can design their own concept car to test during the ride. From color to efficiency, everything about the vehicle is customizable. You can also save yur design on your Magic Band or park ticket. Just before you board the ride, you’ll scan your ticket and track your car’s progress throughout the course.
There are four main tests: Capability, Efficiency, Responsiveness, and Power. After each test, the ride slows down and riders can see how their car’s performance ranks against the other passengers’ vehicles. When the ride is over, you can explore a Chevrolet showroom that features the latest models and future products. Other activities in the showroom include:
- Viewing your car’s overall performance
- Filming a commercial
- Racing your designed car
- Posing for a photo with your vehicle in front of the background of your choice
Want more Disney ride history? Check out this post about the evolution of Journey into Imagination!