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. In 1995 the contract between GM and Disney came to an end, during a rough period for the company when several cutbacks and lay-offs were taking place which left a lot of uncertainty for the future of a GM-sponsored attraction at Epcot. Eventually, General Motors did decide to continue the relationship with Disney Parks and signed a new contract 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 entire ride building was cleared out to make way for the new concept. Work also began on adding an elevated track to the building’s exterior. The originally scheduled opening date for Test Track was set for May 1997, but several problems occurred over the course of the ride’s development which delayed the project. The first hurdle was that the ride had a very demanding course and the wheels on the ride vehicles could not 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 but the system could only handle a maximum of six cars at a time. This hiccup took programmers a lot of time to work out, but eventually they were able to work it out that 29 vehicles could run on the course at a time.
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. The ride cars could fit six guests at a time, but riders were primarily coming in groups of two or four which left several empty seats. By adding a single rider option, which hadn’t really been offered at any other Disney attractions yet, the wait times were cut down significantly.
Original Ride Design
The original ride was set in a General Motors Test Facility, where guests would hop into prototype vehicles to be evaluated with a series of tests. The ride queue began in a sample repair and test shop and moved through a welcome center that showed how cars and vehicle parts were tested before they could be released. 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
- Anti-locking break system was turned off, causing the vehicle to crash into a series of cones. Then, the system was turned back on to successfully navigate the cones while a video overlay displays the difference
- Environmental chambers demonstrated how the car held up in heat, cold and corrosion
- Car handling was tested with a series of hills with blind turns increasing in speed by 10% at every turn, almost crashing head on into an oncoming semi truck at the top of the last hill before 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 peak event was (and still is) the final speed trial, which at this time was the fastest theme park attraction ever built at a Disney theme park, reaching top speeds of 64.9 miles per hour on a track built on the exterior of the building.
The ride ended with a thermal scan of the ride vehicles that
displayed the performance results on a large screen. Riders would exit the
attraction and head into “The Assembly Experience”, a walk-through area that
resembled a large automotive assembly plant with assembly line chainveyors
carrying 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
In January 2012, it was announced that Test Track would close for a major refurbishment that was scheduled to be completed by Fall 2012. It officially closed on April 15, 2012 and a musical show called “Test Track All Stars” was placed at the ride’s entrance during the renovation period. In addition to a slew of physical updates to the attraction, the sponsorship changed from the entire General Motors umbrella brand to just GM’s Chevrolet brand. The actual track was unchanged, but the ride vehicles were repainted and the technology involved in the attraction was modernized to be more high-tech. The new and improved Test Track had its soft reopening on December 3, 2012 and reopened to the public as the ride we know and love today on December 6, 2012.
Revamped Ride Design
The queue was unchanged in setup, but 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 where projections show a model car being drawn as a Chevrolet employee explain the process of designing cars. The final section of the queue is now an interactive area where riders can design their own concept car to test during the ride. From color to efficiency, everything about the vehicle can be customized and saved 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 and each rider’s personal car performance is ranked 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 include viewing your car’s overall performance, filming a commercial, racing your designed car, and 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! Head to Epcot and experience the thrills of Test Track yourself with discount Disney tickets from Tickets2You!