My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Epcot's Test Trackby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope all of you are safe and well out there.
Summer is coming quickly. We've already hit temps above 85 degrees here in New York. School is winding down. The beaches have opened and I've already mowed my lawn way too many times for my liking! For a long, long time now, summer for this family has meant trips to Walt Disney World. Sure, it's hot. It's Central Florida for goodness sakes in August mind you. That never bothered us. We got used to it. You're never too far away from blasting cold AC and there's always the Yacht Club pool complex, Stormalong Bay to look forward to cool off on a hot Orlando day. Summer of 2020, obviously had no trip to Disney and as the days go on, it's looking like Summer 2021 might not either. I have a trip booked for October with the MousePlanet crew and I'm deeply looking forward to that excursion, but it's going to be weird to not go to Disney World for two summers in a row with my family! That's just crazy talk.
We all want to head back, but for a laundry list of reasons, this summer just might not work out. When the subject does come up, and I ask my sons what attraction they want to head to right away, the answer will always be Test Track. I can't fault them for that. Test Track has long been a favorite of mine and judging by its consistently long wait times, we're not the only ones that love this modern Epcot classic. It's a must do for me on each and every Epcot visit. I was a fan of the original version and I'm actually a bigger fan of the newer, most current version.
Test Track replaced an original opening day Epcot Center attraction, World of Motion, something I regrettably never got the chance to experience. From the online videos it looks like I missed some very cool scenes populated by some classic vehicles, a slew of Disney animatronic figures featuring everything from cavemen to zebras to the Mona Lisa herself and its own theme song, "It's Fun to be Free," composed by legendary Disney Imagineer, X Atencio. As much as I love Test Track, I would have liked to have seen World of Motion and experienced the original feel of Epcot.
General Motors, the sponsor of World of Motion, reportedly wanted Disney to leave the whole history of transportation theme aside and create an attraction based simply on automobiles, presumably their automobiles. The genesis of Test Track stemmed from Imagineering visits to the GM vehicle proving grounds where the company tested their cars prior to production. 100 million or so dollars later and Test Track, Epcot's first thrill ride, opened to the public in 1999. The original version of the ride, in case you didn't get the opportunity to visit back then, focused on putting your vehicle through a series of, what else, tests. Once you boarded your vehicle you were moved through a series of rooms gauging the car's suspension, handling, braking, reactions to heat and cold and, of course, the culminating test, a lap around the outdoor track reaching 64.9 MPH. The stars of the attraction, aside from the test vehicle were, of all things, crash test dummies, quite an odd thing to feature in a theme park attraction considering what these dummies do for a "living."
In April of 2012 Test Track closed down for renovation, a fairly common practice in Walt Disney World. However, this wasn't just ride maintenance. Disney announced a total redesign of the attraction. The ride mechanics and track would be the same, but the look and feel would be completely overhauled. A mere 8 months later in December of the same year, the new Test Track opened and boy did it look and feel different. Gone was the chaotic and noisy queue filled with auto parts and crash test dummies. Test Track was now sleeker and more modernized. The industrial feel of the interior gave way to a darker atmosphere punctuated by neon lights and video screens. I have to say, I really loved the redesign right from the beginning. Why? Let's take a look with my Top 5 things to love about Epcot's Test Track.
5 - No Intellectual Property
I'm starting off the list with something that the attraction lacks, as opposed to something the attraction features. That may be a departure, but hear me out. One of the things I really love about Test Track is the fact that it is an original Epcot creation. Much like Spaceship Earth, Soarin', and its neighbor, Mission: Space, Test Track—at least for the moment—doesn't feature any Disney intellectual properties. It's not about characters or movie tie-ins. It's about the experience.
Now, I've been the first one to say, right here in past Top 5 articles that I have no problem with Nemo taking over The Seas and two sisters from Arendelle taking over Norway. Nor do I have any conflict with Remy and Linguini being added to France over in World Showcase. Epcot started out with no Disney characters and that lasted for quite some time, but I think it was naive to think that it would permanently stay that way. Personally, I like the mix that seems to be forming in the park. There's room for Disney characters in some attractions as long as they leave some alone. No offense to Cars Land and Radiator Springs Racers—an attraction that I'm dying to experience that uses the same ride system as Test Track—but I hope they never add Lightning and Mater to the Transportation pavilion that houses Test Track. I'd prefer it stay its own entity. Once again, given the popularity of this ride and its consistently long wait times, it's doing just fine without any intellectual properties shoehorned in.
4 - The Ride Vehicles
The Test Track vehicles are super cool aren't they? They're like the offspring of your coolest childhood Hot Wheels car and the Delorean from Back to the Future. Apparently, there's a whole lot of complexity going on underneath the hood. Each Test Track vehicle has 22 wheels, not just the four that you can visibly see. They are powered by three on board computers that control the vehicles as they make their way around the track. Test Track is the fastest ride in Walt Disney World, hitting a top speed of 64.9 MPH, just below the legal Florida speed limit of 65.
Legend has it that the cars were supposed to go 95 but safety issues thankfully or maybe regrettably won out. These cars don't just go fast, they also have to stop. Each vehicle has 6 different braking systems on board as opposed to the standard two that the cars in my driveway have. Disney's Imagineers designed the cars to last a million miles and it's estimated that they travel around 50,000 miles each year. The Test Track ride vehicles are one of Disney's most complex creations and not only that—they look really cool!
3 - The Design Studio
Walt Disney Imagineering has become the masters at keeping us occupied as we wait in the long queues of their attractions. They give us a lot to look at, like in Expedition Everest, or they have us play with cool interactive stuff like in Peter Pan's Flight or The Haunted Mansion. One of my favorite things to do at Disney is create my custom car in the Test Track Design Studio. As a kid, I was a big Hot Wheels and Matchbox fan.
Cars were one of my favorite toys and still are to this day. So, when I get to the point in the Test Track queue where we get to design our own car, it's like I'm a kid again and I'm finally able to design my own Hot Wheels, something I was never able to do when I was young. And not only that, but I get to see exactly how my design would have handled the rigors of the various Test Track tasks. I know it's essentially a placeholder to keep my mind occupied, but out of all the things Disney has come up with to keep us busy in their queues, this is the most rewarding.
2 - The Sim Track
It's almost impossible to separate Test Track from the big blast of speed that the ride culminates with, as you'll see in my number one slot, but I think it's important to remember just how much fun and how cool the rest of the ride really is. Known as The Sim Track in the most current version, the "rest" of Test Track would be an awesome attraction all its own. Personally, I think the newer look of the inside portions of the ride are far superior to the older version.
I love the darker feel and the use of bright neon and lasers throughout the ride. It lends and air of mystery to the whole experience. You never quite know what's coming next and what thrill you're going to be dealt. That makes it all the more fun. I was a fan of the hot and cold rooms in the original attraction. I thought they were unexpected and were a very real tactile thing, especially the heat lamp room. But I think the overall look and feel of the newer Sim Track makes up for any losses from the original. I kinda feel like I'm in Tron's world and, trust me, that's a great thing!
1 - The Power Test
It may seem like an obvious number one choice, but hey, it's my list and this is how I feel. The final test on Test Track is the power test where you are launched outdoors onto the track and accelerate up to 64.9 MPH in 8 seconds. This moment never fails to get to me. It's a total thrill. I drive the highways at 65 all the time, but it never feels like this. It's a pure adrenaline rush without making you sick or queasy. I love the launch of Rock N Roller Coaster, but I'm not such a fan of the loops.
Test Track's final speed blast is so much fun and so satisfying of a culmination to the ride experience, it's no wonder why there's always a long wait to ride after 22 years of operation. My family and I are smiling and laughing the whole way around the track and that's what it's all about.
If you've read enough of my articles here on MousePlanet and, once again, I thank you if you have—you may have detected a bit of sappiness when it comes to me and many things at Disney. I'm like a little kid when I'm on Peter Pan's Flight. I feel a sense of awe and wonder on Soarin' or at the pinnacle of Spaceship Earth when that final room comes into view. When Tinker Bell flies over my head at the Magic Kingdom during the fireworks my eyes well up. It's part of the Disney difference. We get emotionally attached to the place and the feelings it stirs up. I think a lot of us fans feel that way. Test Track is something different though. There's no emotional impact. There's no bittersweet song or treasured characters from my childhood. It's a thrill and it's a thrill that builds up throughout the whole experience. I know it's coming. I start to feel it in the aforementioned Sim Track and then BLAM, I'm shot through those gates out onto the track and something that I do everyday, driving, takes on a whole new sense of awe. And that's part of the Disney difference as well. It's not just about the speed. It's the whole journey. That lap around the track is the culmination and it's one of my favorite things to experience anywhere.
That's all for this Top 5. Please stay tuned. The plan is to keep touring through Epcot's attractions as we leave Future World behind and head into one of my all time favorite destinations, World Showcase. Until then, as always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts on Test Track. Stay Safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.