The original Test Track experience: Part six of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

In this article, we will go into details in the original Test Track experience and it’s many challenges and changes.

Guests entered the queue, which had a mechanical soundtrack and showed all kinds of tests done for safety.  Crash test dummies, working sets and other things composed this chaotic environment, with an electronic soundtrack.  With its three-across ride vehicles, a single riders queue where parties willing to split up and solo travelers often enjoy a shorter queue fill up empty seats in the cars.  Add the standby line and the fast pass queue; all three queues met up at the podium.  Briefing Room 1 was used for the single riders queue and 2 and 3 for regular guests.

The Briefing Room had photos of existing General Motors testing sites worldwide, along with a TV screen on the wall.  The TV screen showed a control room. Eventually, a controller called Bill McKim and his assistant explain the premise of our visit and determine what tests our vehicles will experience.  A steep hill climb, rough road surfaces, sharp curves with and without ABS are only some of the many things we will test.  It concluded with an audible gasp from the guests when a car crashing into a wall was shown…

Exiting the briefing room, guests lined up to board the cars.  The station is roughly in the same area as the World of Motion loading platform was, this time separated in 4 positions, allowing 4 cars to load and unload simultaneously.  Once all guests are seated, a small screen in front of each row lights up, indicating which GM brand ordered our tests today: GMC, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile all randomly appeared.

The narration asks us to buckle up and plug in our seatbelts, as the seatbelt check was up a curving hill.  A cast member double-checked our belts, using both green light indicators on the side of the car and a flashlight to make sure we are all sitting correctly. 

Once our belts are checked,  we line up with what was claimed to be the 26.8° hill climb, in reality, a much more manageable 15°: still steep, but not rollercoaster-like.  At the top, the car levels up and turns to the right.  Throughout all this, the small screen show in real-time what our car is experiencing, speed and forces wise, highlighting the effects of the test.  Originally and from time to time, a small smoke effect was located at the bottom of the hill, simulating a car doing a burnout and fast start.  Lighting effects with the ride logo are also present.

Coming down the 3rd story, the car rolls over Belgian blocks, followed by german blocks, which simulate potholes and damaged road surfaces on descents and flat surfaces.  This is all classic, but the next test is not and highlights the unique features of Slot Cars: a fishtail maneuver showing what happens when you try to brake without ABS (Anti-Locking Braking System).  It’s very realistic as the roller coaster track allows a sharp S-Curve combined with the sound and mechanical effects of a run over traffic cone, making this a highlight.  The ABS is reactivated for the next curve, allowing for a much more controlled experience along with a mirror at the end to simulate another car driving straight at us.  A live replay of both turns is shown to highlight how ABS is safer versus panic-induced straight braking. 

We then head inside for the environmental tests under the 3rd story track.  First, It’s quite hot as heat lamps take the temperature up to 120°F.  Next room, cold!  A Strong A/C system takes the temperature down to below 32°F.  The screen show -10°F, but that would be too cold for guests wearing typical central Florida clothing.  The third test has robots spraying water on us to test for corrosion. 

Exiting the chambers, we always go for Track Course A in regular operation. Track Course A is a rising handling course with rising hairpin turns. Track Course B is in reality, a spur track for vehicle storage and maintenance that loops around to before the second ABS brake test. After the last set, the train goes down a dip and rises to enter a tunnel.  Our headlights, along with the screens, turn off as we start accelerating. 

Out of nowhere, we hear the loud horn of a semi-truck as its lights turn on.  At the same time, we do another sharp S-curve to the right, dodging the truck.  Pyros were installed on the right and go off as if we had hit the side of the tunnel. 

Exiting the tunnel, we round a curve and arrive inside the crash test area.  A small compact car hit the wall at the same time we see it.  We line up with our crash wall, and the car stops.  It accelerates, and right before hitting the wall, it slides open, bringing us outside.  A slight curve to the right brings us to a dip, and we are now on an elevated track backstage.  The car speeds up around a 360° curve, with GM cars parked on the ground in the middle. 

In the middle of the helix, we start and feel the engine of the car pushing. On the long straightway, we can see in the distance a large screen showing our speed. Our speedometer on the screen shows sharp acceleration. We eventually top out at 64.8-64.9 mph, right before we are thrown in a massive banked curve around the building.  We ultimately slow down as the track starts to level off.  As we re-enter the building, thermal imagery shows our car and ourselves before we enter the station.

The ride was groundbreaking, but challenges with the control system and ride vehicles, along with a very aggressive construction schedule, lead to delays.  Originally scheduled to open in April 1997, it took nearly an extra two years of adjustments to get the ride ready for the public. 

The ride control system is composed of dozens of virtual “blocks” around the track.  A block is an area where only one car can be for any reason, like on roller coaster rides.  Managing all those blocks, along with the 29-30 ride cars in operation at once, proved to be an immense challenge. 

One unique feature is the support system of the attraction.  Given the incredible forces exerted in the outdoor curve, triangular supports were designed.  Those are allowed to flex and are connected to the track and concrete footers with ball bearing connectors, allowing for small movements and absorbing some of the forces. The result is impressive: if you were to stand backstage under the track right before it starts to curve, you would see a visible wave motion of the track as each car goes by. 

The car’s rubber tires posed another challenge beyond wear and tear during regular operation.  Remember that the ride emergency braking system is mounted to those wheels.  When you need to stop a car that is accelerating outside or in the middle of the building loop, it has to stop FAST.  As a result, along with the rough asphalt-like running surface for those, the tires are shredded and the thick rubber surface partially breaks apart.  When a car is stranded there, guests must be evacuated off every car before excess cars are sent to storage in Track Course B storage and the station maintenance track.  As for the vehicles that were stopped mid acceleration and have damaged tires, maintenance will slowly bring them back to base right before the station to be taken off-line.

Initially, it was thought that Track Course B and Station storage would be enough to complete maintenance on the 31 ride vehicles.  It proved not enough, so Maintenance One was built across from the Station Storage outdoor access, right next to the drop when cars leave the building.  Inside Maintenance One, there are many pits for easy wheel and undercarriage access, along with spare parts and tires.  Industrial lifts on track allow workers to shuttle cars to and from there. 

Over time, some of the effects were scaled back or eliminated during the attraction.  The pyro during the truck encounter was turned off, and the acid robots program was simplified to make maintenance easier.  When entering the crash test area, the crashed car was replaced by a non-moving SUV, but the sound effect remains; its cue moved to just before riders view the SUV, implying it had just crashed out of sight.

The runover cone during the out-of-control fishtail maneuver was problematic, often broken.  The smoke effect after the seatbelt check was unreliable as well.