GM opens a Test Track in Florida: Part five of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

GM opens a Test Track in Florida: Part five of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

GM wanted something that was more representative of its current image and what they offered to customers.  Disney went back to the drawing board and realized the second unrealized attraction was quite close to what GM desired.  Disney and GM agreed to change World of Motions, with GM signing on to sponsor the pavilion long-term.

A new name for the GM attraction was chosen, which was simple and evocative of its new mission: Test Track.  While researching material for the new attraction, they had the chance to tour Milford Proving Ground in Michigan.  This massive 4000 acres site has multiple tracks, roads, and surfaces to test prototypes and productions car in every condition.  They were pretty amazed by what they saw and had the idea to bring Proving Grounds to guests so they too can experience the thrills of test-driving prototypes.  The first concept had hover cars as ride vehicles. Still, the Proving Grounds literally brought it back to the ground, and new vehicles with four wheels were created.  Going off the work done for Rocket Bikes, another ride system we’ll discuss in another article, a new ride system was designed: the Slot Car dark ride.

Slot Cars are miniature-powered automobiles that race around large tracks.  A pin or blade extends under the car, reaching a hot rail that powers the car.  The pin helps the car remain on the track in sharp curves and banked turns, but the controller has to regulate the speed with a hand-held remote carefully. 

The Disney Slot Car dark ride dramatically scales up those miniature cars. A large six-passenger electric vehicle is attached to a massive hidden chassis that extends under the running surface.  Under the running track, which is covered in sticky asphalt-like material to help with traction, the chassis has 18 wheels hidden, securing the car to a roller coaster track.  Combined with the four running wheels, which can independently steer, the car will remain on track, no matter what, making the experience perfectly safe.

An equivalent to 250 horsepower electric motor is present in each car, providing power for the four visible wheels.  A bus bar is hidden inside the roller coaster track, so it is no issue to power the motor, eliminating the need for heavy and oversized batteries in the cars.  Those vehicles have three onboard computers that constantly communicate with the Ride Control System. 

Two set of brakes are present on the car: “show brakes” are used in regular operation and programmed to stop and slow down the vehicle at the right moment.  The emergency brakes engage when the car computer detects a problem such as losing communication with the Ride Control System (RCS), comes too close to another car or any other issues.  Those emergency brakes can stop in a short distance the car no matter its position and speed.  As we will see later on, this can have dramatic effects.

One huge challenge was with the tires on those wheels: the original tires could not take the massive forces generated during the ride, such as hairpin turns, sharp braking, quick accelerations, and S-curves.  Goodyear solved the issue by designing new wide slick tires.  With thick walls and surfaces, they are filled to 70 PSI (pound per square inch).  The 18 other wheels are similar to traditional roller coasters, with urethane tires that can take the forces with no issues.

Passengers are seated in two rows, three across.  The original concept car that toured with a traveling Walt Disney World exhibit showed large grab bars and a steering wheel for the driver in the front row, but by the time the ride opened, those were absent.  Seat belts restrain guests: the middle passenger has a lap restraint while those on the side have 3-point seatbelts.  They are locked outside the station, and guests cannot remove them unless a ride operator pushes a button located on the side of the car, outside of reach.

Back to the building, after the closure of World of Motion, the building was gutted, removing all scenery, walls, and old ride track.  The area where guests entered the original attraction and outdoor spiral was enclosed to be used for an extended queue line.  One early concept showed the pavilion filled with track, but this was neither pretty nor practical, so half the ride extends outside.  In total, the new track length was 5246 feet, with 2600 feet of track outside.  The track inside goes around three levels and outside, the cars exit 24 feet in the air, before slightly turning and dipping 12 feet.  The track remains mainly at the 12 feet level outside as it goes around the loops. 

Speed was a discussion item, too:  with the space they had and technology available, Walt Disney Imagineering was confident they could have a 95 mph attraction.  95 mph would have been good enough for the fastest attraction in the world at the time of the proposal, but it posed both an ethical and comfort challenge.  If you launch a car at 95 mph around the building, the banking would have been very severe. Tests showed that a bank of over 47° was uncomfortable for riders in operation; plus, riders would hang on their side and items would fall if a car stops there.  For the ethical question, the speed limit on most highways in the US is 65 mph.  GM did not feel like encouraging guests to drive 95 mph since “Test Track can!”

65 mph became the new max speed, which solved both concerns: the track is banked at a much more comfortable angle, and the speed is road legal. 

The building underwent massive changes, with a new canopy constructed upfront to protect the entrance and outdoor extended queue from the element.  The old outdoor upward spiral from World of Motion was enclosed and used for a themed longer queue indoor.  The old queuing area from World of Motions became three “briefing rooms”, used for the attraction’s preshow. 

The second story of the building, where World of Motions mostly took place, was completely gutted and brought back to its skeleton.  Disney got hard at work filling that large space with a course, with two extensions:  the old core of the building was used for the first test, bringing the cars to a 3rd level.  Under that 3rd level, environmental tests took place.  Above the queue, briefing rooms, and station, a mezzanine was constructed for additional elevated segments. The old Trans Center became the GM showcase, showcasing current GM models on sale at dealerships and concept vehicles.  In addition, games and the assembly line experience showing how a GM assembly plant work was placed right after guests exited their cars.