Test Track coming (not-so) soon… Epcot

This all started with a letter:

"Dear Lou…

What year did Test Track open? I remember going in 1996 for our anniversary and it was supposed to be opening within a few months, but when we went back for our anniversary a year later, it was still closed."

You're absolutely correct. Test Track opened (a little late), on March 17, 1999, more than two years after its scheduled opening for May 1997.

An original EPCOT Center pavilion in Future World, the GM-sponsored World of Motion attraction which promised that "It's Fun to be Free," closed on January 2, 1996. This slow-moving attraction took guests on a ride through a number of 2D and Animatronic-filled exhibits that chronicled the history and mysteries of transportation. When it closed with little fanfare after the busy holiday season, the building which housed the attraction was almost completely gutted. During this time, a track was being constructed both through and outside of the building. To give curious visitors an indication of what was coming, Disney opened the "GM Test Track Preview Center" on February 13, 1996. There, guests could see concept art and models depicting Epcot's new thrill ride. Most visible was an enormous mural painted by French artist Catherine Feff outside the building which was 30 feet high, 100 feet wide, and took her two months to design. The Preview Center promised an opening date of May, 1997.

While construction continued on schedule, there were major problems with the ride vehicles. The wheels could not stand up to the rigors of the ride, and the sophisticated computers systems were continually shutting down. A year and a half later, newly designed wheels and completely redeveloped computer software appeared to be working with no problems. "Backstage," the installation of the ride track had begun on March 4, 1996, while the external track was ready for testing twenty-five days later. On October 25, 1996, the internal and external ride tracks were connected, and just three days later, a one-vehicle ride test had begun. On February 14, 1997, the show installation was completed, with all vehicles assembled by the end of the month.

Well, it was now May of 1997 and there were no signs that Test Track was opening anytime soon. Actually, the only sign was the one outside the building that was changed from "Opening May 1997" to "Opening Soon."
Fast forward one year. It took twelve months, but Disney Imagineers were closer to opening Test Track than before. How close? Well, they added a few new concept drawings to the walls that surrounded the construction site and an updated video was shown. Of course, you could buy all the Test Track merchandise you wanted from a cart outside the building or in the Centorium, although it would be another year before the first guest took one of these cars for a spin.

In December 1998, it looked like the wait might be over. The large mural was removed and replaced by two smaller signs – neither with any indication as to when the attraction would actually open!

About this time, GM and Disney executives began testing the ride, followed by Cast Members. Right before Christmas, there were very limited previews for guests that ran for only a few hours on certain days. However, all of the bugs hadn't quite been worked out, and the ride still broke down – often.

OK. It's now early March of 1999. (Remember the signs that said "Opening May 1997"?). It's been almost 4 months since the ride was operational and being tested. So what do you think happened next? You got it! They changed the signs one more time! Now you could actually see paintings of different areas of the ride. Wow.

Finally, on March 17, 1999, Test Track, "A New Ride for the New Year" had its Grand Opening. With much fanfare, NASCAR driver Richard Petty, (with the help of a little "eye candy" which included supermodels Christie Brinkley, Angie Everhart, Carol Alt, and Frederique), officially opened the ride. Music was provided by "Earth, Wind and Fire" and "The Spinners," while fireworks exploded in the sky.

And it looks like (for the most part), the kinks along the way have been worked out. Actually, there are some pretty impressive facts and figures about Test Track. For example, each vehicle contains a 250-horsepower electric motor, providing more horsepower than a Chevy Blazer. Did you also know that each vehicle contains three onboard computers, which process 100 million ride-system calculations per second, the giving them more processing power than the Space Shuttle? Not only that, but each car travels 140 miles per day. In fact, in just one year, each Test Track vehicle will travel 50,000 miles (that's equal to almost four times the miles the average U.S. car is driven annually. Or think of it this way – 21 road trips from Orlando to Detroit and back). But don't worry, each vehicle was designed to last for 1 million miles. (The same as driving from the Earth to the moon more than four times). Oh, if your ride seems a little "extra bumpy", that's because the tires (specially designed and provided by Goodyear), are at 70psi (pounds per square inch) instead of the usual 35 to give you the added bumpiness. Don't worry, though, each vehicle is equipped with 6 braking systems (while your car likely has only one or two).

Oh, and do you really thing this attraction was built solely for the entertainment of Walt Disney World guests? Think again. This project, which cost more than the original $100,000,000.00 budget, was a well-conceived marketing tool by General Motors. Where else could they introduce 20,000 potential GM car buyers to their products for 45 minutes each?

Now, go wait two hours in the scorching hot sun for your 65 MPH, 5 minute, 34 second thrill ride along Disney's longest ride track of 5,246 feet. (And if you're complaining about the wait, think about those poor crash-test dummies in the pre-show that will be hit in the chest, struck on the knee, and have their neck bent 720 times per day!)

Was it worth the wait? (Both the 2 years and the two hours on line?)

By Lou Mongello
Author of the "Walt Disney World Trivia Book: Secrets, History & Fun Facts Behind the Magic"

Purchase Lou's Trivia Book here from Amazon.com!