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Behind the Ride: 3 Mind-Bending Tricks Employed by Radiator Springs Racers

2.      The Experience: Recreating the World of Cars

The Trick: Bringing the Characters of Cars to Life

Image © Disney

The folksy charm of Cars the movie is predicated upon the genteel nature of its characters. Doc Hudson, Sally Carrera, Ramone, Luigi, Guido, Flo, Sarge, Sheriff, and Fillmore all inhabit the city of Radiator Springs. Each one enriches it with their unique personality, whether you enjoy Fillmore’s hippy hijinks, Sheriff’s disapproval of said hijinks, Luigi and Guido’s love of tires, or Doc’s constant wisdom. Creating a Cars ride that fails to highlight their communal nature is a pointless exercise. And that goes double for Lightning McQueen and Mater, the stars of Cars.

Fortunately, Disney Imagineers employ a clever design element to make the rider feel like they’re a guest of Radiator Springs. The styling of the attraction is similar to other Disney theme park staples like Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, and Splash Mountain wherein the rider actually encounters the denizens of the realm. With Radiator Springs Racers, that means a brief tour of the “downtown” area of the city, which means the only place where anybody hangs out in this sleepy burg.

The cart takes the rider along a linear path, starting outdoors to highlight the mountains but eventually heading indoors. At this point, a visually stimulating world of shiny cars is waiting to greet the visitor. This is subtle but important, as the premise of Cars the movie is that Radiator Springs functions as a brief pit stop for travelers on their journey across the country.

While the tone of the town is understated in the film, the theme park attraction version of the city is filled with eye-grabbing neon lights and stunningly detailed set pieces. Guests drive down the main throughway of Radiator Springs before taking a brief detour to receive car service at Luigi’s Casa Della Tires. Since there are no people in this world, only anthropomorphic cars, there is no need for Disney’s usual brand of human animatronics. Instead, all the characters from the film are recreated in life-like (well, car-like) fashion during the attraction. Everything you see during Radiator Springs Racers is authentic in this regard.

3.      The Experience: Creating an Atmospheric Thrill Ride

The Trick: Repurposing Ideas from Test Track

Image © Disney

Walt Disney World’s Epcot doesn’t have a lot of signature rides, but Test Track has remained a favorite since its debut in 1999. It’s also the subject of a previous Behind the Ride article. Disney Imagineers are huge fans of recycling work, understanding that a premise that works in one park is likely to prove just as popular elsewhere.

Rather than design an entirely new ride experience for Radiator Springs Racers, Imagineers sagely chose to stick with something they knew worked already. Enter Test Track. The design of this ride involves an indoor and outdoor component. Park guests build their own car design and then test its quality during a series of challenges such as efficiency, responsiveness, and power. Spoiler: Nobody ever does well on efficiency, but everyone aces the power test. After a few near misses indoors, the attraction cart explodes into the outdoor setting and accelerates to 64.9 miles per hour. Those few thrilling moments in the sunlight are a visceral thrill.

Radiator Springs Racers extends the concept a bit. Since the premise of the town is that guests stop by on the way to other places, you actually begin your journey outside. It’s a slow sojourn through the beautiful country just beyond the town, including the memorable waterfall from the film. Then, the setting changes to an indoor section. Here’s where the unmistakable comparisons to Test Track begin.

Whereas you avoid a random semi-tractor at Epcot, Cars Land thrusts you into the oncoming traffic that is Mack the tractor-trailer. Seconds later, the weather test is replaced by a narrow escape at railroad tracks, a lecture from Sheriff, and an encounter with Mater and some easily spooked tractors. The style and setting are unmistakably similar. The difference is that Test Track employs random situations whereas Radiator Springs Racers maximizes its rider enjoyment via character licensing. It feels like a much more authentic Disney ride in this regard.

After you’ve enjoyed a tune-up at Luigi’s Casa Della Tires or a paint job at Ramone’s House of Body Art, Radiator Springs Racers follows the same trajectory as Test Track once again. It thrusts the rider outside, but there is one slight variance. You see a different ride cart to your side, which is the Racers part of the ride title.

The two cars simultaneously explode into the open terrain just outside Radiator Springs, engaging in a competitor race to the finish line. While the start of the attraction is a slow ride through beautiful country, the departure from town is all about pure speed and adrenaline. Of course, Cars Land is a child-friendly attraction, the maximum velocity is much lower at 40 MPH than the top speed at Test Track.

There is an additional difference, as the fast portion of Radiator Springs Racers is not quite the end of the ride. Instead, the vehicles enter a final dark area where Lightning McQueen and Mater congratulate you on a quality race, naming everyone winners today. He’s technically wrong, though. One cart does win each race.  Of course, you have no control over whether you emerge victorious or not. One of the two vehicles is randomly selected to add a level of intrigue to each ride.

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