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History in Motion Part II: How the Original TEST TRACK Changed Epcot Forever

If you were one of the lucky generation of Epcot guests to experience World of Motion, you may be surprised to see just how much has changed in Future World's Southeasternmost pavilion. Sprawling banners fall from a towering tent structure placed before the symmetrical transportation pavilion. The open wedge that once revealed a spiraling, ascending Omnimover track was windowed over, and a new style pervades: construction zone

Image: Disney

While the new ride, TEST TRACK, did take two years longer than expected to open, construction is finished. The look is intentional. This new thrill ride brought to you by a longstanding collaboration between Disney and General Motors is meant to show you behind-the-scenes of vehicle testing, so yellow and black stripes, orange cones, and reflective traffic signs will be the norm.

And think about it – if you didn't drive a car to Epcot today, you probably drove one to an airport to get you here... And as you strapped into a two-ton, hulking metal frame vibrating with pulsing engines, shifting gears, and airbags poised to deploy, how did you know you were really safe? The truth is, you probably didn't. But after this ride, you will. Or, you'll at least have a better appreciation for it.

As you approach the mammoth showbuilding, you may hear a high-pitched electrical whir in the distance. As you wait, it grows closer and closer before the metallic roadway overhead – perfectly encircling the circular building – sways with force, the sound zooming past and off to the right. This isn't your grandather's World of Motion.

Image: Disney

Inside, you find yourself in a most un-Disney place: a warehouse packed with antique vehicles, warning stripes, deconstructed cars, exposed wiring and ducts, lighting rigs, and real crash test dummies. TEST TRACK is different from anything you've seen at Walt Disney World before... it's an unabashed look into the extreme conditions vehicles are put through years before they hit the showroom floor.

In this kinetic, musical queue of spinning lights, squealing tires, and videos, you'll see just a few of the extensive tests GM uses to ensure your family was safe on the way to the park.

As the end of the labyrinth-like queue, you'll be invited into a Briefing Room for a review of today's goal.

Image: Michael Gray, Flickr (license)

The Briefing Room is lined with framed photos of GM's Testing Facilities worldwide, including the Milford Proving Grounds and, of course, TEST TRACK. Overhead monitors provide a "live feed" of the track's control center, where we meet Bill McKim who reviews the day's schedule: we'll start with an accelerated hill climb, tackle German and Belgian blocks to simulate rough roads to test suspension integrity, experience the sensation of having our brakes lock up, and then see the wonders of ABS - Antilock Braking System. Environmental tests, handling runs with hairpin turns, and a high speed loop should finish us off.

"Now if this routine seems a bit extreme, you're exactly right!" Bill offers. "But that's what a test track is all about. The cars you drive at home are made up of over 15,000 parts and every one of them has to pass the test under extreme conditions before we ever let it off that test track and onto the road!"

Today, we'll be taking on a most esteemed job: we'll take the place of GM's crash test dummies to experience the thrills that cars undergo to make sure they're safe. And Bill and his team will be with us the whole way via in-car monitors to let us know which tests we're about to undergo.

TEST TRACK

Image: marada, Flickr (license)

Exiting from the Briefing Room, we enter into the ride's Dispatch center, where a line of self-driving cars arrives. Each is wrapped in yellow and white and dotted with indicator lines, warning stripes, checkers, and graphics. Much like real cars being put through the paces on real proving grounds across the world, there's no need for these vehicles to look like anything more than they are: test subjects. Six guests fit inside each car – three in the front and three in the back – with a small in-cab video monitor for each row. Once we're all strapped in (with familiar automobile seat beats), the car buzzes to life and advances forward to a seat belt check, with a daunting asphalt hill looming ahead.

From the seat belt check, we pass under a reflective green highway sign signaling our first test: HILL CLIMB. It's a 26.8% grade surrounded in reflectors and metal barriers, and at the top of the hill we find ourselves in the warehouse that'll serve as our testing ground, surrounded by other cars undergoing tests themselves. With a sharp turn to the right, we align with a down grade and see a path ahead lit by industrial spotlights. The ROUGH ROAD test sends the cars shuddering down the small hill and jostling over blocks placed in the road. Surely if our suspension can handle this, it can tackle even the most violent off-roading.

Image: Disney

Now, around the corner, lining up with a straightaway lined by glowing orange traffic cones. Bill appears on a monitor attached to a traffic light next to another green reflector sign: BRAKE TEST. "Okay, I'm going to take you right up to the cones, hit the brakes, and see if I can steer you through." "Hold on!" The car races forward toward the cones. "Braking... now!" The car yanks to the left seeming to slide out of control.

The car rounds the bend and aligns with another alley of cones. "Okay, let's try that again, but this time with the anti-lock brakes!" The car jolts forward again, accelerating straight toward an oncoming car! At the last second, the car headily brakes and turns, completely controlled. "That's how it ought to be!" Two monitors ahead review our Brake Test. "You see how anti-lock brakes help keep control of the vehicle while braking?"

Ahead, the green light gives us a go signal as we pass into a corrugated metal shed with its own green sign: ENVIRONMENTAL CHAMBERS. "Let's demonstrate some extreme test conditions!" In the HEAT CHAMBER, rows upon rows of incandescent, red glowing lamps power up, immediately baking riders in sincerely sweltering heat... well past 100 degrees.

Image: Disney

The COLD CHAMBER that follows is caked in layers of frost with frigid mist raining down. To have Disney tell it, this chamber is roundabout 0, constituting a 100 degree shift between rooms. The third Environmental Chamber glows green as robotic arms spring to life. "Did you remember to turn off those robots?" Just as the arms begin spraying the vehicle in neon yellow mist, you may notice this room's sign: CORROSIVE CHAMBER.

Next, we exit the Environmental Chambers. "Cleared for Trial Course A." The car takes a left at a fork in the road and heads into a "forest" of intentionally-flat cutout trees.

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

This is the RIDE & HANDLING TEST, where we'll experiment with the car's ability to handle hairpin turns. "Increasing speed... 10%." The car tackles the first switchback with ease, gliding along the roadway as reflective arrows guide us. "20%." It races up the inclined straightaway then turns sharply again. "30%!" "Are you seeing an increase in lateral forces?"

Just before you can make out the DIP sign, the car jolts down a drop and makes a quick left into a dark tunnel. As the headlights power down, we're left in total darkness... A literal light at the end of the tunnel appears, but it's a distraction! To the left, a honking horn and flashing headlights send the car skidding a bit to the right before gaining traction and heading toward the clearing.

Image: Josh Hallett, Flickr (license)

A-ha... A crashed car appears to the right and ahead, a new sign signals our next trial: BARRIER TEST AREA. Barrier test? What's a barri– ahead, massive banks of spotlights illuminate a car smashed up against a wall, its front end crumbled and its airbags deployed.

The car rounds the corner and – gulp – aligns with a concrete barrier dead ahead, marked with warning symbols. The rest of the room lights up to reveal the crashed remains of other vehicles littered about... You can't be serious! Disney isn't going to send us careening into a wall, right? And yet, the vehicle moves forward, first in a crawl, then a burst. Now, we're racing full speed ahead toward the wall. Overhead, the banks of lights hum to life as the wall is mere feet away!

At the last possible second, the wall splits down the middle and slides precariously out of the way. Blinding light bursts from ahead, and we're outside! Here we are... the SPEED TEST. You might've already suspected that Test Track is unlike anything else at Walt Disney World, and this is where that's proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Your test vehicle races down a drop and aligns with a straightaway, launching forward. As overhead streetlamps race past, your car veers to the right and banks, entering a massive acceleration curve that circles around the very real vehicles of Epcot Cast Members.

Image: Disney

The breathtaking speed only increases around the loop, faster and faster, equivalent in all ways to riding in a convertible on the highway. Test Track is the fastest ride at Walt Disney World by far, beating even Rock 'n' Roller Coaster by a healthy margin. The track lines back up with the initial straightaway, zooming back toward the pavilion and passing under a speed reader that'll signal your top speed: 65 miles per hour. An extreme bank now sends the car curving around the circular pavilion's front end, roaring over the ride's entrance. 

And now, returning to the back of the pavilion, the car re-enters the facility for a final scan: THERMAL IMAGING. On the overhead screen, you can see the car's infrared scan... or more amusingly, yours. A final descent leads back to the loading area. "Alright, that completes our test schedule! Thanks for being such a great test crew! Come back and ride anytime!"

As always, we include a point-of-view video to let you experience the wonders of TEST TRACK first-hand. Take a virtual ride through this Lost Legend using the video here:

The ride's post-show experience includes an Assembly demonstration showing each piece of your car and how they're assembled together and a General Motors showroom stocked with cars of tomorrow... and those available for purchase today, if you're in the mood for a serious souvenir. If your souvenir budget's a little more limited, the classic post-ride gift shop has the perfect gift for you... including a TEST TRACK slot car set.

TEST TRACK was a spectacular ride that forever changed Epcot. But its inclusion in our Lost Legend series signals that the story doesn't end here... Things were about to change, and TEST TRACK would never be the same. Read on...

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There are 3 comments.

That was an excellent article - my compliments! I only have the faintest memories of the original World of Motion, but that article dredged back memories I had long forgotten. I love reading about the history and background of these rides - EPCOT especially!
I think both versions of TT were/are pretty great. When you're discussing current/future technology, an occasional rehabilitation and update will be necessary (you can't talk about the future using a 20-year old history textbook, after all!) I think the current update is pretty secure, as they brought the ride towards a more "sci-fi" setting which ages much better. I hope they'll leave TRON out of Future World entirely, unless they can find some way to blend the fiction with a little bit of education (a la Nemo and Living Seas). TRON may be a good replacement for an Innovations wing, perhaps?

Candidly, I am shocked that anybody would find the new test track to be anywhere nearly as good as the original - let alone better
The new one is commercial and boring; the old one actually showed you more about the insides of an automaker and the track was, in my opinion 10 times better.

Have to agree. Last time I went to Disney (2014) I was baffled when I rode the test track. I felt like the old one was way more action-packed! The photos right as the acceleration hit were process.

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