Walt Disney World Speedway to Close in June
The Walt Disney World Speedway will close in late June, according to a report
from the Orlando Sentinel.
The Speedway currently provides a home to Disney World's version of the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where visitors can drive or ride in professional racing stock cars and exotic sports cars, including Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The Richard Petty Driving Experience has been the primary tenant at the Speedway since 1997.
Google Map showing the location of the Walt Disney World Speedway, relative to the Magic Kingdom parking lot and Seven Seas Lagoon
But the Speedway opened a year earlier, when it hosted the first race in the split that nearly destroyed IndyCar-style open wheel racing. The 1996 Indy 200 at Walt Disney World was the first race of the Indy Racing League, a breakaway series from the Championship Auto Racing Teams [CART] series that ran all IndyCar racing in the world, outside of the Indianapolis 500 itself. The owners of Indianapolis Motor Speedway decided to form the IRL to take control of the sport, but only managed to cripple it, as sponsors and fans soon fled to NASCAR and Formula 1 during the years when no-name drivers filled the field at Indianapolis and other IRL events.
For several years, the Tomorrowland Speedway at the Magic Kingdom was named the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, with a small-scale replica of the scoring pylon from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as part of the resort's deal with the owners of the IMS.
FWIW, Buzz Calkins won that first race in Orlando. No, no one remembers him. But the runner-up, a rookie named Tony Stewart, went on to do pretty well. The IRL ran four more races at the WDW Speedway, which fans nicknamed "The Mickyard," as a play on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's nickname of "The Brickyard." CART eventually evolved into Champ Car, which merged back with the IRL in 2008 to form what is today's Verizon IndyCar Series. Its first race of the season will be in St. Petersburg next month.
According to the Disney resort, the Speedway grounds will be used for "transportation improvements." Could a parking lot expansion be on the way?
Update: Here's the statement from Petty:
Petty Holdings, operator of Richard Petty Driving Experience and Exotic Driving Experience, confirmed that starting July 1, they will no longer operate their experiences out of the Walt Disney World Speedway. Walt Disney World has plans to use the land to make transportation improvements.
“Our main focus at this moment is taking care of our staff and preparing them for the upcoming transition,” said Petty Holdings Vice President Bill Scott. “Any reserved guests prior to July 1 will have the same fantastic experience that we have delivered since 1997 at Walt Disney World Speedway.”
Anyone booked after June 30 for Richard Petty Driving Experience or Exotic Driving Experience can call 1.800.237.3889 to reschedule their experience at any of their 14 locations nationwide – including the location at Daytona International Speedway. Petty Holdings currently has plans in process for exotics and stock car programs in Orlando.
At first I was excited because I thought the Tomorrowland Speedway was closing. Now I'm just sad from that hype.
I was sad because I thought it was the Tomorrowland Speedway, but happy that it is not!
I'm with James T. on this one... at first I was excited about the headline when I mistakenly thought Disney was FINALLY dumping the waste of space that is the Tomorrowland Speedway. But as I kept reading my excitement turned to "meh". Thanks for keeping us up to date, Robert, but next time let me dream a little longer before you give me the facts and dash my hopes. =(
"when no-name drivers filled the field at Indianapolis and other IRL events"
Ditto on thinking it was the Tomorrowland Speedway.
Robert, great history on The Split. I gather you are an Indycar fan (and fell on the CART side of things)? Sadly not many of us left out there. I moved to Indy to study motorsports engineering and hopefully work for an Indycar team.
To the poster who hoped Tomorrowland Speedway was closing, please look at it through the eyes of a six-year old. Driving a car! On a "real" racetrack!
Nice add Tyler. Thanks. Sam is an amazing individual.
One more thing: If you look at that map, you can see the opportunity to completely change the traffic flow into and out of the MK parking lot, which really could help some of the traffic back-ups and snarls that the park can get on busy days.
@ Anon Poster 126.96.36.199: Yes, I am not a six-year old and I have no doubt that the Speedway is enjoyed by many kids who take the (usually long) time to ride it. However, the standard cars-on-a-track ride is a staple you can find at pretty much any local amusement park, so it's certainly not needed at Disney. There is plenty for a six-year old to do at the Magic Kingdom and still have fun, even if they don't get to drive a car. Further, the Speedway only has a 4 rating on the site (by comparison, Dumbo, another kiddie ride, has a 7). However, if taking a kid on their "first drive" is a necessary rite of passage, you can go to Old Town and ride their go karts for a far cheaper and probably more fun experience.
Ah, I too was hoping this article was about the Tomorrowland Speedway, and thought it was, until reading a few lines.
Dang it I thought this was about Tomorrow Land Speedway closing. That thing is horrible.
Tomorrowland speed way needs to go! The only thing fun about it is getting a buzz of all the gas fumes. I can only imagine what the employees are breathing all day long. That is prime realestate for a new high tech ride. Like James said above you kind find this type of experience at any Six FLags type park.
From a "retro" perspective of these two subjects. I still carry my Disneyland Tomorrowland drivers license PROUDLY. :) I also did the Richard Petty driving experience as a gift from my family about 5 years ago, super cool! Financially, the WD World Speedway probably reflects NASCAR today as profits are down or maybe they are losing money. Sadly it will probably go away as new ideas (profit) are tested. Maybe they should convert the Speedway over to a "Frozen" themed ride, I'm sure every 10 year girl would want to do a ** "ride along" in a 140 mph sleigh!
Great, this summer I was going to give it a try for my 60th. I guess I'll have to do the Tomorrowland Speedway.
Sorry to see it go...I experienced my first hot laps at the Speedway with the Richard Petty Driving Experience...great experience!
This article wasn't even about the Tomorrowland Speedway, yet somehow that is what most people are discussing. Frankly, I don't see a problem with the Tomorrowland Speedway.
Thanks for the kind words Tyler and Robert! I appreciate the support and encouragement. Unfortunately, mine was not the worst injury sustained at the facility but rather, a young South American driver in USF2000 had a massive brain injury in 1995 and died a year later. Two other IRL drivers suffered compression fractures and although I also hold the distinction of winning the first ever pro race there (1995 USF2000), I won't miss it. - Sam Schmidt
I was there in January of 1997 for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck race working on one of trucks number 12. It was cold there that weekend. Anybody else remember that race?
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