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Tomorrowland Speedway - Magic Kingdom

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Tomorrowland Speedway Sign


Today's blog will discuss a favorite attraction of many a future driver, the Tomorrowland Speedway. What could be more exciting for a child living in a society that is dominated by automobiles than a chance to get behind the wheel and take control of a powerful machine? A car represents freedom to an adult. It represents “being an adult” to a child. Once a teenager gets his or her own driver's license, the Tomorrowland Speedway loses a lot of its allure. But until this time, the Tomorrowland Speedway offers kids a chance to be a grown-up for a few minutes.

To fully understand the Tomorrowland Speedway, you need to understand history. And not just Disney history, you need to be aware of what was happening in the world during the Magic Kingdom's planning stage. But in order to do that, we must first go back to Disneyland's humble beginnings.

In 1955, the Interstate System of the United States was in its infancy. In the previous year, the Federal-Aid Highway Act had set aside $175 million for the construction of an Interstate Highway System. President Eisenhower realized this amount was dreadfully inadequate for the task so in 1956 he signed the expanded Federal-Aid Highway Act that authorized an additional $25 billion to link America by a network of high speed, limited access roads.

Los Angeles was a pioneer in building such roadways. In 1940, the first freeway in the United States opened between Los Angeles and Pasadena. From that point on, more and more freeways were added to the area. Soon, Southern California and automobiles became synonymous.

The Santa Ana Freeway, the main route from Los Angeles to Anaheim and Orange County, was not completed until 1956. This meant that Walt was forced to take many surface streets to reach Disneyland from Burbank during the park's construction. Walt was a firm believer that technology could solve the problems of the world and the Interstate System was a step in the right direction. In addition, this new system of roads would improve his own commute and that of the future tourist who would visit Disneyland. It's interesting to note, many of the trees and shrubs of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise came from the land being cleared for the Santa Ana Freeway.

Walt wanted his Tomorrowland to showcase a bright and beautiful tomorrow. And the burgeoning Interstate System was a shining beacon to that end. Kiddie-cars and bumper cars had been a staple of carnivals and fairs for years, but Walt wanted to do something more inspiring. Thus, the Autopia was born. Autopia is the combination of the words Automobile and Utopia.

The Autopia was to be a miniature version of the Interstate System. It would highlight just how efficient this new transportation system would be. It would have overpasses and underpasses, straightaways and gradual curves. Its appearance would mirror that of the Los Angeles system. It would even have a cloverleaf design.


Autopia Attraction Poster


The Autopia was also intended to be a training ground for young drivers. With high speed travel now available to everyone, Walt wanted to provide a safe environment for kids to learn how to navigate this new roadway responsibly.

During the Autopia testing period, 36 miniature cars were turned over to the children of Studio personnel. Within 10 days, the fleet was reduced to 6. The kids had no desire to learn how to drive responsibly. They wanted to crash into one another. To remedy the problem, a whole vehicle, spring-loaded bumper was installed around the entire car.

In the early years, there were no guide rails down the middle of the Autopia highway. Kids actually steered the cars and could easily hit the curbs on either side of the road. There were even wide spots in the road where the young motorists could drive side-by-side and even pass one another. Of course this did not add to the longevity of the cars (or the curbs) and in 1965 the infamous guide rail was added. Kids could still steer their vehicle, but their maneuverability was greatly reduced.


Early Autopia Driver


The Autopia was an extremely popular attraction in the early years. To meet the demand, other versions of this ride were added to the park including the Junior Autopia, Midget Autopia, and the Fantasyland Autopia. Only the Tomorrowland Autopia survives today.

By the time planning had begun for the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, the Interstate System was old hat and less than exciting. Yet the Imagineers knew they wanted to offer young drivers a place to feel the freedom of the road. Thus, the Grand Prix Raceway was born. Rather than have a two-lane highway, this “international” course would feature race-cars that “competed” side-by-side along a multi-lane speedway. Although this race-car theme really didn't fit with the grand scope of Tomorrowland, it was logically the only place this attraction would fit in the park.

Beginning in 1967, Goodyear sponsored the PeopleMover at Disneyland. When asked if they would be willing to sponsor an attraction at the Magic Kingdom, they were interested. But since the Florida version of the PeopleMover would not be opening until 1975 and the ride would be using linear induction motors to power the cars (not rubber tires), this attraction was not a good match. However, the Grand Prix Raceway would be the perfect vehicle to showcase Goodyear tires.


Tomorrowland-Speedway-05a.jpg


I have an extensive Disney photo collection, but I don't have everything from the early days. The above picture was loaned to me for use in this blog by my good friend Jeff Lange. Jeff also has a wonderful Disney website worth note.

In this early publicity photo, you can see “Goodyear” emblazoned on the side of the race car.


Goofy in a Goodyear Car


Below is the opening day attraction poster. Notice is says Gran (not Grand) Prix Raceway. Also notice the poster is almost identical to the Disneyland Autopia poster of 1956 (see above). We even see the same father and son passengers racing along the highway. Only the vehicle has changed. The Magic Kingdom poster displays a souped-up sports car.


GranPrix Raceway Poster


In 1978 a new poster was unveiled. Inspired by the 1966 movie poster “Grand Prix” (a film partially sponsored by Goodyear), the new artwork had a more hip and updated look. Later, when Goodyear dropped its sponsorship of the Grand Prix Raceway, the poster was changed ever so slightly. Only the name “Goodyear” was omitted and the Tomorrowland lettering changed colors.


Grand Prix Raceway Poster

Grand Prix Movie Poster


Goodyear also provided young drivers with affiliation to the “Grand Prix Racing Team.” The membership card which was presented to guests after finishing the course was signed by Russell de Young, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.


Grand Prix Racing Team Card


When riding the Tomorrowland Speedway, you may have noticed an enclosed viewing area perched above the loading area. This was the Goodyear lounge where company executives could entertain clients and show off their attraction.


Sponsor Lounge


These next two pictures were taken in January, 1972. Notice how barren the attraction looks.


1972 Grand Prix Raceway

1972 Grand Prix Raceway


In 1973, the ride was expanded slightly. Then in 1987, the roadway was shortened to make room for Mickey's Birthdayland which would open the following year. This area would later be remodeled and renamed Mickey's Starland. More refurbishments brought about Mickey's ToonTown Fair. And now Storybook Circus.

Below is an approximation of how much track was eliminated to accommodate Mickey's Birthdayland.


Grand Prix Raceway Reduction


In 1994, Tomorrowland began a major makeover. The sterile concrete look of the future was giving way to a retro design. The Grand Prix Raceway also received some enhancements and on September 27, 1996 was renamed "Tomorrowland Speedway."

Three years later, Disney and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway joined forces to change the theme of the track. Enhancements such as the Yard of Bricks, the Scoring Pylon, Gasoline Alley, and the Wheel & Wing logo were added. To my knowledge, only the Scoring Pylon remains today. The attraction also received another name change to incorporate the new sponsor and on December 19, 1999 became known as the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway.


Scoring Pylon

Tomorrowland Indy Speedway Entrance


In 2008, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway dropped its affiliation and the name changed back to Tomorrowland Speedway.


Tomorrowland Speedway Entrance


Today the track is 2,260 feet long. The original design of the Mark VII cars is still used (minus the spoiler). However, the cars have undergone several different paint jobs over the years. Here's the current style.


Speedway Car

Speedway Car

Speedway Car


The car's nine-horsepower engines are fueled by gasoline and can attain speeds of an astounding 7.5 miles per hour. The vehicles hold two adults, but I wouldn't advise this if both parties are plus sized. There are approximately 140 cars in the fleet.

The Tomorrowland Speedway is a popular ride. Many guests race to this attraction when the Magic Kingdom first opens, making it the first ride of the day. Long lines develop quickly and last throughout the day. The Tomorrowland Speedway does not offer FastPass.

Guests enter the attraction through a structure that has changed little since opening day. Near the entrance is the ever present measuring stick to check the height of perspective drivers. However, this evaluator doesn't use standard increments, but rather oil cans. Kids must be at least 8 oil cans tall (54 inches) to ride alone. They must be 32 inches to ride as a passenger.


Measuring Stick


The first section of the queue is covered, but as you approach the loading and unloading area, there is very little protection from the sun and rain. There are a number of umbrellas, but they offer minimal shade. Plan accordingly.


Speedway Queue

Speedway Queue


An interesting detail can be found in the queue that most guests never notice. There are two framed images. One displays a detailed diagram of the Tomorrowland Speedway. The other exhibits the roadway attractions located at Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. If you notice, the Tokyo Disneyland roadway (third picture, upper right) is almost identical to the Florida version.


Queue Map

Queue Map

Queue Map


For those of you not wishing to ride, a grandstand viewing/waiting area is provided. This spot is shaded from around noon until dusk and bench seating is available. The grandstand offers wonderful photo opportunities of your party loading and unloading their vehicles. A set of stairs leading to the grandstand is located to the right of the attraction entrance.


Grandstand Stairs

Grandstand


When you reach the loading area, you will be assigned a number by a cast member. Simply stand at your designated spot until a car screeches to a stop in front of you. Once the other party exits, climb in.


Speedway Queue

Boarding the Car

Seated in the Car


The car only has one pedal. When you press it, the vehicle moves forward. When you release it, the car comes to a stop. Things couldn't be simpler. However, the pedal is too far away for many youngsters to reach and an adult will be necessary for this task. Also, the pedal has a lot of resistance and by the end of your 5 minute journey around the track, your leg will begin to get tired.


Gas Pedal


Before leaving the loading area, a cast member will ensure that your seat belt is fastened and instruct you NOT to bump the car in front of you. Of course, no child driving alone pays any attention to this warning or those posted on the car or along the route. Fortunately, the spring-loaded bumpers absorb the vast majority of force generated by a collision and whiplash isn't likely to ensue.


Cast Member Giving Instructions

Warning Signs

Warning Signs


Steering is another tricky element of the drive. The wheels seem to overcompensate the slightest turn, causing your car to bounce against the center guide rail again and again. For kids, this is great fun. For adults driving alone, use this as a challenge and see if you can maneuver the entire course without hitting the guide rail.

To add to the realism of a high speed race, speakers are positioned all along the course and authentic raceway sounds can be heard as you drive the speedway. Even Tom Carnegie, the longtime public address announcer for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, can be heard broadcasting the current standings.

Here are a few pictures of the speedway taken from the driver's seat.


Pictures from the Car

Pictures from the Car

Pictures from the Car

Pictures from the Car

Pictures from the Car

Pictures from the Car

Pictures from the Car


Another great thing about the Tomorrowland Speedway is that it offers many great photo opportunities. There numerous places around the track where you can snap pictures of friends and family as they pass by.


Jack in a Speedway Car

Jack in a Speedway Car


After completing the race, drivers are given an Official Speedway License. If you don't get one, ask.


Speedway License

Speedway License


Near the finish line is Victory Circle. This spot symbolizes all of the winners of the Tomorrowland Speedway.


Victory Circle


Near the Tomorrowland Speedway is the ever-present shop. Well, actually not a shop, but a cart " Racing Specialties. All of the merchandise sold here is automobile related. Items like antenna toppers, Disney family decals, and toys from the Disney/Pixar movie “Cars” are available.


Tomorrowland-Speedway-44.jpg

Tomorrowland-Speedway-45.jpg


As always, I have created a short video of this attraction. To view it, click on the picture below.



For an adult, the Tomorrowland Speedway is far from being the most exciting attraction at the Magic Kingdom. But for a kid, it can be the highlight of their visit. I vividly remember a cold winter night in 1961. I was nine years old and visiting Disneyland with my parents and two of my friends. We'd already ridden the recently built Matterhorn, Monorail, and Submarine Voyage. So we headed next to the Autopia. After completing the circuit, we asked my parents if we could ride again " and again " and again. As wonderful as the new attractions were, driving our own car was the ultimate adventure.



The previous post in this blog was Art of Animation – Little Mermaid Section .

The next post in this blog is A History of Dinoland U.S.A. and Restaurantosaurus - Part One.

Comments (21)

Josh:

hey Jack
This was a must do attraction when I was younger and i still ride this from time to time now. even though it is not as exciting as it was when i was a kid, it helps bring back memories from my younger days. I also love how you got the airel shots from the people mover, very smart. can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Wonderful blog, as always, Jack. We especially enjoy this attraction at night. Its a whole different experience than during the day.

Jim:

I never realized the pictures in the queue as usually we are moving quickly past that the layout for the other Disney raceways look like they are alot more fun to ride. Glad you mentioned the steering issues as I thought I was just always getting a car that was worn out and nea impossible to steer. One thing you should have mentioned is to brace yourself at the finish line for the young kids coming in behind you. They definitely like to tap the cars stopped in front of them.

Jack's Comment:

You're right. With the exception of Tokyo, which is almost identical to Disney World, the other tracks are far more entertaining.

JRL:

Great blog, as usual. I had no idea that the current track is a shortened version! Since I've only been coming to WDW for the past 10 years, I've always just thought of it as a significantly lesser versoion (both in length and theme) of Autotopia at DL.

Like so many others, my kids love the Raceway. My biggest gripe is the lack of shade and diesel fumes involved in waiting for the line. It adds the theme, right?

Being 6'4'', it is one of the least comfortable rides for me at the MK (the Barnstormer is right there as well). As I contort my legs into the car, it helps to remember how much I loved and looked forward to Autotopia at DL when I was a child.

A couple of tips for parents with mulitple kids who are not yet tall enough to drive on their own. A single adult can take two kids on the ride. And when doing so, if requested upon entering the vehicle, they will tag your vehicle such that the you can switch children in the driving position and take a second lap without waiting through the line again.

Alternatively, since it has a minimum height, Raceway offers riderswap pass for those with small children, so that is a nice way for your budding F-1 driver to enjoy the attraction again.

Davida:

My then 10YO son just loved this when we visited last November. When we last visited, he couldn't drive by himself. We made a circuit between the speedway, Buzz Lightyear, & the teacups, with occasional forays to other rides. I spent a lot of time in the grandstand, trying to get the perfect picture.

One time there was a traffic jam, just like back home in DC. The girl at the front of the line was too busy texting to notice that it was her turn to pull away.

Myma:

This is one ride I just don't get why it is so popular. I just find it boring.
Perhaps when my kids reach 32" tall, and they pull me towards it I will develop a different perspective.

Greg H.:

Hi Jack,

My first trip to The Magic Kingdom was in December of 1988, so I never had the experience of a child's perspective.

I grew up with Autopia at Disneyland, and am quite surprised to learn that the center rail was added in 1965. I thought it was added long before that.

I don't remember how old I was, but I have a very vivid memory of riding Autopia as a very small child, and there was no center rail. At some point I got stuck on the curb and a cast member with some sort of pry tool, had to walk out and rescue me. I remember being completely humiliated.

Shooting video on The Tomorrowland Speedway, I was surprised at the difficulty of the steering. I wondered, how the heck are kids supposed to steer these cars? Then again, I was shooting video and trying to drive. This should be a PSA about texting while driving. ;-)

Although, as an adult The Tomorrowland Speedway doesn't hold the allure it would have if I happened to be 10-12, I am lacking 3D photos from this attraction, so I know there will be rides in my future. I'm relieved to hear that the steering wasn't "just me." LOL!

I thing the bottom line is that Magic Kingdom just wouldn't be Magic Kingdom without this attraction. It's nice to see early images from its earlier inCARnations.

Greg

I rode this last year, and being in my middle 20's I of course can drive a regular car. I was hoping to get an english/european style car just to test it out. but to my surprise even the american style was hard... lol.

charissa:

Wow! I'm surprised by how much of the ride has disapeared over the years. But the way my kid drives, I'm glad I've only experienced the short version. Great blog, Jack. Look forward to the next installment.

Tim:

What music did you use in the video? I can't quite place it.

Nice work, as always!

Jack's Answer:

The music is "Summon The Heroes." It was the 1996 Summer Olympics theme.

Dave:

AAHHH, the freedom of the open road!
That was a great blog Jack!
The last ime I was on it was when my youngest daughter was about 6, she's now 39. I guess it's time for a eide when we visit next.

Sarah:

Hi Jack!

One of my best vacation memories comes from this ride. When I was 19 I took my first vacation to Disney without my parents. I went with a 27 year old friend who hadn't been since she was 5. She only remembered the Tea Cups and the Speedway from that trip so of course we had to go on both of those rides!

When our turn came on the Speedway I let my friend drive. Although she is a very good driver in real life, she couldn't handle this! She was one of those drivers who bounced back and forth on the track and she did it the whole way around. By the time we got off we were laughing so hard we could barely breathe!

While the Speedway may not be one of my favorite rides, that will always be one of my favorite memories!

Thanks for the article!
Sarah

Rebecca:

Was riding this 2 weeks ago with my 6yo and 3yo! Like the above poster commented, I had no idea that they would let you go around twice to give each child a chance to "drive". Very neat. They loved it. We got the red car, which my son loved because he said it looked like Lightning McQueen. LOL. We banged back and forth on the rail the whole way! The view once you get out onto the "open road" is so pretty, but gosh is the loading area LOUD!!

I don't really remember riding it as a child due to the very long lines, but I can see the appeal.

I never knew that the press box was used for VIPs...what do they do with it now, Jack?

Jack's Answer:

I really don't know what the VIP lounge is used for today. Someone told me CMs use it as a break area, but I can't confirm this.

Jack:

I enjoy all of your entries - although our opinions often differ. I've never understood the appeal of this ride, nor understand why Disney retains it since it has no real tie back to movie, character, or underlying theme - especially when it is so easlily replicated at any small town with a go-kart track? The queue, load-time, and ride itself don't justify the space given. And the exhaust fumes, noise, and theme detract from the surrounding areas. It seems an attraction WDW could re-locate nearer the speedway? I've always WDW would repurpose the area (or possibly upgrade to a "CARS" theme?) In any case, your blog and the associated comments always help give the other side of the story for something I consider an eye-ear-and-nose sore!

Jack's Comment:

First, I think it's great that you disagree with some of my opinions. I'm certainly NOT the "end all" authority on all things Disney.

When I write my blogs, I try to be neutral to positive in my approach. I'm not really here to bash Disney -- although I occasionally do.

When it comes to the Tomorrowland Speedway, we probably think more alike than you might imagine.

I totally agree. This attraction needs to be updated. The "Autopias" at Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland are all far superior and more entertaining than the Orlando and Tokyo versions (which are almost identical). The track layouts are far more elaborate and there are many things to see along the route. And the Hong Kong version uses electric cars. On the other hand, the Tomorrowland Speedway is boring to most adults.

So why doesn't Disney rip out or upgrade the Tomorrowland Speedway? First, there really isn't a need to. This is a popular ride just the way it is. The fact that you and I find it outdated and boring is irrelevant. This attraction forms long lines shortly after opening that remain all day. Why spend money on something that isn't "broke."

Disney only has so much money to spend on upgrades and new attractions. What would YOU like to see them spend it on after the New Fantasyland is complete? Is Tomorrowland Speedway what you'd pick?

AvitarLand has already been announced. Even though very few people are thrilled with this proposal, as far as I know, Disney is going through with it. I'm sure we're talking $100m plus. Also, the rumors are fast and furious that the Backlot Tour at Disney's Hollywood Studios will be torn out soon and replaced with California Adventure's CarsLand (I hope so). So there is another $100m plus. If this rumor is true, the retheming of the Tomorrowland Speedway to a "Cars" theme would be somewhat redundant.

I have no idea if Disney has any future plans for the Tomorrowland Speedway. For all I know, they'll make an announcement tomorrow for a completely new ride experience. But I doubt it. My guess is this attraction is VERY low on their priority list.

Dan:

Thanks for bringing back the childhood memories! I can smell the vapors now :)

Jay:

A classic attraction and one that we still go on as my teenage daughter has not outgrown it. I like the different views as you drive around the track. I always thought they should change it though and make the cars look like the cars from the movie cars. Would be fun to drive a Lightning McQueen around the speedway.

Another fun blog Jack.

I especally liked the 1972 "barren" photos.

Keep up the great work!

christine:

Hi Jack,
Great article! I tried driving one of these cars a few years ago and couldn't keep it straight, so I won't try it again! And every year when we go, I sit on a bench near the Tea Cups, in the sun, and wait for my family. I finally noticed this year, while riding the Transit Authority, that there was a viewing stand. My family never told me. They just figured that I knew and didn't want to sit there. Well...that's something new I can do next year when we go!
And what does it entail when a company sponsors an attraction?
Thanks!!

Jenny Sperandeo:

Hi Jack! This is one of the Magic Kingdom's classics. One cannot visit the MK and not "drive" one of the Speedway cars. It's an oldie, but a goodie in my opinion. Thanks for another great blog!

gary:

Howdy Jack,

Would you happen to know if the other Disney parks will be converting gas-powered cars for electric vehicles like the Hong Kong park? It would help eliminate the noise and smell, but maybe that's what kids (& and some adults) desire (which could be duplicated with sound-tracks and odorizers...)
Thanks for your installment and for being Mickey's down-the-road-neighbor!

Jack's Answer:

Sorry. I don't know.

In my own opinion, I'm not sure this is a good idea at Tokyo Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. These are supposed to be race tracks. Race cars run on gasoline, not electricity. This could detract from the theming. But like you say, the cars at HK have "engine sounds" built into them. Maybe this could work.

However I think the idea of electric cars at the Disneyland and Disneyland Paris Autopias is fantastic. These are roadways-of-the-future and electric cars would fit here perfectly.

Carolyn:

My son and husband always ride this without me, the fumes give me a roaring headache. My son always says that when he becomes an Imagineer, he will convert the cars to run on hydrogen so that I can ride it without the headache!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 24, 2012 7:33 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Art of Animation – Little Mermaid Section .

The next post in this blog is A History of Dinoland U.S.A. and Restaurantosaurus - Part One.

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