I never realized that auto racing is the biggest spectator sport in America, and the number 2 rated regular season sport on TV. But savvy race fans know that they can experience that same visceral thrill of their favorite sport right here at the Walt Disney World Speedway’s “Richard Petty Driving Experience”, where they can drive or ride shotgun in an authentic racing stock car. But when I atteneded a press event here at the Walt Disney World Speedway, home of the Richard Petty Driving Experience, I came to realize why. The event was to showcase a brand-new driving experience for the kids…The “Junior Ride-Along” Now kids’ ages 6years thru 13years can experience the same thrill that their parents have experienced since the program started in 2000. But a quick history of the sport and the speedway is in order.
I spoke to Justin Simpson, operations manager for the speedway and he gave a brief history of the track. “It was originally constructed in 1995 by the Indy racing league and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Indy cars, the first race run in 1996. But after a while, they stopped using the track and that is when the “Richard Petty Driving Experience” company, which is a private company that is a world leader in Motorsport entertainment, sometimes called “Motortainment” The 20 year old company’s main focus is to allow the race fan or anyone interested in cars to experience firsthand the thrill of actually driving a bona-fide stock car or riding as a passenger around a sanctioned oval track. The best part is you do not need prior experience, nor know how to drive a standard transmission. The company approached Walt Disney World with the idea for the resort and the rest is history.
Justin continues…”For the drivers, each student receives about an hour instruction in the briefing Room and what to expect, the details about the experience, reference points, how to shift and meeting their instructors” “It’s a totally immersive experience” If you want to just ride along, you will suit up, put on a helmet and a professional driver will take you around the oval. He added that the speedway is the first location that started the “Right Seat Instructional Program” Traditionally drivers would follow a lead car, but here, guests have no reference car out in front, so they get the feel of racing on the track by themselves. Your instructor/coach sitting at your right side, coaches you through the ride, giving instantaneous feedback, giving the drivers a better experience.
I asked how fast the cars go. Justin explained that the speed of the cars is limited by the track. “We use no rev-limiters or governors, our guests take full advantage of the 600 horsepower of the NASCAR style cars so they get the full effect of a professional race car driver’s experience” There are three experiences…A rookies experience, King’s experience and the Experience of a lifetime. The rookie is 8 laps around the track; the King’s offers 18 laps in two rounds and the experience of a lifetime is 30 laps in three rounds, all giving instructor feedback and coaching.
Another new program was launched in January of 2012 called the “Exotic Driving Experience” In this very popular addition; guests can get a chance to drive or ride, six different Exotic production cars. From Ferraris’ Lamborghini’s, Porsche’s and Audi’s, guests can experience riding in one of these ultra-expensive vehicles without the huge price tag. But unlike the stock cars, the Exotic’s run through a specially designed road course. Again, like the stock cars, you take the cars through their paces, and if you are just doing the ride-along, you only have to suit up and have fun. The stock car experience and the Exotic experience can be had on alternate days.
Now that we got though some of the basic information, let’s get right to the kids program. I spoke to Jessica Inman who is the marketing manager for the speedway. She gave me the lowdown on the new “Junior Ride-Along Program” The program made its bow as a soft opening in June of 2012. She said that…”Disney wanted to form a program for the family so the kids can experience the same excitement their parents enjoyed” She added…”Children are coming here all the time, the get so excited seeing their parents riding or driving; the program appeals to kids who want to have fun” And she added…”In the interim, we foster new fans for the sport” “ We have had a tremendous response and Disney is very happy because it is now a family experience”. Jessica stated that they have a partnership with race car driver Randy Lajoie’ company “The Joie of Seating” which customizes racing car seats. They developed a special seat for kids’ 6-13years old which makes it possible to get the kids into the stock cars in complete safety.
As with the adults, there are no reservations required for the junior ride-along. The kids get suited up in a fire suit, a special safety device called a “Hans” for neck protection and a professional driver talks to the kids, lets them know what to expect and then the kids get that ride of a lifetime, three full laps around the oval track! There is lots of excitement here, judging by the laughter and wide-eyed looks as the kids suited up and got ready to ride, this program is going to be a winner. And looking at the mile long smiles as the kids got out of the cars, I knew it was time to ask a few of them what they thought…
I spoke to Cayden Marin, 9yrs old from Orlando Florida. I asked if this was his first time in a race car and what did he think…”Yes he responded, “I loved it, it was awesome” I also inquired if he was scared a bit getting into the car and he said…”At first I was a little scared, but after, I was so excited” “So would you do it again? “Oh Yes” was the quick reply. I got the ladies view of the program, speaking to Lauren Clunn, 12yrs old from Vero Beach Florida, I again asked what she thought of the experience and she immediately retorted…”I thought it was wonderful, I had a great time” She said this was her first experience with race cars and it “Was Awesome” I asked if she was now a fan, she said “Maybe” with a large smile.
Melinda Gill, Caydens’ Aunt was also caught up in the kid’s adventure…”I want to go and do it myself!” she added…”I was so excited for Cayden” Laurens Mom Stephanie echoed Melinda’s sentiments. “I thought it was ridiculously amazing, I think my husband had the green-eyed monster in him” “We are coming back here for Christmas!” To wrap up this report, I got a take on the program from professional driver and instructor Shaun Cannon. Shaun said that “This is a fantastic opportunity to plant the seed of being a Motorsports fan for kids at an early age” He continues…”It gives a great perspective on the sport, to sit in the car, hear the sounds, feel the motor rev and race around the track” I asked about the kids reactions and he said “It’s been so positive, just to see their smiles as they get into the cars, it’s amazing! “It’s a great time for the family to enjoy the sport together at the Walt Disney World Speedway”
So there you have it. If you are a race fan, now you can enjoy the sport with your youngest members of the family, together as a family in the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World. For complete information about times, pricing and booking, call 1800-BEPETTY (1-800-237-3889) or visit their website at www.drivepetty.com.