A Need for Speed: Racing on the Tomorrowland Speedway
Inside my wallet there is a heavily faded driver’s license. It reads: Tomorrowland Speedway License of Tomorrow. While I’m not inclined to brag, the license class is listed as “Visionary,” which I think speaks for itself. It’s one of my prized possessions. My wife can attest to how many times I talked about getting one and the heartbreak I suffered on a trip when the photo booths which create the licenses were temporarily out of order. She can also attest to the wild elation I felt when I finally managed to get my hands on one. There was dancing and cheering. My children were embarrassed.
I love the Tomorrowland Speedway. Maybe it comes from listening to too many Bruce Springsteen songs, tunes like “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run,” but for my money, not much beats climbing in your automobile with the top down on a warm night and cruising around the track at a blazing 7.5 miles per hour.
Guests have been enjoying the Tomorrowland Speedway since Walt Disney World’s opening day, though originally it was known as the Gran Prix Raceway. It was meant to be Walt Disney World’s answer to Disneyland’s Autopia. The original track, which was sponsored by Goodyear, stretched 2,260 feet. However, it was later shortened when Mickey’s Birthdayland opened in 1988.
Starting in 1999, Disney partnered with the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway and was renamed the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway. Fans of the Indy 500 would also see references to the race scattered throughout the attraction during this period. Among the most notable allusions were the Yard of Bricks, the Scoring Pylon, Gasoline Alley (the garage area), and the wheel and wing logo. To the best of my knowledge however, Disney did not adopt certain other Indy traditions. Peanuts have never been considered bad luck on the Tomorrowland Speedway, and the curse of the Smiths does not (I am fairly certain) exist in the Magic Kingdom.
In 2008, the attraction dropped the name Indy from the title, and it recently underwent minor adjustments due to the ongoing construction of the Tron Lightcycle Power Run. However, despite all these changes, the Tomorrowland Speedway is, for all intents and purposes, the same attraction it was nearly fifty years ago.
A total of 146 cars are used at the Tomorrowland Speedway. The specific model is known as the Autopia Mark VII. Resembling a 1960’s era Corvette Stingray, the Mark VII runs around the track with a center guide rail to ensure that accidents don’t take place. Of course, control is not one of the Mark VII’s more notable features and it isn’t uncommon for the vehicles to careen from side to side, bumping off the guide rail as Guests make their way around the track.
Anyone who has frequented the Tomorrowland Speedway, or even passed near it, knows that the Mark VII runs on gasoline. The smell of gas permeates the air near the attraction. So, when you plant your foot on that gas pedal, that’s real combustion launching you from zero to 7.5 miles per hour.
My favorite time to ride the Tomorrowland Speedway is during special events, specifically during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Colorful lights are spread out around the track and a holiday soundtrack is blasted over speakers. It’s a truly magical experience.
There’s one more element that makes the attraction special. Every rider is greeted at the end by the waving of a checkered flag. It’s a NASCAR tradition, and is the perfect ending touch. As a cast member waves you across the finish line, it’s easy to imagine for a moment that you’re racing with Lightning McQueen, Doc Hudson, and Cruz Ramirez. Of course, it may take a few races before you’re ready to compete for the Piston Cup.