A review of the Richard Petty Experience at Disney World
Wow, what a day, driving 50 laps in a Nascar Sprint Cup car, car #11, I guess a Denny Hamlin hand me down. My wife bought me the 50 lap "Speedway Challenge" at the Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) at Disney World's 1 mile Tri-Oval track for my 60th birthday. PLEASE NOTE: Disney has closed the Disney World Speedway; unfortunate! It was a very fun track!
Good, Lead/Follow format!
My wife took a great shot of me with Shawn. I was surprised to learn, after I met Shawn Cannon, that the "Speedway Challenge" was actually still a follow behind or "lead/follow" format versus a Right Seat Instructor format. The website had hinted that all the various experiences were converting to Right Seat Instructor format. Shawn explained that RPDE had experimented with the Right Side Instructor Format in their Exotic Car program and had gotten a lot of positive feedback. So they were converting most of the programs to this format. He also mentioned that it cuts their cost significantly because they are only using up one car instead of two. With the Right Seat instruction you can get much more immediate feedback. Thinking about the costs; typically a Nascar racer must go through a set of tires in 40 laps. These tires cost $2000 a set. It also explains the rest breaks every ten laps where they carefully checked my tires. And perhaps cost is yet another reason, other than safety, for not using the brakes at all on the track. The only time I used the brakes was to test them and stop the car in the pit lane.
Lead/Follow, or Right Seat Instructor?
For my experience I believe I preferred the follow behind scheme. It gave me tons of confidence that my car, #11, would easily do whatever the car in front of me could do. So I feel I got up to speed very quickly. Shawn mentioned toward the end of my experience that he was taking me around the track as fast as he was allowed to, within 1/2 a second. My wife was watching the whole time and said I appeared to be going much faster than the other drivers trying the Right Seat Instructor format. I believe, given 50 laps, that I would have probably achieved the same speed as the lead/follow format, but remember the other programs typically allow for far fewer laps. Shawn and other employees did say that 50 laps was a lot! Before I drove I was figuring, hmm, 1 mile track at 120 mph, technically I could be done in 25 minutes of driving, but, we were probably there for 4 1/2 hours.
First you receive some video training with the signaling system they use. A left yellow turn signal on the lead car means too close. A green right turn signal on the lead car means speed up. Simple. Also on the track itself a single cone meant a braking point and a double cone meant an acceleration point.
The ride is broken into 10 lap segments, after the first 3 lap ride along. The 10 lap segment gives RPDE staff time to check tires, make sure I was hydrated and I was also able to talk with Shawn who was sitting beside me in his "car of the future"! The new car with unified design and splitter, etc. My car was an old classic Sprint/Winston Cup car that might be more capable than the "car of the future".
I believe that today, Dec. 2012, only the "Speedway Challenge" still remains a "lead/follow" format, three car lengths behind a professional driver, and you are alone in your car.
A tip for the Speedway
If you wear a wallet in your rear pocket, like I do. Get rid of it before you put your safety suit on. That wallet in my pocket made it much more difficult to get in and out of Shawn's car for the ride around. Give somebody your wallet, or, put it in your front pocket. The wallet gets caught on the top of the door really hanging you up! I pretty much took my suit back off to get the wallet out of my pocket. So for the fifty lap "Speedway Challenge" getting in and out of the car was much easier.
I am lucky, I can drive a stick/manual transmission
I pretty much started out driving a 3 speed on the column when I was learning to drive. I also own a Z28 Camaro 6 speed 285 Horsepower car, which I rarely take out anymore. We live on a dirt road, a mile from pavement. There have been many times the road is in such poor condition I would not dare take the Camaro out, it would just bottom out! I did not publish all the videos, but you could tell, while driving all 50 laps, I got pretty comfortable with clutch and shifting, sloppy at first, but pretty smooth toward the end. Shifting is really limited to going down pit road, up shifting, hitting 3rd before entering the track, then accelerating up the banking and into 4th, from there on out you cruise in 4th. At the very end of a ten lap segment you slip into neutral as you enter pit lane and coast from there. I believe, they will now push start you onto the track if you cannot drive a stick.
Three lap ride along
The three lap ride along was first. Shawn hammered the throttle down the pit straight and was in third when he hit the FLAT pit turn. Man quite a bit of G Force and I could tell he was trying to hammer home that you could really trust the car to turn, "just like a big go cart", to quote Shawn.
At my 10 lap first break I mentioned to Shawn that the cones were confusing me, because he was not doing what the cones implied should be done. Shawn said do exactly what I do and forget the cones. Which I think allowed me to be much more aggressive in entering the corners, and the most fun of all was romping on the gas exiting the corners driving up the banking. Shawn, had also corrected my line coming out of turn one, telling me to stay a little lower, and I followed suit from there on out.
The Disney World track
The Disney World track itself is a 1 mile tri-oval with three banked turns and actually all the straights were banked somewhat too. I think this short track might be the most fun experience of all, because really there are no breaks. You accelerate hard out of a corner down the straight and it is time to let off the gas before you know it. I watched a Daytona ride along video, and basically the car can go flat out down long straightaways and even through the turns! They will not let you drive that fast! To see the Disney Speedway open this link in another tab:
Oddly, some trouble concentrating ...
I did find myself mesmerized at times, over concentrating on staying 3 car lengths behind Shawn in the lead car, versus watching where I was on the track. I just barely noticed the flagman giving me the green and checkered flags after each ten lap segment. I did three 10 lap segments and they got me back out of the car. Frankly that was perfect, I needed a little rest after the first 30 laps.
In addition to the signaling system we had a radio setup where Shawn could talk to me, but he could not hear me. He only talked to me twice for the entire 50 laps. After he had made two suggestions, he told me I was doing really well, my line was good and my steering was smooth, so he was being quiet, letting me work on improving entering and exiting the turns. Like I said before accelerating full throttle out of the turn up the bank on the home straight was quite a rush. In fact my car wanted to drive a little left, but I could see Shawn going straight as an arrow. I asked Shawn about this and he mentioned the stagger on the car was probably making it go left, and toward the end of the 50 laps I was beginning to anticipate this and stay straighter.
I got the yellow signal!
After about twenty laps, entering turn three I was really crawling up the back of Shawn's car, probably down to a car length. He gave me the yellow signal and I backed off, actually a little too much Shawn said on the break. I said to Shawn that his car seemed to decelerate a little faster than mine, and he said OK, you will have to anticipate me a little more, and you know, that was very easy to achieve. So the laps go smoother and smoother and faster and faster.
Look Ma, no brakes?
Another aspect of the all the programs is they do not want you to use the brakes on the car. I could tell this car had a lot more "giddy up" than we were using on the straights. I would accelerate full throttle out of a corner, but we were cruising down the straights at two thirds throttle.
The true Richard Petty driving experience?
So I figured out that the true experience is timing the entry to the turn, feeling the line, and timing the acceleration and line out of a corner. Driving hard into the corners and cruising down the straights, but not going under the minimum allowed lap time. And I was still very pleased with the experience.
My wife watched me the whole time and actually if you watch my ride along video you can see my groupie waiting as we pull into the pit stall.
Well I looked into this after the fact. There have been at least 3 deaths at the Experience, at various tracks. My wife said had she known that she probably would not have arranged this. BUT, they were all heart attacks! I made it through! Some of the Disney rides are more abusive! The Rockin Roller Coaster, I would guess is more likely to give you a heart attack, Space Mountain??? Mission Space seems to give people problems too. That seems to be why Disney added the "light" version where you do not hit 2.4Gs, apparently no Gs at all, which certainly would not have done much for me.
The car did "push" once or twice.
I think the cars are set up with safety in mind. If you over drive the car into the corner the front end will push out, rather than "over steer" where that backend slides out. I think this "push" happened to me twice in my last ten laps. Again, for some reason my concentration was a little off. So, it is great to know that you got near the limit.
I had to buy the video!
The experience does include lap time information and a very nice plaque with several photos they take during the experience. Make sure you get a photo of your instructor. The best thing is the "in car" video, showing the track location, a view of the driver, and the view out the windshield. Which reminds me, coming out of turn one had quite a bit of glare! You cannot miss that in the other video, I have linked here, of my last 10 laps.
Disney transportation to the driving experience
The driving directions to the Speedway are fine, but the instructions for using Disney Transportation are outdated. "The shuttle runs every fifteen minutes, picking up from the pet kennels located at the end of the monorail system at the Disney properties" I do not think there are "pet kennels" any more. And when you think about it; Where is the end of a monorail that goes in a circle? So I guess the best way, especially early in the morning, and if you are staying at Disney properties, is to take a bus to the Magic Kingdom, catch the monorail to the Ticketing and Transportation Center, stop. Then seek out the Disney "Lost and Found" and you should see the Richard Petty Driving Experience shuttle. Here are some GPS coordinates, and Google maps links to make it a lot easier. On your way back to the Magic Kingdom take the ferry to the left of the monorail station, for a nice mellow ride. It seems like the Bus to Magic Kingdom route is the fastest surest route for any time of day.
Richard Petty Experience GPS coordinates
Access Tunnel: 28.397643 -81.581508 Google Maps
Shuttle Pickup: 28.404240 -81.578959 Google Maps
Well I did have a lot of fun at RPDE! Hope you do too!
I wonder what the NHSTA; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, would think of all this? I guess they probably do not worry about it too much. We never did check with our insurance company about this experience. I do not know if Florida has any regulatory involvement. Florida motor vehicles.
BobsHowTo End Marker