Guest post by David Zanolla
A Colt Vista station wagon, a Ford Escort wagon and a Ford Focus.
That’s what I’m used to driving; look them up. None of them exactly say “speed.” If you need more evidence that I’m not a speedster on the roads, consider the following quote from my father-in-law. In 2008, we bought a minivan in advance of the birth of our second child. My father-in-law didn’t know what it looked like and unknowingly passed my wife Leah and I on the highway one afternoon. When we saw him next, Leah jokingly said, “Thanks for not waving as you passed us the other day in our van!” His response? “That was you? I thought it was a grandmother driving her teenage granddaughter.” To add insult to injury – I was the one driving.
Hopefully, the above information provides context as to why the Exotic Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway was the perfect chance for me to try something new. No carseats. No traffic. No side streets. Just me behind the wheels of a very expensive sports car. SPOILER ALERT: It was a blast and something I recommend to anyone who has a free afternoon while on a Walt Disney World vacation…read on to find out why.
For my 30th birthday, my wife threw me out of a moving airplane (she sent me skydiving). For my most recent birthday, she decided to put me in a very fancy sports car to drive at usually illegal speeds (I’m starting to think she’s trying to kill me). I had been wanting to try the Exotic Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway for quite some time, but never had the opportunity while we were in Orlando. On a recent trip, I had some free time and since we were staying on Disney property, we were able to take advantage of the complimentary shuttle provided by the Speedway. All we had to do was get to the Ticket and Transportation Center and wait by the “Shuttle Pick-Up” sign.
The sign was clearly displayed and, even for someone as directionally challenged as me, was easy to find once we arrived.
Since Leah arranged everything for me, I had no idea what I would be driving until I arrived at the Speedway. The check-in desk was located in the same central area as the souvenir shop and briefing room. The employees were incredibly friendly and walked me through the process of signing all of the usual documents. I was handed a flash drive (they called it a “gigstick“) that would be used to record my ride and was informed about the car I would be driving.
I still had some time before my training session began, so while Leah wandered around the building taking pictures, I decided to get some feedback from a friend of ours who is a huge car nut. He was the first person I wanted to contact upon finding out what I was driving. The following is an exact transcript of our text conversation:
Me: Looks like I’ll be driving a Ferrari 430.
Me: That’s good?
Ethan: Yes. That’s awesome.
Me: Tell me why. I drive a Focus.
Ethan: Ferrari has so much SOUL.
Me: Is that like soul food?
Ethan: Kind of like soul food, but faster and less grease. It’s a handcrafted car with premium materials. Also, it goes 0-60 in the blink of an eye. And the sound it will make….you will hear it in your dreams.
Me: In my dreams? That’s odd.
Ethan: GET READY. I AM SO JEALOUS.
(Needless to say, this experience would be an amazing present for Ethan if anyone is still looking.)
When it was time for our training session, all of the drivers (as well as anyone accompanying them) took seats in the classroom where we watched a video and learned how the entire process was going to unfold. In all, the class lasted approximately 45 minutes.
After the class, we were brought out to meet our expert drivers (who would ride in the passenger seat and control how fast we could drive) and to take a picture standing next to the car we would be driving. They were available for purchase afterwards and even though my wife had taken the below photo of me with our personal camera, the official photo was from a much better angle, so we purchased it on our way out.
I call this photo: Large man; little car. (I was actually considering a Lamborghini, but was advised it might be a tight squeeze).
After photos were done, the drivers were sent to a set of track-side bleachers where we could watch others drive while we waited for our turn. At first, I was frustrated that I had to wait, but after a few drivers, I was thankful I was able to watch other drivers navigate the track before I went out and made an idiot of myself. When it was time for my group to drive, they summoned us to the loading area. Upon arriving under the large tent, we put on our helmets (provided by the track) and an employee checked in with us one final time to make sure we knew how the experience would progress. Repeated communication with a track employee was something that demonstrated just how effective training had been (in fact, since they’re associated with Walt Disney World, all employees at the complex take part in Traditions, the same training curriculum as every other cast member at the parks, resorts and hotels).
Once I got in the car, the experience went a lot faster than I expected. The professional driver riding shotgun once again explained how everything was going to work. He had a knob that he could use to control how fast I could drive and, as the laps progressed, as long as I was demonstrating adherence to the rules and regulations, he would turn it up so I could reach for higher speeds.
The course itself was not very complicated. There is one long straightaway followed by a section of hairpin turns meant to let drivers test the superior handling abilities of these cars. On my first lap, I didn’t accelerate very fast down the straightaway, which was a nice chance to get a feel for the car (another spoiler alert: It’s much faster than my Ford Focus). As I entered the section of hairpin turns, the driver reminded me that there were brightly colored cones (red and yellow in the below picture) meant to serve as vision checkpoints to help guide me through this portion of track. I was to rotate passing the front edges of my bumper alongside these cones, alternating left and right. Never having been someone to navigate hairpin turns in my commuter car, these cones were extremely helpful. As on the straightaway, I was probably overcautious during my first lap, but I was ready to step it up for my remaining laps.
These remaining five laps went by way too quickly, not by any design flaw of the course, but because I was having a blast and wanted to keep driving once I got the hang of it. At no point did I feel in danger and at no point did I feel like I was pushing the car to its limits. In fact, I’m sure I could have gone faster if I wasn’t such a wimp. When I completed my drive, I went into the main building and was able to view my stats in terms of average speed, high speed, average lap time, etc. As it turns out, I only topped out at 100 miles per hour. I say only as if I drive that every day; it was plenty fast for me. In addition to being able to purchase the photos taken of you before your drive, you can also purchase a “gigstick” of your entire drive. The gigstick includes two different angles of on-ride video (one view of me as I drove and one road view from a camera on the front of the car. The interior view also includes audio, so Leah heard me tell the driver that my wife might be trying to kill me. The jig is up!
In all, this was an amazing experience. I never thought myself to be someone who would have a desire to do something like this once, let alone multiple times. Normally, on a Walt Disney World vacation, I want to spend as much time in the parks as possible. As a result, losing a few hours out of my day to drive a luxury sports car wouldn’t normally be on my radar. However, now that I’ve done it, I can’t wait to find the time to get back behind the wheel of a different car and see if I can beat my previous top speed.
For now though, I’m off to worry about what my next birthday present might be…
Discount Ticket can be purchased here.
Disclaimer: The Exotic Driving Experience provided me with this driving session and the gigstick for review purposes, but all opinions are my own.
Category: Disney World