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Get your ticket to ride at WDW’s Richard Petty Driving Experience

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Get your ticket to ride at WDW’s Richard Petty Driving Experience

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Last Monday afternoon, I got pulled over by the Florida Highway Patrol.

It was all my fault. I was out on State Road 429. I was rushing to get back to property so that Nancy and I could do a little shopping at Downtown Disney before we then headed out for the airport. And six miles north of Western Way (You know? Where that Disney World expansion area – Flamingo Crossings – is eventually going to be built?), I rolled straight into a speed trap.

Flamingo Crossing future development at Walt Disney World concept art
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

And as that Highway patrolman handed me a ticket for doing 80 in a 65 MPH zone, I felt … Well, I felt a lot of things. Angry because I now had to pay a $204 fine. Stupid because I know better than to drive 80 MPH in a rental car. And then – on top of that … Well, I felt sort of amused.

“Why amused?,” you ask. Because that Florida Highway patrolman actually thought that going 80 MPH was speeding.

A Richard Petty Driving Experience mechanic checks Jim's car before he takes off for the track
Photo by Brad Powell

80 MPH? According to the guys who operate the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World Speedway, going 80 MPH is just getting warmed up. You wanna talk speeding? Then try going 165 MPH while you’re seated inside of an authentic NASCAR-style stock car as you do a Ride-Along. Better yet, when you take the wheel yourself and then do 8 laps around that 1 mile-long track in the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot with a 600 horsepower engine screaming in your ears.

Late last month, as part of the ESPN Wide World of Sports grand opening / rebranding event, I (and a number of other Disney webmasters) actually got to do the Richard Petty rookie driving experience. Which is basically this three hour-long class that culminates with you sliding in through a 15 inch-wide window, the track’s safety staff strapping you into place and then … Well, after they attach that wheel onto the steering column, it’s go time.

Jim Hill gets ready to take off on his racing experience at the Richard Pettry Driving Experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando
Photo by Brad Powell

I gotta tell you – after all those years of listening WDW safety spiels (“"Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor mantengan se alejado de las puertas") – it was a little disconcerting to be right there on property, just a mile or so from WDW’s signature theme park, and then learn the proper procedure for putting out a fire. Should one break out while you’re strapped inside of that stock car (i.e. When in doubt, pull the blue tab. Which then sets off the driver’s compartment fire extinguisher ).

Which – I know – makes the Richard Petty Driving Experience sound kind of dangerous. But that’s the beauty of the training component of this three hour-long Rookie Experience session. Before you climb behind the wheel, the Petty people make sure that you’re extremely well versed when it comes to the proper operation of that stock car. Which is why – before you step out onto the track – they make you watch several safety videos.

The class listens to a description of the safety features in the race cars at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World
Photo by Brad Powell

And once that’s done, your class is then broken down into smaller groups and moved through several hands-on training stations. And for those of us who felt a little rusty when it came to the proper way to manually shift a car and/or use a clutch, there was additional instruction offered.

The end result is – while you may have felt nervous as you walked out onto the track and got ready to climb into your vehicle – you also felt prepared. That you were in good hands. More importantly, that you could actually do this. Do 8 laps at 80, 90, 100 MPH while driving a 600 horsepower stock car all by yourself.

Jim Hill has his XXL helmet on and is all set to start his Richard Petty Driving Experience
Photo by Brad Powell

Just before it ‘s time for you to get behind the wheel, the Richard Petty staffers pulls you aside and then fits with you a helmet. And in my case … Well, they actually had to go with the XXL helmet (You see? What they’ve been saying about me for years on all those other Disney discussion boards turned out to be true. Jim Hill really is a fat head).

Anyway … After channeling my inner Winnie the Pooh, I was actually able to squeeze through that 15-inch wide window and then take a seat in the car. And after the safety tech strapped me into that 6-point safety harness and then patiently reviewed the proper way to operate this stock car (EX: “Could you please depress the clutch for me, Mr. Hill? … No, that’s the gas … And that’s the brake … Keep going to your left. It’s a process of elimination, son … Yes. That one.”), they snapped that black fabric driver’s side window into place and … We were off.

A Richard Petty Driving Experience employee gives Jim Hill last minute instructions before he heads out on the track
Photo by Brad Powell

Now when I say “we” … Well, I may have been the one driving the car. But I was never actually alone out there while I was out doing laps around the Walt Disney World Speedway. Just ahead of me at all times is my pace car. Which flashes a yellow light if I was getting too close (you’re always supposed to maintain a distance of 4-to-5 car lengths between yourself and the pace car) or a green light if I needed to pick up my speed.

And let me tell you folks: 8 laps may not sound like much before you climb into that car. But when you’re actually out there on the WDW Speedway, with that 600 horsepower engine screaming in your ears, and all those other pairs of Richard Petty Driving Experience drivers zooming by you, coming on and off the track … 8 trips around that 1 mile-long track can seem like a very long time. Especially when you’re trying to build up your speed as well as always maintain a safe distance from your pace car.

Jim Hill follows the pro race car by the required 3 car lengths
Photo by Brad Powell

In the end, the fastest that I was able to go (because I was a boob and kept riding the clutch) was 93 MPH. Whereas Nancy … She kicked my ass. Her highest speed was 100.33 MPH.

When we left the Walt Disney World Speedway that morning, Nancy and I were exhilarated. As we rode back to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, we blithered about how we needed to get back to WDW’s Richard Petty Driving Experience ASAP so that we could then try the King’s Experience (which is 18 laps over 2 sessions) or the Experience of a Lifetime (which is 30 laps over 3 sessions). We even talked about whether we should take Nancy’s Dad down to the Atlanta Motor Speedway so that we could then treat him to a Ride-Along at the Richard Petty Driving Experience there (Which is just one of the 20 tracks around the country that now offer this experience).

Jim Hill and Nancy Stadler posing at the Richard Petty Driving Experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando
Photo by Brad Powell

Long story short: Driving a NASCAR-style stock car that fast is genuinely exhilarating. And once you do it, it's a definitely an experience that you're going to want to repeat / try to recreate … Which perhaps explains how I wound up with that $204 speeding ticket last week.

So don’t make the same mistake that I did, folks. Zooming around the Walt Disney World is far more enjoyable – and only slightly more expensive (when you take into consideration the financial impact that this speeding ticket is now going to have on my auto insurance rate) – then getting pulled over for doing 80 MPH in a rental car.

Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

For further information on the Richard Petty Driving Experience, please click on this link.

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  • This article was worth reading just to see you in a NASCAR jumpsuit, Jim. :)  It was nice to finally see Nancy, too.

  • The one thing I think about after reading all this is that I'm forced to keep in mind that everyone has an opinion. Good or bad that's just the way it is. I like the site, keep it up.

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