The Richard Petty Driving Experience: Fast Times At Disney’s Speedway

Ricard Petty Experience
A ten minute ride to an all day grin: reaching 125 MPH on the racetrack changed this kid's outlook

The Need For Speed: Learning to Love—and Fear—Fast Cars

I worry about a lot of things. Top of the list lately is teaching my daughters to drive, teaching them to be safe, teaching them to be aware. But also on the list is teaching them to listen to the car they’re driving, to love to drive and to enjoy the experience.

Then, there’s the scary part: teaching them to be in awe of speed, both afraid and thrilled at the same time.

Recently, while on a trip to Florida, we made a detour from our beach-and-pool itinerary to spend time on the track at the Richard Petty Experience at DisneyWorld.

It was a ten-minute trip to an all-day grin. 

Ricard Petty Experience

The racetrack at Disney is a custom design perfect for novices or pros, like Richard Petty, who engineered the program

Learning from the King

Richard Petty, to the uninitiated, is the king of NASCAR and head of the Petty racing royal family; his passion for the sport pushed both its evolution and its popularity. There are 10 Petty Drive Experience tracks offering classes and ride-alongs in cities on the East Coast and Midwest.

To get to the track, we drove through the main gate at Disney and followed the roadway to the Richard Petty Experience (we weren’t sure if we should pay for parking, since we were only going to the track; we told the attendant and she waved us through).

The Disney Speedway: A World of it’s own

Ricard Petty Experience

The Lamborghini that marks the Disney Speedway’s entrance

We followed along the roadway, the track to our left, until we reached the entrance marked by a yellow Lamborghini, a smallish sign and a guard gate. The guard took our names and sent us on our way to the infield. We proceeded down the narrow road to a gate that rose to reveal a tunnel that took us under the track and then into the infield. As we exited the tunnel and drove into the infield, we could hear a car racing on the track behind us. Ahead was a single building and a covered seating area where spectators waited to watch and soon-to-be racers waiting for their turn on the track.

Nervous and a little unsure of what to expect, the girls followed me into the building and we checked in for our experience. First up, the girls were sent to pick out and put on a track suit from a rack in the corner of the room while I signed waivers for the drive experience. They were going out onto a Nascar-level oval speed track in a race car capable of speeds up to 240MPH; parental permission is a necessity.

With sneakers on (no open toed shoes or sandals are allowed) and all suited up, we walked out to the track. The next stop was to pick out a helmet; each girl was fitted with a balaclava, a cloth head cover that goes under the helmet to further protect their heads. Track attendants tightened the chin straps and the girls were ready: It was time to start the engines.

Climbing in for the ride of a lifetime

Ricard Petty Experience

Suited up and getting fitted for helmets for the drive

My younger daughter, Estee, went first. She walked out to the track with the attendant who briefed her on the experience and showed her how to get into the car. No doors on this car, she had to climb into the passenger’s seat through the window. Once she was in and her safety harness was buckled, a mesh window cover was connected and the driver began to rev the engine. Incredibly loud, we could feel the vibrations of the engine from the spectator’s section.

The driver put the car into gear and away they went, speeding off toward turn #1; we watched as the car banked through the first turn and into the second; by the time they hit the straightaway on the far side of the track they began to pick up speed. Before we could turn around to catch them come through turn #4, the car was heading down the stretch toward us then onward to the second lap, zooming along at 125 MPH.

Ricard Petty Experience

Pros on the track make sure she’s correctly fitted and ready to ride

We watched as the car made a second, then a third lap and then finally, pulled back into the spectator area. Track attendants were quickly at the car’s window to help her climb back out of the car.

A new girls emerges

Even from the spectator’s box I could see the grin on her face. In a haze of happiness, she walked back to us and removed her helmet.

“That was awesome. I want to be a race car driver when I grow up,” she said as my older daughter made her way to the waiting car for her thrilling turn around the track.

This is how the experience unfolded:

And here’s how it looked from the spectator’s section:

Disney Speedway Fast Facts:

  • Richard Petty Junior Ride Along Experience, $59, is 3 laps for passengers 6-13 years old and 48″ or taller
  • Richard Petty Ride Along Experience for adults (over 13 years old) is $99
  • Track may be closed due to weather
  • No reservations necessary for Ride Alongs
  • Richard Petty Driving Experience, $449 (2.5 hours, 8 laps) – $2,599 (half day, 50 laps) includes instruction; drivers must be 18 or older
  • There are also exotic car ride along experiences starting at $99 and exotic car drives starting at $199 for 6 laps (it’s $339 to drive the Lamborghini)
Ricard Petty Experience

How the rest of our day was spent: Smiling so much it hurt

Disclosure: My daughters received complimentary tickets to the Richard Petty Experience; all opinions expressed are my —and my kids—own.

Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss