The Main Drag

Florida: Fasten your seat belt. The central part of the state is geared up for auto lovers of any make or model.

April 11, 1999|By Gerry Volgenau | Gerry Volgenau,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Mom's the best. Apple pie is fine.

But if you really want to make an American's heart pound, you're talking white-line fever -- horsepower, cubic centimeters of displacement, bucket seats and a wild, swinging needle on the tachometer.

For you Americans who love cars, central Florida is the place to go.

You can settle into Orlando for a heavy dose of internal combustion or head in almost any direction -- east to Daytona and Edgewater, north to Ocala and southwest to Sarasota.

Piston-heads, prepare to be dazzled. You can get a close-up look at how manufacturers such as General Motors Corp. really test their cars. Get some insight into the Daytona International Speedway. Test your mettle at a top-ranked stock-car-driving school. Wander through museums featuring Corvettes, dragsters or classic cars. Or munch burgers at a flashy, Hard Rock-style restaurant for people who dig stock cars and drag racing.

Of course, in Florida go-cart tracks almost outnumber the cloverleafs off Interstate 75 and Florida's Turnpike.

Orlando

* Disney Fast Track: Disney World last month opened its newest, longest, fastest ride at Epcot. Test Track, created in partnership with General Motors, takes visitors on a simulated 5-minute proving-ground ride in automated six-passenger vehicles being "tested" for performance in braking, handling on 34 turns, hill climbing and 100-degree temperature ranges and accelerating to speeds up to 65 mph on a nearly mile-long track.

Phil Guarascio, vice president and general manager of marketing and advertising for GM North American Operations, said: "Test Track is the next best thing to a proving ground experience. Walt Disney imagineers have done a masterful job of emulating the rigors of vehicle testing that all our brands go through. They've created an experience designed to captivate and thrill Epcot guests."

Here's the rundown: Six passengers will get into a computer-operated test car -- a car leaves every 10.5 seconds -- to shoot off into a series of exciting tests.

This electric test car is no wimp. It can develop 250 horsepower and zoom from 0 to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds.

First, you'll climb a 15-degree, three-story-high hill and bump over various road surfaces.

Next, you'll make two passes through a set of cones: first, without anti-lock brakes, where you spin out and knock over the cones; second, with ABS, where you cleanly snake through the course. Then you zip through two temperature test chambers. In one, heat lamps will broil you (briefly) at 120 degrees. In the second, you'll shiver as the temperature drops 100 degrees.

Next, you and the car are sprayed with a yucky, green corrosive mist followed by a test where you almost suffer a high-speed crash into a barrier. From there, you'll zip uphill on a switchback mountain course -- in the dark.

Finally, your car zooms outside on the test track, where you will rocket to 65 mph on a 50-degree banked track.

The entire ride will take 5 minutes and 34 seconds and you will travel just short of a mile: 5,246 feet.

A preshow, to entertain the people waiting in line, presents many of the tests, based on actual tests performed by General Motors at the test facility in Milford, Mich. The preshow has nearly two dozen displays, of which 16 are animated.

A heavy weight slams down on a car door, a simulated human butt wiggles on car seats, robot arms repeatedly open and close car doors. Dummies will suffer simulated crash hits on various parts of their bodies: the head, the knee, the chest.

After the ride, you can see how an auto plant stamping machine makes oil pans and how a robot welds parts. Then you will be able to test-drive simulators using modern gizmos that show your location, tell you where to turn and alert you to whether other vehicles are near your car. And, of course, you go through the inevitable gift shop.

For information, call 407-824-4321 or visit www.disneyworld.com.

* Sci-Fi Dine-In: If you remember the 1950s, when kids still talked about necking and drive-in movies were called "passion pits," you'll get a kick out of Disney's Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant at MGM Studios.

Yes, this restaurant that simulates a 1950s drive-in is a little crowded for much more than hand-holding. But you could get a bit nostalgic as you sit in brightly colored convertibles while a carhop brings sodas and burgers. Meanwhile, the big screen shows black-and-white trailers from flicks like "Cat Women of the Moon," "It Conquered the World" and "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster."

For information, call 407-824-4321 or visit www.disneyworld.com.

* Race Rock: This is for folks who like their dining turbo-charged. In this day when every other themed restaurant is a Hard Rock-wannabe, Race Rock is the one for racing fans -- drag racing, stock-car racing, Formula One racing, motorcycle racing, hydroplane racing, any kind of souped-up-engine racing.

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