Report: Walt Disney World Speedway, track’s Petty Driving Experience program set to close (UPDATED)

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“The Mickyard” will be no more.

The track that held the first ever race under Indy Racing League sanction in January 1996, Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, will no longer be a part of the “Magic Kingdom,” per a report by the Orlando Sentinel.

The Sentinel indicates WDWS and its own program for the Richard Petty Driving Experience – the track’s flagship program after all active racing stopped there after 2000 – will close in late June as Disney makes way for new transportation projects, details of which are still to be determined.

Also per the report, there are about 70 employees either as instructors, photographers, and check-in registrars.

Petty Holdings will look for a different venue for another exotic-car attraction in Orlando, per the report.

Petty Holdings has issued a statement on the track closing, which is listed in full below:

Petty Holdings, operator of Richard Petty Driving Experience and Exotic Driving Experience, confirmed that starting July 1, they will no longer operate their experiences out of the Walt Disney World Speedway. Walt Disney World has plans to use the land to make transportation improvements.

“Our main focus at this moment is taking care of our staff and preparing them for the upcoming transition,” said Petty Holdings Vice President Bill Scott.  “Any reserved guests prior to July 1 will have the same fantastic experience that we have delivered since 1997 at Walt Disney World Speedway.”

Anyone booked after June 30 for Richard Petty Driving Experience or Exotic Driving Experience can call 1.800.237.3889 to reschedule their experience at any of their 14 locations nationwide – including the location at Daytona International Speedway. Petty Holdings currently has plans in process for exotics and stock car programs in Orlando.

As for the track’s racing history, that’s been done for 15 years.

The IRL ran its season-opening race there in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Buzz Calkins became a trivia answer with his win in the 1996 race.

The 1997 race, meanwhile, came as the third race of the IRL’s lone multiple-year season, when the 1996 season carried over into 1997 as part of a plan to end the season with the Indianapolis 500. That plan was later scrapped to have the seasons run solely in a calendar year.

The 1997 race also marked the debut of the IRL’s new normally aspirated engine formula and new chassis, the genesis of which marked Dallara’s introduction to North American open-wheel racing.

WDWS also held two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in 1997 and 1998.

WDWS was a one-mile triangle, with full radius first and second turns before almost a kink onto the front straight.

The Indy Racing Experience was also held there for a time (see below), but the track was never brought up to modern-day safety standards. SAFER Barriers – a staple at any oval – were never built, and teams have not sought out the facility to test in years.

Most recently, the Verizon IndyCar Series saw Charlie Kimball and the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team film a Novo Nordisk commercial there a couple years ago.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.