Multiple Injuries and a Tragic Death Gave Walt Disney World Speedway a Bad Name

Walt Disney World has many things. Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a Small World. Epcot. Animal Kingdom. At one point, it even had an IndyCar racetrack popularly nicknamed “The Mickyard”. But on your next trip to Walt Disney World, search all you will and you’ll find no trace of the old facility.

Racing comes to Disney World

Walt Disney World Speedway in Florida hosts an IndyCar race
A general view of the race track during the IRL race at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Florida | Andy Lyons /Allsport

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The idea to build a speedway on Walt Disney World’s property emerged in 1995. IMS Events, a subsidiary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway company, purchased an undeveloped plot of land near the Magic Kingdom parking lot. To fit the plot of land, the track would be triangular in shape and one mile long, sort of like a miniaturized Pocono Raceway.

The final cost of construction came out to $6 million. This may sound like a lot, but it’s actually a bargain relative to other tracks from around the same time. Because Walt Disney World needed the space during peak theme park season, the grandstands and much of the facility were temporary and designed to be movable.

Construction finished in October 1995. Just three months later, on Jan. 27, 1996, the Indy Racing League (now known as IndyCar) held its very first race at the speedway. Buzz Calkins — yes, that is his real name — crossed the finish line first.

Disney World Speedway proves dangerous

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Even though the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s owners had stewardship of the facility, Indy cars were not the only ones to race there. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series held its season-opening event at the Mickyard in 1997 and 1998.

Shortly after opening, however, the Disney World track would gain a reputation as a dangerous place to race. Even during practice for that very first race in 1996, Butch Brickell fractured two vertebrae in his neck after a hard crash. Later that week, Eliseo Salazar suffered a gruesome leg injury when a connecting rod punctured his leg after another accident.

Two near-fatal accidents in particular stand out through the track’s history. During practice for the 1997 Indy 200, Davy Jones — yes, that is his real name — lost control and struck the wall hard, knocking him unconscious. He suffered a serious head injury and didn’t drive in IndyCar again until 2000. (Ironically, the track wasn’t far from the famous Pirates at the Caribbean ride.)

Three years later, on Jan. 6, 2000, IRL driver Sam Schmidt crashed hard during a preseason test. He spent five months on a respirator and survived, but the accident rendered him a quadriplegic, ending his racing career.

The final straw for The Mickyard

Eventually, both Walt Disney World and the racing organizations encountered the logistical problems of hosting major auto races in the middle of one of the world’s largest theme parks. NASCAR only held two Truck Series races at the speedway and left after the 1998 season.

IRL followed suit after the 2000 season. At first, the speedway was on the 2001 schedule. However, as the race was held in January, the organizers ran into a conflict with Super Bowl XXXV, held not far away in Tampa in the same month. IRL could not agree on a new date, and never returned to Walt Disney World.

In the following years, the park used the track for the Richard Petty Driving Experience. This organization allowed customers to drive real NASCAR cars with the help of an instructor. This eventually branched out into the Exotic driving experience, which let customers drive exotic “supercars”.

In February, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Walt Disney World would demolish the speedway by the end of the year. Two months later, tragedy struck.

On April 12, driving instructor Gary Terry was killed during an Exotic Driving Experience run. He was in the passenger seat of a Lamborghini Gallardo when the driver lost control and swerved into a metal guardrail. According to Orlando’s WKMG, the driver escaped with minor injuries.

This was the speedway’s last act. Four months later, demolition began. The land has since been converted into another parking lot for Magic Kingdom.