Walt Disney World, not the first place a petrolhead would think of visiting for their fix or speed and screeching tyres, is it? Well, in amongst Pluto and the Princesses is something perfect for the car-mad theme park goer.
Tucked away in a corner of Disney’s Hollywood Studios (in erm, Florida) is the Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show – Home to one of the most spectacular vehicle stunt shows on the planet.
Inspired by the Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular at Walt Disney Studios in Paris, the fifty-one thousand square metre attraction takes up to twenty thousand park guests a day through a high octane, heart stopping look at how vehicle stunts in Hollywood blockbusters come together on a replica film set depicting a French fishing village.
With jumping, drifting, a spy film story line and enough pyrotechnics to make a Metallica concert look like a pleasant Sunday stroll, Lights Motors Action is like the love child of a Bond film and Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus, making it not only spectacular, but appealing to whoever walks through the gate.
“I notice that most of the guests we perform to do not realise what they are about to watch,” says one of the show’s drivers, Chris Morena. “They are blown away by how much action we give them in a 40 minute show.”
“It also is very different to many of the other things in the theme park” adds fellow cast member Antony Matos, “much more I guess you can say testosterone driven show compared to the rest of Disney”.
To put on the show, each and every day of the year, Disney employs a large number of professional drivers, motorcyclists and stuntmen from all over the world who despite now sharing the same stage on a daily basis, come from vastly different backgrounds.
From military driving instructors to movie stunt stars, NASCAR drivers to even pearl divers and ski instructors, if there’s one thing Lights Motors Action isn’t lacking, its talent.
In fact, when the guys and girls aren’t performing for the Mouse, you’ll often see them driving in other stunt shows around the US, racing cars or plying their trade in TV and film. Mad Max, Fast and Furious, Breaking Bad and even Superbowl commercials have all featured Lights, Motors, Action cast members in the last few years.
While the show does require a small army to keep it going 365 days a year, the cars are undoubtedly still the stars of the show – and with good reason. These things are unlike anything you’ll ever see on the road, or indeed the race track.
Specially made for the show, the main vehicle ‘character’ is The Hero car: A red sports coupé, while to the untrained eye, the villain cars are 2004 facelifted Opel Corsa Cs.
In reality though, that could not be further from the truth.
Powered by 1300cc Suzuki Hayabusa engines mounted behind the driver, these rear wheel drive pocket rockets will do 0-60 in about two seconds and go on to do a top speed of around 70 miles per hour.
Okay, that last fact may not seem all that impressive, but thanks to a four-speed sequential shift transmission designed by that well known gearbox manufacturer, The Walt Disney Company, these cars can do that 70 miles per hour…in reverse! The drivers simply twist the top of the gear lever to get four more gears giving them all the torque they need to reach top speeds backwards.
In addition to the crazy acceleration figures and ridiculous drivetrains, the custom-built show cars are also stripped out beyond belief. Even the air conditioning is gone. Driving a mid-engined car in Florida heat with no air-con could be likened to torture, so an ingenious system is installed in the cars to keep the drivers cool.
With the engine missing from the front, an ice bucket takes its place which stores water which circulates through nomex vests lined with plastic hoses which are worn by the drivers. There’s an option you can’t tick when ordering your new Honda Civic.
That’s not all though. The cars also contain pyrotechnic charges under the hood. Because, of course they do…
So what are these weird and wonderful machines like behind the wheel? “Really fun, it sounds great,” says Eduardo Marques, a driver in the show with experience in rallycross, stock car racing and single seaters. “They are very light and powerful, giving the driver great agility and feeling, allowing us to drive really close and really precise.”
“The cars are an absolute hoot to drive,” adds Kevin Waterman, a driver who divides his time between working at the show and instructing at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans.
“They take a bit to get used to, but once you're used to them you have incredibly accurate control. They are extremely light so they drift and slide very easily and have near perfect weight distribution,” he continues. “The throttle, steering and hydraulic hand brakes are all very sensitive so you don't have to thrash on the controls to get it to do what you want. They're certainly different from anything else I've driven.”
“The cars are like nothing I've driven in the past”, Chris Morena proclaims. “They are made specifically for the show and can take the abuse day in and day out. It takes months of drivers training to feel comfortable.”
That abuse Chris speaks of? After starting the day with a 30 minute warm-up session, between two and four shows are performed each day. Predictably, the tyres don’t last long.
The show is something that’s not only a treat for park guests, but a rewarding experience for those involved too.
“Performing in front of thousands of people can be very cool when you actually stop and think about it” Antony Matos tells me, “lots of times so focused on the driving aspect you forget to look into the audience and see how many people are there enjoying the show”.
“What stands out in my mind are the special backstage tours we give to the very sick children that come and watch our show” he continues. “Being able to give them least a few moments of happiness very moving and unforgettable”
For Kevin Waterman, working at the show has been the realisation of an ambition he’s held since he was a child.
“Being a stunt driver was a childhood dream for me,” he reveals. “I remember the first day I was training for Lights, Motors, Action, I couldn't stop smiling in my helmet because they were actually paying me to do drift and slide their car!”
“We hear it constantly how we have the best job in the world, and it's true,” he continues. “It really is a dream job. I've had little kids run up and hug me and tell me how much they want to be like me. That's a pretty cool feeling.”
Chris Morena is equally appreciative of his extraordinary day job.
“Performing for the guests at Disney is a wonderful feeling. They are amazed by the stunts and we want to make them feel like they are part of the show,” he says. Meeting them after and seeing the kids’ smiles and answering questions makes driving that much more enjoyable.”
“To be part of such an incredible show with an amazing group of people has been life changing” adds Eduardo Marques. “It’s an amazing feeling, to do what you love and make people happy in the process”
Lights, Motors, Action is hugely popular with park guests and tremendously good fun for those involved. The show may be ten years old now but it certainly shows no signs of slowing down. Literally.
Relive The final summer of shows at Disney's Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida with our exclusive image gallery HERE
All images: Dominik Wilde