Rocket Rods opened on May 22, 1998, as part of the New Tomorrowland. The new high-speed attraction ran on the former PeopleMover track. Riders entered the attraction at the former Circle-Vision 360° building at the front of Tomorrowland. In the first room, huge blueprints of old and current Tomorrowland attractions were hung on the walls; along with actual former Tomorrowland attraction vehicles, which were repainted like blueprints. The next room of the queue was the nine-screen CircleVision theater, where guests viewed films of the history of motor vehicles, including excerpts from the CircleVision film America the Beautiful, and a video featuring the evolution of General Motors cars to an electronic version of the Steppenwolf hit, "Born to be Wild", arranged by composer Steve Bartek, who also arranged the attraction's main theme song, "World of Creativity", itself a major rearrangement of "Detroit", a song composed by the Sherman Brothers for the 1967 Disney film, The Happiest Millionaire. Guests then continued down a tunnel that led to the elevated Rocket Rods station in the middle of Tomorrowland.
Guests would then board a 5-seat Rocket Rod before moving forward to a staging area similar to that of drag racing. Anticipation was built as the lights changed from red, to yellow, to green, and the vehicle zoomed down a straightaway toward the entrance of Tomorrowland while performing a small wheelie. The Rocket Rod took guests through the Star Tours building, then into a tunnel. In this tunnel, riders experienced the effect of nearly colliding with an oncoming Rocket Rod, but in reality, it was only the vehicle's reflection in a mirror. The Rocket Rod took guests through Space Mountain, offering a very brief view of that attraction. Then, the vehicle took riders back outside again, but then entered the Carousel Theater, home of the Innoventions attraction. After going through a semicircular trip through Innoventions, the Rocket Rod took riders through a series of turns and dips above Autopia and the former Submarine Voyage. Then, the Rod passed right next to the Disneyland Monorail station before entering the Rocket Rods queue building. The vehicle then traveled back up the straightaway to the station.
Demise of the Rocket Rods
The Rocket Rods closed in September 2000 for a refurbishment that was to last until Spring 2001, but no work was ever seen on the attraction. In April 2001, the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register reported that Rocket Rods would never reopen.
There are a number of reasons that the Rocket Rods closed. The Rods completed the course of the 16-minute PeopleMover in only about 3 minutes. Another reason is that the attraction did not have a large enough budget to bank the curves of the track, so the vehicles had to endure the stress of being in a near-constant state of accelerating and decelerating. The budget would have been larger if the attraction had a corporate sponsor. The constant changes in speed caused the vehicles' onboard computer systems to fail, shutting down the entire attraction. There were also multiple mechanical failures, such as a brake shoe being launched halfway across Tomorrowland; no one was injured. Additionally, the attraction did irreparable damage to the track and support structures, as they were not designed to withstand the high speed and weight of the attraction's ride vehicles. Rocket Rods broke down at least once a day, which brought its queue time up to 3 hours.
Almost all of the Rocket Rods vehicles were scrapped after the closure. One Rocket Rod survived and was placed in front of the Hollywood & Dine restaurant at Disney's California Adventure, but it only remained there for a few months. It was gone by 2002.
After the closure of the Rocket Rods, hopes arose that the PeopleMover would be reinstalled. Rumors still circulate today, usually stating that the PeopleMover will return, possibly as a copy of the still-running Magic Kingdom version. The equipment used for the PeopleMover only still exists on the Rocket Rods track in some places, which would require much of the equipment to be reinstalled again, if a carbon copy of the original attraction were to be installed. As safety regulations have changed since the PeopleMover's 1967 opening, a new attraction utilizing the existing track would not be grandfathered in by 1967 standards, and would instead be subject to present-day Cal/OSHA regulations, which has been suggested to be the largest obstacle in creating a new PeopleMover attraction while utilizing the original attraction's existing infrastructure.
The Rocket Rods queue area, which was formerly the Circle-Vision 360 theater, has largely been replaced by Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, which opened in March 2005. Portions of the queue still exist in the building, leading up to the Rocket Rods' former boarding area. As of June 2014, the former Rocket Rods tracks remain vacant. It is, however, still being maintained to an extent. When Tomorrowland received its current blue and silver color scheme for Disneyland's 50th anniversary, the track along Tomorrowland's main avenue also received a new coat of paint as well. There have also been reports that foliage has been removed from the track over the Autopia area.
During the grand opening of Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, a group of Stormtroopers used the track as a high ground to flank a pair of Jedi, demonstrating that Disney is aware of the track's existence and can and will use it as necessary, attraction or no attraction. The track was used to support theming elements for the Star Wars-themed Season of the Force along Tomorrowland's main drag, as well as to support speakers for background sound effects for the seasonal Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy during the park's Halloween season.