For images of Top Thrill Dragster, click here.
Practically every roller coaster enthusiast followed the construction of what would end up being the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the world: Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster. At the end of the 2002 season, a gigantic tower of yellow supports and some maroon and white track started climbing skyward. It was big, but I didn't know it was going to be this big.
Cedar Point finally announced the ride in early January, quite a while after the structure had been topped off. It towered over Millennium Force. The specs were released. 420 feet tall, 120 mile per hour launch in under four seconds. I don't think words can describe how excited I was that I was going to get to ride this.
My first day at Cedar Point lead me to process in to begin work. I went on a park tour, took some quizzes and various other forms of training. I went through training easily while one thought lingered in the back of my mind: "Tallest, fastest coaster in the world." And it was right next to me the whole time.
Top Thrill Dragster's height massacres everything else in the park. It's 90 feet taller than the previous tallest ride there, Space Spiral. It's over 100 feet taller than the previous tallest roller coaster on Earth! Yeah. It's gigantic. And I was going to ride it.
After I finished my pre-work stuff, I rode Raptor and Millennium Force. My ultimate plan was to ride Top Thrill Dragster, so I headed over there with my two roommates. When we arrived at the ride we saw quite the scene. The cable that pulls the car that grabs the train and launches it was lying near the queue line. It has broken! No! It would be a while before I finally got to ride it.
The day finally came.
Of course I waited for the front row. This is what Top Thrill Dragster is all about. I knew it before I rode it. Come on. You know a 120 mile-per-hour wind being blown directly in your face is going to be cool.
I sat down in the seat and was greeted by a very, very open train. These cars are slightly more open than Millennium Force's. The front cars are the roomiest with a very low front and no grab bar, except on the lap bar! The dragster look is very slick. Too bad I missed the theming on the back of the trains by a day.
But none of that matters. We buckle the seat belt and pull our lap bars down. The ride host ensures we are properly restrained and we get the thumbs up. If you choose to load in the second train in the station, you'll get a great view of the train in front of you launch and climb the menacing top hat. It's all part of the great pre-ride show.
Upon exiting the station, we hear a loud, "Keep arms down, head back, and hold on!" Then the dragster engine revs up. Loudly. Everything about this ride is loud. Well, everything but the launch. It's extremely quiet. The pre-stage lights come on, then the next ones come on with another reminder to keep our arms down, head back, and to hold on. We sit in the pre-launch stage for a little bit and if you're lucky you can watch the catch car return down the launch strip and disappear under your train. It grabs hold. A slight "click" is heard and our train rolls back a little bit. Things are getting scary now! The brakes that cover the entire launch track retract with a "hiss." Then we see the "Christmas tree" lights on the pre-stage lights and the monstrous tower.
Not giving you enough time to think of the mistake you may have gotten yourself into, you see yellow, yellow, yellow, green.
The train starts to haul like it's going out of style. We are pressed back into the seat and head rest with some great force. On our right for a split second, the bleachers that onlookers can sit in pass us by. White, maroon, white maroon, white maroon are the colors of the ever speeding up track below us. After the most intense launch I have ever experienced is almost over, your eyelids and cheeks are flapping from the insane amount of wind in your face.
The acceleration stops and you can sure feel it. The wind is still pressing against your face and you begin to climb to vertical. The last white section of track passes by but it's unnoticeable since we're looking straight up at the sky. We'll be facing the sky for nearly 400 feet but we sure won't notice it for long.
A quick twist to the right is followed by the leveling out to 420 feet above ground level. As we begin pulling out of the vertical ascent, we may be lifted out of our seat slightly, depending on how hard the restraint is pushed down. Either way, you will feel negative G forces as you level out. We are now 110 feet above the once record-breaking Millennium Force and if you have a chance to check out the view, you'll notice lots of Sandusky, lots of Lake Erie, all of Millennium Force and, oops. No more time. We're plummeting.
Up and over the tight peak we go. There's only one thing we can do now. That's point straight down and fall. The nose of the dragster car points straight down and we start plunging towards Mother Earth. Not only do we fall straight down for 200 feet or more, we spiral on the way down! It's not a reversal of the 90-degree upward twist, oh no. This is a full-fledged, balls to the wall 270-degree full spiral. What's even cooler than that? We're out of our seats the entire way down. On our way down we pass by a gigantic support on our left side that is sure to smack us and cut us in half. But we make it through, intact.
The next portion of the ride is a gigantic pull out that pulls heavy Gs that shove us into our seat. That was a 400-foot completely vertical drop, folks. The pull out takes a second to pass and we level out. We hit 120 miles per hour again. Feel your face peeling back? That's what wind at that speed does to you! We pass under a big "finish" sign, but that's not really noticeable since it's already gone. Up ahead are the magnetic brakes which grab on to us and don't let go. Once we hit them, our speed begins to drop drastically. We go from 120-0 in about the same amount of time it took us to reach that speed on the launch. But it's a comfortable stop and does not exert much force on our bodies.
We make a left turn, our lap bars are released, there go our seat belts and we exit to the right. Thank you for riding Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, America's Rockin' Roller Coast!
There we have it. Top Thrill Dragster is one of the biggest rushes in the coaster world. Sure it's over in a matter of seconds, but that doesn't make any difference. It's fast. Almost too fast. It's tall. Almost too tall. It's awesome. Almost too awesome. Even after four rides, I still shook a bit after riding it. Regain your balance, stand up, walk down the exit ramp and buy your photo. Get out to Cedar Point and ride this monstrosity. It's worth a wait.
But that's not the half of it ...
As a sweep at Cedar Point, I got to test ride some roller coasters when they needed weight. I test rode Top Thrill Dragster numerous times. In those test rides, sometimes our trains were shot after sitting cold for a few minutes. When the wheels and bearings get cold on roller coasters, they have a tendency to run slower than normal. That is one reason roller coasters are test run every morning and after breakdowns. Running them warms up the wheels so they clear the hills faster.
Got the idea? Sitting Top Thrill Dragster trains = cold wheels = less speed.
What does that equal? A rollback! A rollback is where the train launches and does not clear the massive tower. Instead, it climbs, then rolls back, hence the name, "rollback." Along the launch track, brakes ascend after the train launches past them. They safely slow the train in case a rollback happens.
Now why am I writing all of this after my ride review? Simple. I have been on a rollback. Three, actually.
We climbed in the train at the pre-launch area and sat down. Our seat belts were buckled and our restraints were pressed down. The sound effects aren't on but the light effects are. The pre-launch lights turn on, the train rolls back, the brakes retract, the countdown lights signal and we are outta there. Faster, faster, faster, the catch car releases. And it released a little to early. My guess was we hit top speed very quickly and the catch car began to slow down, so we simply sped right past it.
Up, up, up and up we climb. We twist and begin to level out. Up and over. Oh, wait. No, no no! Our train doesn't want to go over the top. There's a slight pause. The world comes to a standstill. Everything starts moving in reverse. The sky moves away from us, we twist backwards, we level out not knowing when the pull out is coming, and we speed back to 100-whatever we hit.
We're cruising backwards now. We hit the brakes and slow down very quickly. It seems even quicker than the final brakes. Our photo is taken backwards at a much slower rate than it was taken forwards. Of course when launching, we don't have brakes slowing us down! We slow to a crawl and slowly go back to the launch position.
We have just experienced a rollback. What's the best part of it? Is it being at the top and coming down? Is it the twist backwards? Is it the pull out? If I had to choose, it would be the moment of dead silence right when you begin to roll back. Everything is in slow motion. Your mind, the ride, everything around you. It's wild. The airtime backwards is a nice touch.
Is a rollback better than the ride? Definitely.
Can you get one? Possibly. They happen occasionally and mostly after breakdowns and on cold, windy days.
Do you want one? Yes!
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