Last year's ACE Southeast Region event at Paramount's Carowinds was a blast, but this year Carowinds was prepared to take the event to the next level. Over 100 people turned up for the Carolina Coaster Classic on August 23, 2003, and it would turn out to be a great event. Being at NC State and not having a parking permit, I had no transportation, but Alan Martin told me that was a lame excuse for missing such an event, so on the Friday before the event Alan picked me up. After meeting at his house with his friends Phil and John, I joined Phil and John for the drive down to Charlotte, with a stop at Steak N' Shake along the way (!).
Saturday morning came, and time-wise it almost felt like CoasterMania again. I was out of the house at 6:30 so I could meet at Shoney's (w00t) at 7. Dave, Jay, and Jay's family made it, but no one else apparently was up for rolling out of bed quite that early. A few plates from the breakfast buffet later, and we were headed over to the park for registration. Over at the registration table we found Max Cannon and Robert Ulrich, who had nametags and copies of the schedule. We talked with a few other people for a moment, and then Alan, Phil, John, and Mike (wasn't on the drive down because he lives in Concord) turned up. By 8:30 we were in the park and headed for Top Gun. For all but the few people who had been at the flying coaster announcement, we got our first glimpse of the construction site. The Sternwheeler was moved and turned around, and the ground the loading area had once occupied had been torn up completely. Construction walls were also up. We continued our stroll over to Top Gun, which was ready and waiting for us. It was running very fast (as always), and after 6 spectacular rides, we headed over to Thunder Road for more ERT.
There's nothing like ERT on a racing coaster, but that morning there was an added little surprise. Thunder Road was running faster and smoother than it had ran in years, and was really surprising most everyone in attendance. The trains were flying over the outbound hills and delivering some solid airtime, then ripping around the turnaround and moving quickly through the inbound run. The operators had the trains racing as well, which provided added fun. Top Gun was still up and going for season pass holders, and it wasn't 10 AM yet, so Dave, Jay, and myself headed over for two more spins on it.
We caught Alan, Phil, John, and Mike coming from Scooby Doo's Haunted Mansion, and decided to do a little invasion of Scooby Doo's Ghoster Coaster. It was Phil's first time at Carowinds, so he needed all the credits. Not that we were just riding Scooby Doo for that reason of course, because it's a great ride. After invading Scooby Doo, we shuffled over to Taxi Jam with hopes of a ride. Hilarity ensued when Jay and Alan found children to ride with, and they took a couple laps. The carousel caught our eyes on the way out of Animation Station, and we couldn't pass up a ride. I hadn't been on the carousel in years, and it was quite slow, not to mention it didn't even have music playing. As Alan mentioned, what's a carousel without music?
It was almost time for the presentation on the flying coaster, but first we rode Drop Zone. Crazy as it may sound, and I think I've said this before, it's still my favorite drop ride of the ones I've been on. We trekked over to the Paramount Theater where Scott Anderson of PR and David Mandt of Marketing and Paramount Parks PR were there to great us and put on the presentation. Both had some interesting things to say, and David said some very kind words about coaster enthusiasts and his experiences while working at Kings Island. Then came the flying coaster presentation. The 2000 Stealth promo video was shown on a screen, followed by photos of Stealth and statistics. Then an imagine was shown that had not been released before: a diagram of Stealth in its new location at Carowinds. You can see that diagram and more stuff in the construction area over at CarowindsConnection.com. Questions were taken and answered regarding the coaster, and then the park had another surprise. Carowinds held a silent auction for the large wooden light-up 'CAROLINA' sign that stood at the entrance to the Carolina Sternwheeler. I believe the sign ended up going for around $500, and the park generously donated the proceeds to the ACE preservation fund. Much thanks to the park for the presentation and auction!
Back out into daylight, Dave, Jay, and myself headed for Hurler while the others headed to find some food. The park at this point was fairly crowded, and we had to wait a little bit. Hurler wasn't running too well, but then again it's been up and down all year long, so we could only hope it would get a little better by night ERT. Lines were a little long and it was ridiculous hot outside, so we opted to check out construction via the skytower. It was quite shocking to see a land mover at work on the island, the river drained, and the former Sternwheeler dock torn up. We looked over and watched some surveyors paint lines for footers for a bit, and Robert Ulrich noticed us and said, "Hey guys it's just people playing in dirt!" or something to that effect. It was some pretty exciting dirt, though.
Lunch was at one of the North Gate picnic pavilions, and it consisted of hot dogs, burgers, chicken, deserts, and more. The nice lunch was followed by ACE's version of the Match Game, which Dave ended up being a contestant in for every single round. The answer "Vekoma Ride Engineer" became quite popular after Dave first said it in response to some question regarding Taxi Jam, although I can't quite remember what the question was. Then, the scavenger hunt began. Dave opted to skip out on the scavenger hunt, and he hung around with us for a while then went ahead and left to head home. Jay and I partnered up, while Alan, Phil, Mike, and John decided to enjoy more rides. I'm pretty sure we must have finished ours well before anyone else, but unfortunately there was no prize for finishing first. We sat in the theater for maybe an hour or so relaxing and playing cards in the AC. We also ran into Will Johansson from Winston Salem who was down for the day. Everyone gathered in the theater and the scavenger hunt results for gathered. Jay and I ended up finishing 10th I believe, which wasn't what I was expecting, but prize-wise it was just as good as anyone else. The park had a large amount of shirts to give away, and I got a Runaway Reptar t-shirt. I wasn't quite done racking up on prizes, though. To my surprise, Scott Anderson said for anyone who was wearing a Carowinds-related shirt to come down to the front. If I wear a coaster shirt to a park, it's almost always a shirt from another park, but for some strange reason I had decided to wear my Top Gun shirt to the event. There was only one person besides myself wearing a shirt with Carowinds on it. I won a Ricochet button-up dress shirt and a Paramount Parks lapel pin. Morning ERT, evening ERT, buffet lunch, 2 shirts, and a lapel pin for 8 bucks. Not bad!
Hunger was setting in again, and Jay, Alan, Phil, Mike, John, and myself decided to go to the nearby Jack in the Box, despite Mike's fear of getting ecoli from the meat. I think we all enjoyed the food, though, even Mike, although he did opt out on a burger and get a chicken sandwich. To add to all the benefits the park had given us, there was a ridiculously good deal on 2004 season passes, so we headed over to season pass processing where everyone but Jay and I got one. While Jay and I had been doing the scavenger hunt, the others had rode Thunder Road and discovered that it was running just as smooth and even faster than in the morning. With that said, we needed to try it, so the six of us took a ride as night was falling. It was running very fast, and I must say I was extremely impressed by a coaster that I didn't know could run that well. Seems like Thunder Road and Hurler switched places. Closing time was nearing, but we did have time for one final Top Gun ride. It happened to be my 500th ride since the coaster opened in 1999. I'm sure my count is off in places, but that's the number I've got in my count. Not that I ride it just to count it; I ride it because it's an awesome ride.
The carts were out selling light up items, and we all decided it would be fitting to get glowsticks for ERT. After we all purchased them, and after Jay returned his and got a new one because it didn't work, we gathered at the Paramount Theater for ERT. We patiently waited for them to summon us while Robert Ulrich filled us in on some upcoming events, and once again the group photo failed to happen (that's 0 for 2 guys ;-)). ERT finally began on Carolina Cyclone, Ricochet, and Hurler. The first stop was Cyclone, which was running fast and furious as always. Jay and I decided to sit in the front seat, which I had never tried at night. I believe it was the first time on the coaster for some of the group, as it would be for Ricochet, which was next. We were able to get back-to-back hilarious rides on Ricochet, then headed for Hurler. We ended up being scattered across seats and trains on Hurler, and I believe Phil and I ended up riding 5 times. It was running decent, but definitely not close to last year. As time was winding down, we went over to Ricochet, where the operators were very cool and enthusiastic. We took back-to-back rides once again, and then the event came to a close. We walked out with David Mandt, and with that a long day of fun came to a close at around 11:30 PM. The next day would include more Steak N' Shake and the ride back to Raleigh with Alan, Phil, and John. It was one spectacular event, and a very big thanks goes out to Scott Anderson, David Mandt, Max Cannon, Robert Ulrich, and everyone else involved. Until next year...
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