I woke up early on Thursday morning as I had a few things to do before
making the two-hour drive to Cedar Point. I did all the normal
morning stuff, made sure I had both dubbing and cloning cables for my
camera [Footnote 1], programmed the VCR, and got going. As I was
programming the VCR, a quick report came on. A local news reporter
was interviewing Cedar Point PR representative Bryan Edwards and
noting that, no, he hadn't ridden Top Thrill Dragster yet, and neither
had anybody else due to bad weather.
Two hours later, just before 9 am, I arrived at the park, in time for
the official Top Thrill Dragster opening ceremony at 9:15. Just in
time. Except that the park started early. By the time I got to the
plaza where the ceremony was taking place, park GM Dan Keller had
already completed his remarks and was turning the microphone over to
ACE President Carole Sanderson. Next, festivities moved to the ride
entrance where a ribbon was cut, allowing at least one person to push
ahead of the long queue which had already formed at the tunnel
entrance. I walked along the long line as a train whizzed past on the
launch track, saying hello to several friends as I located the back of
We proceeded through a concrete tunnel under the launch track,
immediately uptrack of the machinery building, and down a long, narrow
space at the center of the ride which houses the ride queue. As this
was a special event with a relatively small number of attendees, we
took the shortest possible path from the tunnel down to the station
ramp. There is a short section past the end of the launch track, then
the bulk of the queue area has a fence separating it from the brake
run, and a 10' wooden wall separating it from the storage tracks and
the launch track. Before long, I grew to absolutely hate that wall,
as it completely obscures the view of what is happening with the ride
from anybody waiting in line. It's not as though it really hides
anything...yes, it separates the service area with the storage tracks
from the queue, but all that is readily visible from the midway. All
it really does is to make sure that while people in the queue can hear
the audio effects, they can't see the trains launch.
An hour went by. Another hour went by. This wasn't what any of us
had planned on. I mean, I hadn't planned on getting a bunch of rides,
but based on my experience last year I figured I might have some
hanging-out time, time to get a good look at the ride, talk with a lot
of people, share experiences, and see broadcasters in action.
Instead, I spent the entire morning with a group of about five people,
standing behind that ugly grey-green wall, wondering why the ride only
ran occasionally. Nothing against those people, it's just that there
were hundredss of people there and I had hoped to at least say 'hi' to
a significant number of them. Finally, after three and a half hours
of sporadic operation, it was my turn. In the station a PA speaker
blared an obnoxious "safety" recording full of $4 words and legalese
which is destined to become the most widely ridiculed and/or ignored
recording in the park. I swear, Cedar Fair's legal team is gonna get
somebody killed if this nonsense keeps up.
I ended up in a left-hand seat in the middle of the train. The seats
are roomy, possibly more so than the ones on Millennium Force. At the
very least, the seats are a little deeper. The safety belts seem to
be about the same length as well, and are the same type, with the
looped handle on the end. Park policy is that you must secure your
own seat belt, but that policy is at odds with the seat configuration,
simply because the buckle location is extremely awkward. In order to
fasten the belt I found I had to extend it to its maximum length, but
once fastened it is, by design, nearly impossible to adjust. This is
far from ideal for me, as, while I need the full length to fasten the
belt, it doesn't take that much length to get the ends to connect. If
the park is going to refuse to help people fasten these belts, then
they need to make the outboard half of the belt longer so that the
buckle is out front where the rider can actually reach it with both
hands without twisting in the seat. That, or they need to figure out
some way to secure the buckle so that the belt can be fastened with
only one hand.
Once the belt was fastened, next I pulled back on the lap bar. The
lap bar design on Dragster is radically different from that used on
Millennium Force. On Millennium Force, when I pull the lap bar back
as far as it can comfortably go, the end of the bar sits several
inches back from my stomach and several inches up from my thighs. On
Dragster, the arrangement of the support arm and the end of the lap
bar has been redesigned so that the bar can actually drop all the way
to my lap without smashing anything. So far, so good. I leaned back
in the seat to feel two sharp points digging into my shoulders. Upon
closer examination I determined that the headrest is made entirely out
of expanded foam attached to a mounting bracket. The bottom of the
headrest has two points, one on each extreme end. It appears that the
bottom of the headrest is supposed to match the contour of the seat
back, but it does not. The headrest is slightly narrower at the base,
hence the points digging into my back. I predict that before long
these points will start breaking off of the headrests, and I can
hardly wait for that to happen. My pet theory is that Dragster's
seats are slightly wider than those on Xcelerator, but the headrests
are made from the same mold.
An attendant came past and checked the belt and bar, he also asked if
my glasses were secure. I noted the neck cord and informed him that,
cord or no cord, they weren't going anywhere anyway. We rolled out of
the station and through the staging area, up to the end of the launch
runway. Nearby speakers broadcast the rumble of a top fuel engine.
Below me, a maintenance man was manually operating the juice valve on
a smoke machine strategically located beneath the last car. With a
clunk, the launch sled engaged with the bottom of the train. The
train moved backwards a few inches. With a loud hiss, all the brake
fins dropped clear. The sound of squealing tires played over the
speakers, and we were off like a rocket.
The acceleration is immediate, and it goes on for a very long time.
Seconds later...the longest seconds you can possibly imagine, it feels
like the train starts slowing, but it really doesn't, in fact it
merely stops accelerating as it disengages from the launch sled. The
train turns skyward until the only thing you can see is track and sky.
The sky spins a quarter turn, but you still can't see anything.
Suddenly the train noses over the topo of the hill, and while you can
feel yourself lifting against the lap bar, this is a little odd
because o the near total absense of sensation. I think it's because
of the lack of jerk as gravity goes away and you float over the top of
the hill. An airtime moment on a coaster almost always begins with a
slight kick to pop you out of your seat. Very slight on Millennium
Force, severe on Magnum. Dragster doesn't do this at all. Instead,
it just rolls over the top so quickly that there is no time for
sight-seeing. How high is it? 42 feet? 420 feet? 4,200 feet? It
really doesn't matter. I remember seeing a large metal roof with the
words "PADDLEWHEEL EXCURSIONS" on top, but apart from that there was
no time to notice details...this from a person who is practiced at
seeing 1/30-second video flash-frames. Partly this is because of what
What happens next, of course, is the drop. There really is no
opportunity to appreciate the height of the drop. This is partly
because it happens so fast. This is also because of the twist on the
way down. You don't really notice how far it is to the bottom because
you're too busy noticing the yellow support arms attaching to the
track from every direction, meaning that there is no obvious path
through that mess. At the bottom, the train gently pulls out to a
straightaway, and I grabbed the seatback ahead of me, readyfor that
stiff magnetic braking I've learned to expect. But it didn't happen.
Instead, the ride slowed very gently. We rolled into the unloading
station and unloaded. A truly amazing ride was born.
I took some photos, I talked to a few people, and I walked down to
Johnny Rocket's for lunch. A little before 3pm, I got back in line
again. Operation was a little more steady this time around, partly
because a lot of the broadcasters were done shooting footage on the
ride. But operations were still extremely sluggish. Then disaster
struck. A loaded train was launched, went halfway up the tower, then
rolled back down to the launch track. Of course, from behind the wall
I couldn't see what happened or how long it took for the train to roll
back to the station. What I do know is that for more than an hour we
stood and waited. I began to wonder if I would get a second ride and
still be able to get my season pass processed. In fact the wait
wasn't quite as long as before, but it was a long, boring wait. And
the ride was just as incredible the second time around. There was one
issue that came up, which I will assume is because this is a new ride.
It is well known that I wear eyeglasses, not only because I cannot
see without them, but also because on a high-speed roller coaster
(basically anything faster than I can walk) they supply a moderate
level of eye protection. Personally, I reccommend some form of eye
protection for anybody who rides Top Thrill Dragster, particularly
once the mufflehead season starts up. That I wear my glasses while
riding is an absolute rule for me, and in fact it is pretty much the
only rule I have which I require any park to abide by. It is also
well documented that for Top Thrill Dragster, Cedar Point allows
glasses to be worn provided that they are secured. To that end, I had
my optician adjust my glasses such that they aren't coming off unless
I want them off, and to make parks happy, I invested in a cheap neck
cord. For my first ride, this was fine:
ATTENDANT: Are your glasses secure?
For my second ride, the attendant was not so easily satisfied, so I
reached back and tied a knot in the cord. That snugs the cord around
the back of my head, but if made too tight has the unfortunate effect
of pulling the temples of my spectacles off the backs of my ears,
which besides being terribly uncomfortable, is actually not as secure
as wearing the darned things with no cord at all (which, my first ride
demonstrated, is demonstrably safe). I made the mistake of pointing
this out (after all, why was the neck-cord OK at 12:45 but not at
5:30?) and the result was nearly a full-blown shouting match. No, I
will not leave them behind. No, they will not come off. Even if they
could come off (which they can't), there is a safety measure in place
to keep them from going anywhere. Be aware that Dragster has a
physical securement requirement for eyeglasses, but as of Press Day
there seemed to be some disagreement about exactly what that meant. I
presume that as the season goes on there will be further
clarification, or the park will do as it has done on 14 other coasters
and leave it to the rider's discretion.
Considering that the ride was plagued with operational problems, the
park put on quite a show. They got the ride running. They had lots
of services available for press and broadcasters. They had their
camera mounts up and working. They even provided lunch. The park did
a great job of putting together their media event, particularly
considering the frustrating conditions of bad weather early on and
mechanical glitches. The park even distributed cold beverages to
people stuck waiting in line during a particularly nasty bit of
down-time. Unfortunately, their characteristic reluctance to divulge
information can't have won the park many friends. Everyone present
could clearly see that one of the six trains was nowhere to be found,
one car on each train was mysteriously absent, and for a ride that
appeared to operate perfectly every time it was launched (save one),
there was nothing but speculation as to why the last row always went
out empty, why the ride didn't run consistently, or where the missing
parts were. Without explanation, we all saw a ride that was an
amazing technical achievement, a tremendous experience, unlike
anything else anywhere, and clearly not at all ready for "prime time".
It's a great ride, but any responsible journalist would be inclined
to tell people to wait a month or so before trying to ride on it.
Because while it's a great ride, NO ride, no matter how great, is
worth a three-hour wait.
Give the park another month to get the ride running properly, and
Dragster will be an excellent addition to the park's line-up.
Accordingly, I'll be returning for Opening Day this Sunday. 8-)
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Footnote 1: In digital video there is a difference between dubbing
and cloning. Dubbing involves copying the analog audio and video
signals while cloning involves copying the digital data stream.
The park even distributed cold beverages to
people stuck waiting in line during a particularly nasty bit of down-time.
This actually lead to my main gripe for the day. When the park brought out cold drinks, which was MUCH appreciated, all that showed up was canned soda. Sugary canned soda. While it was a nice gesture, myself and many others can't drink that stuff (*). Now, I'm told that some people DID get some diet in there somewhere, but I certainly never saw any, which means there wasn't enough. I even asked one of the guys bringing the drinks out if it might be possible to get something without sugar, and he said "Oh, sorry..." and never came back.
* -- Actually, since I carb count, technically I CAN. I just need to take the appropriate amount of insulin to cover it. However, doing so would only dehydrate me further, defeating the purpose of the cold drinks.
--Greg, aka Oat Boy
"I can't believe I just left a nuclear weapon in an elevator." -- Farscape
*** This post was edited by GregLeg 5/7/2003 10:02:11 AM ***
In fact, several varieties appeared...the first thing to make it to my position was a tray of Mountain Dew, which I didn't touch, but the Sierra Mist, Pepsi, and Diet Pepsi came through about ten minutes later.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
OK, I'll bite. What exactly do you mean by this?
There sure is a lot of "grumpy old man" in this TR. ;) By the way, some of media day's on and off operation can be attributed to holding for live hits. Heck, I wonder if anyone has ever aired POV on live TV from a ride before.
SFMM has the distinction of having vending machines about halfway through X's queue, though a) they don't actually have any water, only soda and b) didn't accept dollar bills last time I went, so unless you had 12 quarters hanging out in your pocket, no drink for you!!
It's not a big deal, and the park made a wonderful gesture in trying to provide anything at all, but it really was quite miserable standing there watching people drink. Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink... ;)
--Greg, aka Oat Boy
"I can't believe I just left a nuclear weapon in an elevator." -- Farscape
I too am on insulin, and was lucky enough to get a Diet Pepsi, as I was one of the first people they came to (at the back of the line). They only had about 9 cans of Diet Pepsi with them. I left quickly after they brought the pop ("soda" for those in the south) since I had to get my season pass processed and was worried I wouldn't be able to since the rollback had just occured, and I figured their would be a long downtime. On the way out of the line, I noticed that the truck they brought the pop on also contained bottled water. I don't know why they wouldn't have given you some, since you specifically asked for it I'm not even sure they ever went back to unload the rest of the pop. My only wish is that they would have done that earlier in the day during my four hour wait the first time around. Considering their were plenty of media waiting in line, I think it would have been a prudent move.
I, for one, DID go on the air the next morning and mention that the ride did not have all the kinks worked out of it, and that even thought the ride was INCREDIBLE, listeners should probably wait until at least Mother's Day weekend before they attempt to ride it (figuring the park would use this week to fine tune the ride in order to raise the capacity).
0 - 120 in 4 seconds. Biggest rush of my life so far (with apologies to my wife...and a few former girlfriends).
Heck, I wonder if anyone has ever aired POV on live TV from a ride before.
Andy Pargh, from NBC's Today Show, rode Mean Streak live back in 1992. I don't know if they did the POV live, but at the very least he had a couple of live rides with a reverse POV. I have in my notes that it was the first live broadcast from a roller coaster.
*** This post was edited by Gemini 5/7/2003 4:15:47 PM ***
Sorry, Jeff, I guess I am getting grumpier in my old age. :) Seriously, though, it probably sounds worse than it really was, because I really rushed to get this thing written and I kept adding more stuff to it. All those little details that tend to be little annoyances on the first ride.
Holds for media feeds are perfectly understandable, but it was the mechanical holds that were causing them to, from what I was hearing, miss satellite windows. The park literally did the best they possibly could, and the event really did go over pretty well.
About the legalese bit...
Have you looked around that park lately? Every ride used to be signed with clear instructions. You must be so high, you must fit, you must sit down, you must hold on, you must not drop anything. Clear, concise directions, giving explicit directions specifically matched to the ride in question. "Sit down, strap in, shut up, and hang on."
Now we are faced with a 4' x 8' sign completely covered with legal boilerplate in 10-point type. The listed restrictions are now exactly the same for every ride in the park from Top Thrill Dragster to Sir Rub-A-Dub's Tubs. Warnings and instructions specific to the ride and written in plain English are gone, replaced with legal weasel-words that cover all the bases but don't really say anything that is actually useful. As riders we are warned about everything that can possibly go wrong on any ride, but the text is so convoluted, generic, intimidating, and useless that most people don't read it at all. Now on Dragster, they're starting to do the same thing with recorded spiels.
The good news is that the park has finally recognized this problem, and I will talk about it in my report for 5/4/2003. New signs have appeared on selected rides...I remember noticing them on Wicked Twister, Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster...which once again give useful ride information.
I just fear for the incident where somebody does something stupid that he was warned against, but never got the warning because it was buried in a page of legal garbage that he didn't read and couldn't understand if he did. The park will be well covered 'cause it's on the sign. Small comfort for the person injured because the frivolous warning didn't include the string, "And on this ride, we really mean it!".
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
Neither as grumpy, nor as old, as he sounds...:)
All who think Mean Streak needs a match taken to it say I.
Bring that book. Until they tear down that @#$! wall so that you can watch the launch, it's probably the best way to pass time in the line.
--Dave Althoff, Jr.
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