Not Another South Trip - Part 1 (Dollywood, NASCAR Speed Park)

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Thursday, October 7, 2004 8:42 PM
Just Another South Trip – Part 1


August 27th, 2004


“Oh! Hello! I guess we will see you tomorrow?”


Just after a week or so went by after Jeff Johnson and I did our Whirlwind ’04 trip, another one started. This time the parks were few, but there would be a lot of driving as usual. Once again, the plan seemed so simple. Visit a few parks that were here and there, and then go home. After throwing some ideas around, Jeff and I thought we had a solid plan.

One night a few months ago, Jeff and I were talking on the phone about our Whirlwind trip we were to do. Jeff then had another crazy idea for another trip. After I told him how much I loved Dollywood’s Thunderhead, he knew he had to get there sometime this year. He also wanted to get to Myrtle Beach. More ideas were thrown around before he started looking for flights. I checked into flights as well and booked one rather quickly once I found a decent deal. I didn’t even have the days off from work yet. I knew I wasn’t going to miss this trip and would work it out somehow (which I did).

The day of the trip was like any other day. I had to wake up early and get myself to the airport. I left my car and boarded my Delta flight to Atlanta. I was to arrive a half hour after Jeff. Once I arrived I met up with Jeff and great friend Robert Ulrich. Robert would be helping us out in a big way. Not only were we going to stay at his place, but he also provided a rental car. All he asked was we help pay for the gas and for Jeff and I to do the night driving. Not a bad deal if you ask me.

Once we got our nice Buick Le Saber, it was time to hit the road. Our plan was to get to Dollywood around noon and spend the entire day there. I had only been to the park one time this year and knew I was going to go back at some point. Thankfully this was the time. I was very impressed with Thunderhead that I decided to purchase a season pass after my first ride.

The drive to Dollywood from Atlanta took us through the Appalachian Mountains. The scenery was incredible as you could probably imagine. I don’t get to visit this area as much as I do the west coast but am still impressed with the mountains of Tennessee, even though they aren’t as large as the ones found out west. Our drive also took us through the small town where the movie Deliverance was filmed. Don’t ask me the name of the town. I couldn’t tell you. Robert explained the stat to me. Dueling banjos anyone?

We arrived at Dollywood at around noon as expected. We were welcomed by a near full lot. Luckily for us the park has a great tram service. We were up at the front gate in no time flat. Robert and I entered through the season pass entrance while Jeff walked around to purchase tickets. Once inside, we met up with enthusiast Matt Lambert. I hadn’t seen Matt since the 30 hour marathon we did on the Great American Scream Machine last year. Matt was one of the 8 of us that lasted the whole marathon. If there was anyone that would be a great host to take us around the park, it was Matt as he used to work there.

Where to go first?

Duh!

We needed to get Jeff on Thunderhead. While the park was pretty packed, we were told Thunderhead was a walk-on. It seems most people that go to Dollywood, as well as sister park Silver Dollar City, go for the shows and not the rides.

---Thunderhead---

We walked up the long hill to get to the new coaster. We could tell there wasn’t a line. The last time I rode I wanted the entire queue, but the wait wasn’t all that bad. We walked up into the station just as the operators were taking off one train. There wasn’t a need for a second train as hardly anyone was riding.

Jeff and I hopped into the front seat once the ride was up and running. Jeff really had no idea of the layout of this ride. As we left the station and made our way up the lift, Jeff looked down to the right to “study” the layout. He claimed he could figure it out quite easy.

A play-by-play isn’t really necessary as I find the layout pretty darned twisted, and probably would screw it up if I even attempted to describe the last half of the layout. Yes, I know it but I tend to get lost while riding. That’s a good sign for a twisted ride IMO.

I should note that the temperature was very high. In the upper 90’s. The humidity was nasty. It seemed like we were in Houston or something. Because of the sticky air, Thunderhead wasn’t running as fast I remembered it. When I first rode it, the train never seemed to slow down. It was nuts. I honestly couldn’t believe it.

This time was a different story. Our ride was sluggish. There were moments where the train would slow down as it was entering a curve. We just kind of strolled up into the final brakes. Don’t get me wrong. It was still a very fun ride. It just wasn’t as fast as I remembered it. I could tell Jeff wasn’t totally blown away. Both Robert and I commented on the ride and assured Jeff that it was having a bad day.

Our second ride was in the back row. Last May, the coaster was much more intense in the front row. This time the back row was the place to ride. Both Robert and I were a bit surprised by this. Jeff agreed that the back row was much better but he also noted that perhaps he was still drooling from the amazing ending of the Ozark Wildcat at Celebration City. I try to “erase” my feelings of other rides while riding one coaster. If I was in Jeff’s mode of thought, I may have had similar feelings at the time.

We rode several more times before deciding to move on. We walked onto the other side of the park and over to our next coaster.

---Tennessee Tornado---

This Arrow looper is a rare ride. I have talked to other enthusiasts that say they are not looking forward to riding this coaster as they expect it to be “just another Arrow.” It’s too bad Arrow hasn’t made any more coasters like this as TT is a fun ride. The size of the elements as well as the smooth transitions makes this ride a very re-ridable coaster. We rode a couple of times before leaving.

The exit for the ride dumps everyone into an arcade. There is rip-off Dance Dance Revolution-like machine in the arcade called Dance Dance Together. This was the first “clone” of the game that I have seen that had the arrows in the same configuration as the DDR machines. I walked over to check it out. Jeff suggested I play even though I honestly didn’t want to. A few seconds later I was plopping some tokens down the coin slot. Please, PLEASE don’t make the same mistake I did. Avoid this machine at all costs as it is not responsive in the least. I had to get an attendant to give me my money back as two of the arrows on the left side didn’t even work. Once I tried the right side, the arrows were better but I didn’t find the game all that fun.

The rest of the time we spent at the park was spent walking around and riding whenever we reached a ride. We rode Blazing Fury and didn’t get very wet. This was about to change. I didn’t even know the park had a flume and had never been in the area where it is located. Robert and Matt explained to me this area was supposedly due to get an upgrade (one that recently was just announced)

Robert explained some history behind the log flume. He suggested we ride it as there was hardly a line. He also assured us that riders don’t get very wet. I don’t remember the exact layout but I do remember it had two lifts. This was the first log flume I have seen to use turquoise conveyor lift belts. It looked strange to me.

**Note to self….Don’t trust Robert when he says you won’t get wet on a water ride**

After squeezing out some of the water from my clothes, we decided to dry off a bit more by riding the Yo-Yo. This one operated in a different way than I am used to. Instead of starting to spin while rising up, this version raises the seats all the way up, then starts to spin. It didn’t spin very fast but the cycle was a long one. Passing could have been done but we didn’t want to get in trouble. =:^)

Being a big train buff, Jeff suggested we ride the train. I had never ridden it so I was up for it. While we were passing Thunderhead, Robert got a rather unexpected phone call. The mayor of Myrtle Beach wanted to talk with him. Let me go back a bit and explain why.

When it was announced that the Myrtle Beach Pavilion Amusement Park was in danger of closing, Robert wrote a very nice letter to the mayor. The Mayor responded to Robert in an e-mail thanking him for his thoughts. Just by chance, the mayor asked Robert when the next time he would be in the Myrtle Beach area. When Robert told him we were planning on going there tomorrow as part of our trip, the mayor sounded excited. Robert had to write some information down so he passed me the phone to talk with the Mayor as well. I didn’t really have much to say but I could tell the mayor was a nice, laid back guy over the static of our conversation.

Robert jolted down some information before hanging up with him. While the mayor had planned on taking that Saturday off, once he heard Robert was planning a visit, he got an idea. Because of Robert’s letter, the mayor decided to have a “Save the Pavilion” press conference. At first, none of knew what to expect out of this but we became excited that we could try and help in some way.

After our ride on the train we headed back to Thunderhead. There was only a half an hour or so left to ride so we thought we could get in a lot of rides. As we walked up to an empty station we could see more and more people walking up to it. By the end of our ride, the station was full. At the end of our next ride, most of the queue was filled. It appears that Thunderhead suffers from the “ride it on the way out” system. We declined a third ride to leave Dollywood to find another coaster in the vicinity. We said goodbye to Matt and left. We would be seeing Matt in a couple of days at another park.

Just a few miles down the main Pigeon Forge strip is a rather new kind of FEC named…

===NASCAR Speed Park.===

If you are a NASCAR fan, this is your place. Since I am not a race fan, I wasn’t as blown away by theming and go-cart tracks as some of the other locals. The main reason to visit this place was to ride a new coaster. After purchasing some tickets, we made our way past a few go-cart tracks and over to the coaster. At first glance the ride looked to be closed but we found a ride operator to run it for us.

----Daytona Draft----(#578)

This is one of the newer Zierer coasters like the one found at Sea World in San Antonio. The cars on the train were all decked out to look like small NASCAR cars. The layout pretty much consisted of a lift, helix, and a couple of small bunny hops. There was quite a bit of banking on this one that I have never seen on a coaster like this.

As we sat down in the cars (watch out for the “Sullivanator”) we pulled down our lap bars and began our multi-circuit ride. I think we went around 8 times or so before our ride ended. For a coaster of this size, the ride was very smooth. There is no doubt that the banking had something to do with this. It almost appeared as if the ride was designed around the heartline or something.

With our object completed, we left the park and had dinner at a nearby Friday’s. We still had a 4 or 5 hour drive back to Atlanta. Since we were staying with Robert and got a free rental (thanks to Robert again), we knew this was going to be a fairly cheap trip. We decided to save even more money by driving back to Atlanta each night. Yes, we knew it would be long hours on the road, but I was all for it to save some dough. After all, cutting corners provides me with more chance to travel.

We arrived in Atlanta at around midnight. We also got to talk a bit with Robert’s son Sam. Sam would be joining us for our trip the next day. We had a very early start the next day. Before going to sleep Robert explain to us that we had to be on the road by 6:00AM in order to be at Myrtle Beach at a certain time. After all, we couldn’t keep the mayor waiting. =:^)


Next up….

Spinning like mad, an embarrassing moment, and a last minute surprise.


Thanks for reading,

-Sean

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Thursday, October 7, 2004 9:46 PM
Cool. I'm looking foward to hearing about your adventures down here in the South. It's O.K. if you don't have any pictures to share ;) For me, both Thunderhead and the Ozark Wildcat are great rides but I prefer the Oz Cat just a little more. That finale is great. Everyone says though that Thunderhead is awesome at night, something I'm hopefully going to find out this December when I next make it back to the park.
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Thursday, October 7, 2004 10:42 PM
Heath,

Sorry for the lack of pictures. Jeff Johnson did send me some but I decided not to post them as they are fairly large and will take up a large amount of my space. I am already using 250MB from the pics I have up there now. Yikes!

I really was blown away by Oz Cat. Twenty times in the rain will do that to you I guess. =:^)

-Sean

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Friday, October 8, 2004 9:52 AM
Thunderhead does run better at night. ;-)

I had no idea about Nascar Speedpark...is this something that just opened recently? I will make it a point to check it out when I go back to the area. I am not a NASCAR fan but the park looks fun nonetheless, judging from it's website.

Yes, that DDR imposter machine was HORRIBLE! Ugh.

I agree that TT isn't the most inviting coaster in the world and even I had reservations about riding it the first time, being that I am sensitive to Arrow headbangers.

Not only was it NOT *headbanging* but it became ONE of my favorite coasters of all time. :-D It's short and sweet and that "hangtime" during the first loop is just blissful.

-Tina

*** Edited 10/8/2004 1:57:10 PM UTC by coasterqueenTRN***

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Friday, October 8, 2004 12:01 PM
Sean- I definitely understand about the pictures. BTW, I remember those picks of you guys in the rain on Oz Cat that you had previously posted. I don't think that a cross expression of both pain and joy has ever been so effectively caught on film ;)

Tina- I'm not sure how long the Nascar Speedpark has been there but I did see it when we went last April. It's right down the road from Dollywood. I've been living an hour away from the one in Myrtle Beach for over 6 years now and I still haven't stopped yet even though I want to. Maybe it will take them getting a credit there for me to stop.

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Friday, October 8, 2004 12:17 PM
I'll be at both DW and the Nascar speedpark in less than two weeks (week of 10/17-22)...anyone going to be in the area that week???
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Friday, October 8, 2004 12:36 PM
The NASCAR Speedpark has been there for at least 3 or 4 years...I remember going down there a few summers ago (can't remember exactly how long it's been) on vacation, before I was as into coasters as I am now...but it was a fun place to visit, since I'm a NASCAR fan myself :)
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Friday, October 8, 2004 1:42 PM
Heath,

I am surprised I didn't see it as I was at Dollywood twice this past April.

Being with a rather large group of credit whores I am surprised one of them didn't sniff it out, especially Rollergator Bill! LOL!

-Tina

*** Edited 10/8/2004 5:44:19 PM UTC by coasterqueenTRN***

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Friday, October 8, 2004 1:56 PM
Tina,

The Daytona Draft didn't open until sometime this summer. I have no doubts that Bill would have sniffed it out if it had been there;)

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Friday, October 8, 2004 2:08 PM
I might hit Dollywood for their X-mas thing.
I went there in June and had a blast. It is one of the most beautiful parks i've been to.
when i rode Thunderhead, it was like 80 degrees and the ride never let up til it hit the brakes in the station... Great Coaster!
I checked out the NasCar place. Tried some of the tracks. The other go-kart places in the area are better than there's. One thing i can say for the pigeon forge area: there is no lack for places to go or eat.
but for all the go-kart places: they are not kidding when they say: If you Bump, we'll bounce you. I saw them boot more than a few people...
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Friday, October 8, 2004 3:51 PM
I agree with you Sean, Ozark Wildcat has one of the best finales anywhere, it just seems to go so fast with so much force and so much airtime. Gotta love those 2 humps after the flat turnaround. Now that is good coastering. Thunderhead just didn't feature that in my opninion.
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Friday, October 8, 2004 5:31 PM
Sean,

You suck for not letting me know you were in the "area". And I never got the explanation from Joe as to the hows and whys of it at CMania. ;)

Wish I coulda hung out with you a bit more at CMania, btw. Talk about a whirlwind weekend. Why don't you see if you can use some of your "pull" to keep CMania in September! :)

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Friday, October 8, 2004 8:48 PM
Heath,

That picture did show joy and pain well I guess, but have you see the photo of Howard Gillooley and I riding Millennium Force in a downpour? I guess it makes the rounds online every few months or so. I can post it on pbase if anyone would like to see it, unless someone else has a link to a site that has it.


Homey,

Yes, too bad we didn't get to chat more than 2 seconds at Coastermania. It's my fault I didn't contact you before I went down there. I thougth about it as I was on my flight down there but then realized I don't have your number. Duh!

Oh, and as far as having "pull", I don't have it anymore =:^)

-Sean (freedom is here)

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