2003



Back when we lived in Michigan Holly and I would go to Cedar Point every Spring before the weather got too warm and the kids got out of school.  I think the last time we went was in 1999.  I'm guessing that was the last time because, although it seems insane, we had never been on the "new" 300 ft. coaster Millennium Force  (seen here on the right.)

Before 2003 our favorite rides at The Point were The Magnum XL200 and The RaptorThe Magnum was an incredible ride and still is with that first 200 ft. hill and The Raptor is fun but there's a bigger and faster version of it called Alpengeist down here in Virginia at Bush Gardens.  Holly and I have season passes there and it's our favorite ride in the park.  Below you can see pictures of The Magnum XL200, The Raptor and Bush Garden's version of Raptor called Alpengeist .

Anyway, we took a few days off and drove up to Ohio to visit  friends and spend a day at Cedar Point.  I was excited to finally ride Millennium Force but I was even more excited about a new coaster that opened this year called Top Thrill Dragster.  

Top Thrill Dragster is, without a doubt, the greatest ride in the history of rides!  There is nothing on earth that compares to it.  I can't even compare it to any other ride I've been on before.  It is a literal life altering experience.  If you only ride one more roller coaster before you die make sure it's Top Thrill Dragster!  If you have to, drop out of school, quit your job, divorce your spouse, break out of jail, spend the children's college fund, do absolutely whatever is necessary to get to Cedar Point and ride this ride.  I'm totally serious.  It's that good!

Now let me calm down and tell you a little bit about the greatest, coolest, fastest, tallest, wildest, best ride on the entire planet.  Top Thrill Dragster is what is known as a "strata-coaster."  At 420 ft. it is possible that on cloudy days you will be unable to see the top of it!  The train is launched using a hydraulic mechanism that launches you from a zero to 120 mph in 4 seconds!  There is nothing short of being shot into space on a rocket that compares with this sensation.  ZERO TO 120 MILES PER HOUR IN 4 SECONDS!  

After it reaches this speed, on the flat drag-strip, it shoots straight up a 90 degree twisted track to the top of the 420 ft. arch.  That's straight up for 420 ft.!  It then slowly falls over the top of the arch and sends you into a 270-degree twist, spiraling clockwise, face to the ground, down the other  420 ft. side of the arch and out onto the flat runway that slows the train as it pulls back into the loading bay.  

Top Thrill Dragster is so awesome, I fear that my over-enthusiastic description here relates only a small percentage of how cool it actually is!  Let's take another look at the the stats for this God of rides:

Dragster Stats

Height: 420 ft.
Twist rotation: 90 degrees up, 270 degrees down
Speed: 120 mph
Capacity: 1,500 pph
Trains: 6
Riders/Train: 16
Cost: $25 million
Manufacturer: Intamin AG
First season: 2003

Top Thrill Dragster is a very unique experience but probably its most distinctive feature is the fact that the ride only functions properly for about an hour each day if you're lucky (and it was  closed the entire month of June).  This ride is more susceptible to weather conditions than any other ride in history.  If there is a drop of rain they shut it down.  Too windy?  They shut it down.  Condensation in the air?  They shut it down.  Even hours after a misty two second rain shower this ride will still be closed.  

Besides the fact that the hydraulic launching mechanism is constantly breaking, the conditions of the track need to be absolutely perfect (ie. no water resistance) for the train to clear the top of the hill.  There is actually a warning sign informing riders that it is possible that the train will not make it over the top and may slide backwards back down the track!

Cedar Point opens at 10am.  Holly and I entered the park at about 9:15am and were in line for Top Thrill Dragster by 9:30.  We waited in line and made our way to the front.  At about 10:14am we took our seats on the train, buckled our seat belts and pulled down our shoulder harnesses and excitedly waited to leave the loading bay.  At that exact moment, they closed the ride! 

We couldn't believe it!  We were actually locked, loaded and ready to kiss the sky when they shut it down because it was starting to rain.  We released our seat belts and shoulder harnesses and stepped back into the loading gate, once again behind the yellow safety line.  We waited.

We waited for about an hour as the rain sprinkled and stopped and sprinkled and stopped.  As far as we could tell, none of the other rides in the park were effected by the brief showers.    Protected under the loading bay, we didn't get wet.   Others, outside of the Dragster enclosure,  rode every ride that remained open.

Most of the people in line left after the first hour.  Everyone under the loading bay and in the area outside leading up to the bay held their ground.  We had all waited for almost two hours now (if you include the initial 45 minutes in line before they shut it down) and we were too close to sacrifice the time we had spent.   

As time ticked by and the perfectly sunny day was restored more and more people left the line to experience some of the other 70 or 80 rides the park has to offer.  After almost another hour the track was dry enough and ready to send some test trains over the hill.  A train was launched.  It failed to crest the peak.  It was launched again.  Failure.  Eventually it made it over.  The small crowd on the platform cheered.  Then another made it.  Then another.  As the fifth train topped the hill those of us who remained shouted with glee and ran back to our positions to board the trains.   Then it started to rain again.

Time went by.  It was now after noon.  We had been in line for over three hours.  The Cedar Point kids who operate the ride had gone on their lunch breaks and then returned to complete their shifts.  Some brought decks of cards and we amused ourselves with games of Eucre and Rummy as the rain that had dampened our merriment evaporated like the dreams of those who had abandoned their places in line hours before.   

By now I had given up hope of riding any other ride this day.  I would wait here until the end of time if necessary.  Holly knew that I had passed into utter madness, insanity.  She did not protest or suggest we leave.  This sacrifice was endearing and I wiped away a tear as she looked up at me with a brave little smile.  

The track was once again dry and ready for test runs.  Most of us who remained gathered at the end of the loading bay to watch and whisper little prayers to help the test trains over the hill.  The track was dry.  It had been four hours now.  Yet the test trains barely made it half way up the hill.  The hydraulics that launch the trains had broken and maintenance men were summoned.  Maintenance men who would eventually fix the faulty hydraulics but who could not mend our broken spirits.  

At 1:45pm the first test train, after multiple failed attempts, inched it's way over the arch.  We were excited but wary.  We had been fooled so many times and there were, as we now knew, so many things that could still go wrong.  Another train made it, then another.  Finally the moment of truth came.  From amongst themselves, the Cedar Point kids elected a sacrificial employee to strap in and send as a live test subject over the hill.  We watched.  We waited.  I know not what bargains were made on the loading platform that day but it is a certainty that some of us no longer hold the lease on our souls.  

The boy made it.  His train teetered over the brink and before it had returned to the station we happy few that remained once again took up our positions at the loading gates.  To add an increased thrill, the train Holly and I once again boarded and belted into had the honor of being the first train to be launched fully laden.  There was a possibility, as the sign had warned, that we would not make it to the top and would plummet backward and return to the launch point.  

The train moved into position.  The drag-strip light tree that signaled our ignition began its sequence.  The artificial roar of a powerful race car engine screamed over the loudspeakers all around us.  And we launched.

Four seconds later we were screaming down the track and approaching the vertical incline.  I struggled to remain conscious as the G-Forces crushed me back into the seat.   Then we were up and slowly moving over the pinnacle.  The view was indescribable.  Then just as quickly we plummeted straight down in a twisty descent back to Earth.  The train slowed, rounded the circuit, and pulled back into the station...about 42 seconds had passed. 

The first time you ride Top Thrill Dragster you are left speechless.  As soon as we disembarked, all of us who had waited so long for that ride, agreed that we would get right back in line if we could.   It wasn't until later in the day that Holly and I were able to articulate the joy it had brought to our lives.  It was one of the single most exciting times of my life and I would wait twice as long or longer just to ride it again.

We rode all of our other favorites for the remainder of the day.  The lines were short or non-existent for most of the other rides in the park.  I kept and eye on The Dragster all day and watched the people who had gathered in line waiting to ride it but as far as I could tell it never worked again for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  Of course we rode the 300 ft. Millennium Force that we had been so excited about for the last four years.  It was fun.  We even rode it a second time later in the day just for kicks but it was no Top Thrill Dragster.  Nothing is.  Perhaps nothing ever will be.

More views of Top Thrill Dragster.  Best Ride Ever!