Top Thrill Dragster

The Giga-Coaster Rules No More.

Hard to believe it was just three years ago... three years since Cedar Point broke through the 300-foot height barrier with Millennium Force, the world's first "giga-coaster." At that time, I was certain that many, many years would pass before the next major height barrier–400 feet–would be surpassed, if ever.

But here we are today, in 2003, with what the Point calls the world's first "strata-coaster," a 420-footer. Also happens to be the world's first coaster to hit 120 miles per hour. Which it does in four seconds.

I don't know about you, but since Top Thrill Dragster was officially announced, I've been having dreams about riding it. (That may not be something I should admit to, but there it is.) I was lucky enough to do so on May 1st, the media preview day.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm prone to hyperbole when it comes to writing about thrill rides. But you're going to have to believe me when I tell you that Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster is, without question, the scariest roller coaster I've ever experienced. Seriously, brothers and sisters, this big dog bites as hard as it barks.

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Had a chance to ride Knott's Berry Farm's Xcelerator yet? Then you know that Intamin's hydraulically launched "Rocket" coaster is not for the squeamish. Wild as it is, though, Xcelerator is less than half the height and a good 40 miles per hour slower than TTD. This should worry some of you.

Speaking of worrisome, Cedar Point's skyline is now completely dominated by TTD's soaring yellow and red superstructure. Power Tower? Not so powerful-lookin' anymore. Even the Force seems, well, kinda small now. (If you really want to give yourself the willies, hang around till after dark and look at TTD when it's all lit up, glowing against the night sky.)

Oh, and how's this for worrisome? At more than one location in the queue, we're informed that "Occasionally, a launched train will not clear the hill. You should not be concerned; the train will slowly return to the launch position." Gulp.

Should you need a place to sit and reconsider your decision to ride, there's the set of metal bleachers that faces the launch zone. You'll be mightily entertained by watching how each passenger squirms, yelps, freezes and/or freaks just before takeoff. (Media days are especially satisfying for this kind of passive sadism; one poor woman, clearly not a coaster enthusiast, looked to be on the verge of tears.)

From this vantage point, you'll also get to appreciate how much effort was made in designing this coaster's unique trains. The "stadium seat"-equipped middle cars are not much different from those found on Millennium Force. But the first and last cars, each with just a single two-passenger row, are unique to TTD. The sleek winged nose in front and the faux racing engine, air foil and mag wheels in back make these cargo-haulers as distinctive as they come.

(A note about the trains: for the media day, they were shortened to carry just 12 passengers, not 16 as promised, nor were they loading the very last row. Nor were two trains always filled and released simultaneously, also as planned. And the sixth train was nowhere in sight. To the park's credit, they had to make up for many lost days of construction, due to winter weather, and did what it took to have TTD operating in time, even if at less than optimal capacity.)

Non-riders will also dig the delightful details of the launch. Each train moves slowly into position accompanied by the prerecorded rumbles of an idling high-horsepower engine. Occasionally, the engine "revs" a bit–vroom, vroom–a sweet little tease. Finally, the long row of metal fins that line the launch track–an integral part of TTD's fail-safe magnetic braking system–sinks. The train inches forward.


To the tune of a roaring engine and squealing tires, and a very nifty cloud of "burning rubber" smoke, the train disappears. Unnerving to watch, but nothing like what it is to ride.

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I didn't truly grasp just how tall TTD's tower was until I was sitting in a train, waiting to roll out of the station, knowing that in a very short time, I would be up on top of that monster.

Out into bright sunlight, we roll, coming to a stop alongside the bleachers. Vroom, vroom. My heart pounds so hard, I'm afraid it's going to burst through my chest. Vroom.

Waiting, waiting. Vroom.

Sitting in the second row, I can't see if those fins have gone down or not. And I sure don't want to lean over and look. Vroom.

The train rolls about two inches forward and I grab onto the lap restraint like the biggest sissy on the block. Deep in my soul, I know that the next dozen or so seconds of my life are going to be brutal.


One... We start to move. Very fast. Those who aren't yet screaming begin doing so.

Two... We must be traveling at 80 MPH and the train just keeps on accelerating like it's got solid-propellant rockets on board. Every alarm in my nervous system is wailing at Red Alert volume.

Three... I can't scream anymore. Unqualified terror and the forces pummeling my body literally strangle me into silence. We're still accelerating.

Four... Knifing through the air, the train hits 120 brain-splattering miles per hour. And now things really go berserk.

Five... We rip up the first vertical curve to about 150 feet in altitude, and climb ever higher, straight into the firmament, with stupefying speed.

Six... The track spins us to the right and I regain the ability to scream. Higher, higher, higher.

Seven... We're just about at the summit. Keep your eyes open, lest you miss a view you'll remember till your dying days, no matter how hard you try to forget.

Eight... Four hundred and twenty feet above all creation, the nose of our vehicle swings up and over the top, dragging us right along behind it.

Sweet Jesus. There's Millennium Force. Way down below us.

It's time to drop, at 90 degrees, from over 400 feet.

Abandon all hope.

Nine... We dive towards the planet, once again hurtling to nearly twice the legal speed limit.

Ten... The train pinwheels through a 270-degree track twist, narrowly shredding past big, yellow supports in an ever increasing blur. Whipping around and falling hard, it feels like we're going to drill our way clear through to the earth's core.

Eleven... At flesh-rippling velocity, we start to pull out of the dive.

Twelve... Back to a far saner distance from solid ground, the train levels off and begins to decelerate, smooth as glass: 110 mph, 90, 70, 50, 30...

And finally, we crawl to a stop. About 15 seconds and it's over, fifteen seconds of abominable intensity unmatched by any other roller coaster anywhere.

If Hell has thrill rides, this brilliantly evil machine should be one of them.

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Will roller coasters get taller, faster, quicker than this one? Given recent history, one would have to say "yes," eventually. How soon? I wouldn't even try to guess. But know this: Cedar Point's Gemini was a record-breaker in 1978, at 125 feet in height. Think about what's happened in the last 25 years.

Then think about the next 25 years. That, my friends, is really scary.

Want to see TTD in motion? Click here for a teaser video.

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Top Thrill Dragster

  • TOP SPEED: 120 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 420 feet
  • MAX. ASCENT ANGLE: 90 Degrees
  • MAX. DESCENT ANGLE: 90 Degrees
  • RIDE DURATION: Fifteen seconds, give or take
  • CARS: Six trains, 16 passengers per train
  • MANUFACTURER: Intamin AG, Wollerau, Switzerland





© Robert Coker.
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