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Published: Friday, 5/2/2003

Dragster riders find survival part of its thrill

Riders react to Cedar Point's newest roller coaster, which goes from 0 to 120 mph in just four seconds. Riders react to Cedar Point's newest roller coaster, which goes from 0 to 120 mph in just four seconds.

SANDUSKY - Cedar Point says its new, record-breaking roller coaster goes from 0 to 120 mph in just four seconds. It took a little longer - about three hours - for Top Thrill Dragster to reach its top speed yesterday.

The $25 million ride, the tallest and fastest coaster in the world, was scheduled to begin operating at 5:30 a.m. during a preview for an estimated 1,000 media representatives and select coaster fanatics. But an overnight lightning strike affected the ride, and intermittent thunderbolts pushed the first launch back to about 8:30 a.m., Janice Witherow, Cedar Point's public relations chief, said.

The assembled coaster devotees didn't seem to mind the delay, especially after their first high-speed go-around.

“It was literally breath-taking,” said Jeff Ottney, of Titusville, Pa. Mr. Ottney, 39, managing editor of Roller Coaster magazine, said the best part of the ride was the launch, followed closely by the plunge down the steep, 420-foot-tall hill.

Riders are lifted out of their seats as the Top Thrill Dragster zips into a 270-degree spiral. Riders are lifted out of their seats as the Top Thrill Dragster zips into a 270-degree spiral.

The public will get its first shot at the ride Sunday when the park opens for the new season.

With only about 30 seconds of ride time, Top Thrill Dragster whips its riders through its 2,800 feet of track with such force it takes several trips just to soak in the experience.

The ride starts with the roar of a revving engine - just a sound effect - as the hydraulic-launch system powers up. Riders are slammed back into their seats when the 12-seat coaster rockets toward a 90-degree hill.

The coaster slows as it nears the crest, building a stomach-churning tension before it hurls riders straight down, lifting them out of their seats as it zips into a 270-degree spiral.

The ride reaches 120 mph twice: shortly after launch and on its descent, which is the equivalent of plunging from the Owens-Illinois building in downtown Toledo.

“Oh my God,” said Howard Gillooly of Toledo. “I think they've just gone over the edge.”

Riders crest a 420-foot-tall hill then plung 90 degrees. Riders crest a 420-foot-tall hill then plung 90 degrees.

Mr. Gillooly, northwest Ohio and Michigan regional representative of American Coaster Enthusiasts, described the speed and acceleration as “unparalleled.” He said it's amazing how much higher the new coaster goes than Millennium Force, a record-setter three years ago.

“It far exceeded anything I expected from it,” Mr. Gillooly said.

Tami Caruso of Sandusky offered a similar assessment. “It's better than anything I thought it could be,” she said. “I didn't think anything could top Millennium, but it did.”

Russ Johnson, 42, of suburban Dayton called the ride unbelievable, though he said he would need to ride it a few more times. “The first time, you're going so fast, you're just trying to survive,” said Mr. Johnson, southern Ohio representative of American Coaster Enthusiasts.

“It was a fantastic thrill going through the ride, a great addition for the park, but they always seem to do that here,” said Jim Mitchell, 58, of Springfield, Ohio. The launch and speed are what make the ride special, he said.

“I'd like it to [last] a little longer, but the park has a space constraint,” the 10-year coaster enthusiast said.

The so-called “stratacoaster,” designed by Intamin AG of Switzerland, returns Cedar Point to the top of the coastering universe. Its height tops the previous record holder, the Steel Dragon in Japan, by 102 feet, and its top speed eclipses another Japanese coaster, Dodonpa, by 12 mph.

Top Thrill Dragster's opening marks the second time in three years Cedar Point has had the world's tallest and fastest coaster. The 310-foot-tall, 92 mph Millennium Force, another Intamin product, opened in 2000. But it held the top spot only a few months before the Steel Dragon supplanted it. The park now has 16 coasters.

Ms. Witherow expects Cedar Point's reign to last longer this time. “We've heard no rumors of anyone else going taller and faster,” she said.

Cedar Point made room for Top Thrill Dragster, which is next to the Iron Dragon and across from the Power Tower and Corkscrew, by moving two spinning rides. Chaos and Troika now are in the beach midway near last year's new coaster, Wicked Twister.

The recent edition of Consumer Reports magazine rated Cedar Point in the middle of the pack of 14 national amusement parks it ranked. The park was given high marks for the quality of its rides, but poor rankings for the size of its crowds (long lines) and quality of its souvenirs.

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