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3. The Racer

Image: Kings Island

Though most guests to the park probably never even consider it, The Racer at Kings Island is one of the most important roller coasters on Earth. Opened with the park in 1972, the John Allen classic is often regarded as the ride that launched the "Second Golden Age of the Roller Coaster," ending a drought that had begun with the World Wars. Famously featured in an episode of "The Brady Bunch," the leaping tracks of the two mirror-imaged, white tracks are as classic as they come... But for a generation of guests, the Racer today is missing something important...

In 1981, Kings Island took a big risk on a brand new type of roller coaster from legendary manufacturer Arrow. The first ever "suspended" coaster, The Bat positioned guests in bucket-like cars that hung from the track above, swinging side to side along the ride's course. The Bat was a landmark new kind of coaster. Trouble is, it didn't work. Engineering defects left the ride closed more often than open. (It would eventually close forever after just two years.)

Image: Joel A. Rogers, CoasterGallery.com (Used with permission)

By its second summer, the Bat still wasn't operating regularly. So Kings Island management came up with a clever idea for giving guests something new and exciting for the year. In 1982 – notably, its 10th anniversary – one side of the Racer had its trains turned backwards. There was a joyful sort of obviousness to the idea of a forward and backward side of a twin racing coaster. And so it remained for decades! For 25 years, the backwards Racer was a rite of passage for coaster enthusiasts.

In 2008 – the same year that Cedar Point officially "de-Paramounted" Kings Island, the Racer was restored to fully-foward operation. Allegedly, updated recommendations from the ride's manufacturer necessitated the change. Theoretically, it was also a restoration of the "original" ride experience to have both trains face forward. But for a generation of Millennials who'd grown up with the "backwards Racer" as a defining feature of their childhood, it's easy to see why the ride arguably lost a bit of its spark.

Don't get us wrong – unlike the other two rides on this list, Racer is still standing, and it's still an absolutely legendary, landmark, important ride for the role it played in the story of the roller coaster. More to the point, it's still a whole lot of fun. Given that both sides of the ride have faced forward for 15 years now, a new generation of kids would have no reason to even know that something's changed. But for kids of the '80s and '90s, there's something legendary about that backwards ride... and something that changed when its spark did. 

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Comments

Great article on these coasters. While ours is nowhere the 'BIGNESS' of what's happened to these coasters, COASTER in Playland(PNE) in Vancouver, Canada has gone through a Major Change recently, after over two years of renovating etc. The trouble now is ... they added SEAT BELTS to it. After 64 years of no injuries or deaths, they put seat belts on it now? Apparently this was ordered by a new Safety Official who inspected Coaster after all the renovation was completed ... for "further ongoing safety" I was told. Bleah. Obviously this Official doesn't ride coasters. And I don't know if I'll ever ride Coaster again in this new fashion. So far, in two visits to the park (second time during our annual fair, The PNE, Sept.01) Coaster wasn't open the first visit (July 31), and on the second, the queue was nearly two hours long to get a two minute ride on Coaster. With seat belts. Double bleah.

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