Top THrill 2

When Top Thrill Dragster opened in 2003, it was the kind of project that only the boundary-pushing Swiss ride manufacturer Intamin could've conceived. Yep, three years after smashing through the 300-foot height barrier with the Modern Marvel: Millennium Force, Intamin returned to Ohio's Cedar Point with an unfathomable ride to shatter the 400-foot height record, crafting the world's tallest and fastest roller coaster.

Actually, Top Thrill Dragster was the second in Intamin's "Accelerator" ride model (the first being Knott's Berry Farm's 205-foot tall Xcelerator). The ride infamously pushed to its limit the capabilities of the then-new technology of the hydraulic launch – basically, using highly-pressured hydraulics to rapidly spin a massive drum, reeling in a high-tension cable connected to the bottom of the ride vehicle. 

Image: Intamin

Top Thrill Dragster's hydraulic launch made the ride capable of not just incredible speed, but instantaneous acceleration – riders famously launched from 0 to 120 miles per hour in just four seconds. But the hydraulic system also had its pitfalls. The incredibly complex, pressurized process launching trains every 45 seconds or so left the ride subject to frequent downtime. And since it's an inherently physical process (with a winch cable literally reeling and unreeling at jaw-dropping speeds over and over), the launch was subject to failure – as occurs when those cables snap or shred, sometimes injuring riders.

There's no question that the original ride deserves its in-depth memorialization in our Lost Legend: Top Thrill Dragster feature... but there's also no question that the ride was a massive albatross for every year of the two decades it operated. Ultimately, it was an accident seemingly unrelated to the ride's launch that forced its closure and reimagining... And that's where the worries began...

Questions and Answers

Image: Cedar Fair

In August 2021, Top Thrill Dragster was closed. Cedar Point quickly acknowledged that the ride would be "SNBO" (standing but not operating) for the 2022 season. It came and went. It wasn't until September 2022 that the park fessed up to the ride's fate: "Top Thrill Dragster, as you know it, is being retired." Of course, it was that little "as you know it" that became a glimmer in the eyes of fans. 

Naturally, rumors of outlandish reimaginings, extensions, and rebuilds spread through Internet message boards. Friends of friends who worked at the Dippin' Dot stand on the midway heard that the ride would have 30 feet added to its eight, stealing back the "world's tallest roller coaster" crown from Six Flags' near-twin, Kingda Ka. But more grounded fans focused on three significant questions: Which manufacturer would take lead on any inevitable reimagining? given that Cedar Fair's relationship with Intamin had been on ice for years... What would they do about the troublesome, expensive hydraulic launch that almost certainly wouldn't survive a rebuild? and How would Top Thrill Dragster crest its 420-foot tall top hat without it?

Image: Cedar Fair

When the details of Top Thrill 2 were unveiled in August 2023, we got our answers.

It would be the unlikely Zamperla to take the job. The Italian ride manufacturer is far more known for their flat rides than their roller coasters, and the roller coasters they have built are largely of the family variety. But Zamperla put in a bid to reimagine Top Thrill Dragster as their first in a line of "Lightning" models they expect to bolster them into the big leagues of thrill ride manufacturers.

That answered the second and third questions, too. Zamperla would employ the much more standard and expected launch system du jour: linear synchronous motors (LSMs). Basically, LSM launches position dozens – even hundreds – of motors down the length of a ride's track. The trains, meanwhile, are affixed with metal fins arranged to "skim" through narrow gaps in the motors. When supplied with electricity, the motors become electromagnets, drawing in the train's fins and then repelling them out of motor after motor after motor.

Image: Cedar Fair

LSM launches are fast (see Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Maverick, Revenge of the Mummy, Cheetah Hunt, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and hundreds more around the globe)... but they're not instantaneous reeling of a cable fast. They are, inherently, gradual accelerations, as each successive motor attracts-and-repels. Disney California Adventure's Incredicoaster, for example, uses LSMs to travel from 0 to 55 miles per hour in four seconds – the same time frame in which Top Thrill Dragster's hydraulic launch could reach its twice-as-fast top speed.

So as to how LSMs could propel the train over the top hat? Well... they couldn't. At least, not in one go. Instead, Top Thrill 2 would turn Dragster's runway into a multi-pass LSM launch, propelling the train forward to a top speed of 76 miles per hour (by our count, in about 8 seconds). That'd only be enough to get the train about halfway up the ride's 420-foot tall tower. So the train would "roll back," passing through the same LSM runway backwards, with the boost getting riders up to 101 miles per hour, blasting up a new "rear spike". The train would stall out there, plummet down, and pass forward through the LSMs again, this time achieving the magic number of 120 miles per hour, making it over the top hat before spiraling back down to the finish line.

Image: Cedar Fair

Okay, okay, LSMs would also make Top Thrill 2 "smart" in the sense that LSMs are computer-controlled and precise; they're able to adjust power with nuance the way a chaotic, mechanical, hydraulic launch cant. They're also – inherent in electromagnetism – powered by a non-contact force, meaning no friction, no cables, no frays, no water sprays to cool off overheated boosts, no shreds, no re-spooling of drums... just electricity! 

But the elation of the ride's survival melted for many with the disappointing premise of its whole selling point – a breathtaking, jaw-dropping, instantaneous acceleration creating one of the world's most extreme ride experiences – being replaced with a more standard launch that you can find on lots and lots of coasters. Cedar Point's promise that "now everyone will get to experience the thrill of a rollback" didn't seem to make up for the disappointing idea that the train's initial launch would barely make it halfway up the tower – a kind of fitting demonstration of just how pathetic LSMs were next to the old ride's launch.

But man... The reviews are in... And what folks have to say is pretty hard to argue...


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