Top Thrill Dragster
Top Thrill Dragster is a steel, hydraulically-launched roller coaster located at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. It was the first "Strata Coaster," loosely defined as a complete circuit coaster that is 400 to 499 feet tall. It was built by Intamin AG and debuted to the public on May 4th, 2003. It is one of only 2 stratacoasters in existence, the other being Kingda Ka (2005) at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.
Top Thrill Dragster was the second hydraulically-launched roller coaster built by Intamin AG, following Xcelerator at Knott's Berry Farm, and it was the last one to use lapbars instead of over-the-shoulder restraints due to mechanical problems.
When Top Thrill Dragster opened, it set several new records:
- First continuous-circuit roller coaster to top 400 feet
- First roller coaster to reach 120 mph
- Highest drop of any coaster
- Fastest roller coaster in the world
- Tallest roller Coaster in the world
- Top Thrill Dragster was the third roller coaster to break the 100 mph speed barrier. It was preceded in this feat by Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California and Dodonpa (located at Fuji-Q Highland).
- The previous record holder for overall height was Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California (415 feet tall). Top Thrill Dragster broke this record at 420 feet. Top Thrill Dragster's record was broken in 2005 when Kingda Ka opened at Six Flags Great Adventure, standing 456 feet tall.
- The previous record holders for the highest drop were Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California with 325 feet and Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagashima Spa Land in Nagashima, with 318 feet.
- The previous record holder for speed was Dodonpa, at 107 mph. This record was broken by Top Thrill Dragster, which reaches speeds in excess of 120 mph (depending on wind and other factors). This record was broken again in 2005 by Kingda Ka, which reaches a top speed of 128 mph.
Top Thrill Dragster dominates the Cedar Point skyline today, and is easily seen from nearly anywhere in the park, as well as surrounding locations near the Cedar Point peninsula. The towering structure consists of red and white Intamin 4 rail track that is affixed to a bright yellow support tower.
The entrance to the queue is a concrete gateway that leads underneath the launch track. The queue itself, however, never crosses under either side of the ride. Rather, it consists entirely of the space between both tracks. This makes for an interesting experience as trains speed by either side of the people waiting in line. Along the left wall of the queue area, facts about the ride are posted and compared to similar statistics on an actual drag race car.
Near the end of the queue, the queue branches off into two sides. Riders may choose to follow the queue to the front or rear station. The two stations are connected, but riders are prevented from entering the other side of the station by a barrier. In the stations, two trains are loaded at the same time before both are dispatched into the waiting area outside of the loading area. There, the front train is launched first, and the second after that. While this is occurring, two more trains have entered the station and loading has begun again. Very rarely does loading take long enough to create a situation where there is no train ready to be launched. By the time two loaded trains have been dispatched, two more have already been filled to follow them. Because of this set up, the line moves rather steadily. Whenever it does stop, it often means that a rider has failed to meet the requirements necessary to ride, and loading was temporarily delayed, or the ride has broken down, in which case the line will not move for possible hours. Such pauses in queue movement are often followed by large moments of progress as two more trains are launched once things are sorted out.
Once riders actually enter the station, they will be asked to choose a secondary queue to wait in which corresponds with the position in the car where they wish to ride. Often, the longest queue is for the front seat, though many enthusiasts insist that the second is the best due to the possible discomfort from wind or bugs. When the riders are next in line, they are quickly instructed to enter the train as the gates before them open. There, they must fasten their seatbelt in such a way that at least two inches of slack in the belt can be exposed. The correct amount is indicated by red markings on the belt. If a rider is unable to do so, they are declared unable to ride (although the ride hosts are often relaxed on this policy). Often, the belt can be coaxed to give more slack if it is pulled from an angle and "rocked" back and forth (pull while changing the direction of the pull from one side to another and back until more belt is fed through). The belt will not easily allow itself to slip from a tightened position, so it can easily be tightened to the necessary amount of slack for almost anyone who knows the right tricks. The seats are exactly the same as the ones used on Millennium Force, and the exact same policy is enforced at both coasters. For those that fear being unable to ride after waiting in line, sample seats are provided at the entrance to both of these rides.
After all guests are fully secured by a seatbelt and lapbar, the two loaded trains roll forward to the launch area. To the left of the track is a Christmas tree light, similar to the ones employed at a drag strip. At this time, a brief message is played to the riders: "Arms down, head back, and hold on!". Due to the unsafe nature of raising one's hands on such a roller coaster, the ride host will not launch the train if any riders are holding their hands up. The host may replay the "arms down" part of the message repeatedly until the guests lower their arms, and stop the ride altogether if a guest persists. Once the ride is prepared to launch, a motor revving sound effect begins. At this time, the magnetic braking fins lower from the launch track, and the train rolls backwards a slight amount in order to connect with the launch car below the tracks. The Christmas tree lights on the tower itself and the small light fixture to the left of the track cycle from three yellows to a green light.
As soon as the green light comes on (though occasionally slightly before), the train begins its acceleration down the 497-foot launch track, and a tire-screech sound effect is played. Near the end of the track is a sign which displays the speed that the ride was able to reach at that particular launch; it is usually a number between 120 and 124 miles an hour. Shortly after reaching its maximum velocity in less than four seconds, the train begins its ascent up a 90-degree incline that has a 90-degree counter-clockwise twist that takes the train straight over the top of the 420 foot hill, where riders will experience significant airtime (zero g-forces). On the way down the other side, there is a 270-degree clockwise twist that leads into the magnetic braking section that brings the train to a swift but comfortable stop. The riders exit the train to the right, and the empty train proceeds into the launch station to be refilled.
Although the theme of the roller coaster is based on the Top Fuel Drag Racing motorsport, many riders state that this ride feels exactly like a dragster startings to accelerate, even though the actual acceleration of a Top Fuel Dragster is far more significant than that of the ride. A real Top Fuel dragster usually weighs about one ton, while each empty train on Top Thrill Dragster weighs 5.3 tons. The ride opened with a Drag Racing theme. While braking during its inaugural year, one of the decorative wheels came off of the train and rolled into the adjacent lagoon. The extra decorations have since been removed and replaced with an extra set of seats to increase the number of riders and to keep the line moving at a steady pace.
The speed of Top Thrill Dragster is controlled by a computer which regulates the speed of the launch in order to minimize forces as the train crests the hill. It is not a rare occurrence for the train to not reach the necessary speed to complete the ride, and does tend to happen in cool, wet or breezy weather. When the track is wet or the weather is cold, the standard launch speed is typically not enough to force the train over the hill. The train's momentum can also be hindered by a good headwind. When this happens, the train will climb the hill, stop just short of the apex, and roll back down the hill in reverse. To avert disaster, the launch track is equipped with retractable magnetic braking fins. After every launch these fins are quickly and systematically deployed, as if chasing the coaster train, to make absolutely sure to slow down a train that happens to roll backwards afterward to stop it safely and comfortably.
A sign near the split in the queue line warns that a rollback is possible, but completely safe, as systems are set in place to bring a rollback to a safe and comfortable stop.
These "rollbacks" are something that many Cedar Point fans look forward to, and hope to receive at some point. Since the launch is arguably the most exciting and intense part of the ride, a rollback means you get the option to either ride it again without waiting in line, or exit the ride.
Intamin's term for this phenomenon is "short shot" rather than "rollback", but the term "rollback" is used almost exclusively in the parks that operate Accelerator Coasters, as well as in the coaster enthusiast community.
On Friday, June 24, 2005, the green train was launched with exactly enough momentum to bring it to rest at the top of the tower. It remained balanced there for nearly fifteen minutes with 16 passengers on board until a maintenance worker arrived via elevator, gave it a push, and sent it on its way. After such accident many riders stated that they thought the view from atop the ride was amazing and was the best ride of their life. Video of this event has become popular across many roller coaster websites. 
Top Thrill Dragster will never operate in the rain, even if it is only a slight drizzle. This is due to the pain caused by raindrops hitting the riders at 120 mph. The weather has no effect on the hydraulic system of the ride. The drive wheels that move the trains around the unload and load platforms cannot be wet because they will slip, instead of propelling the train. Once weather clearance from Park Operations is received, the ride will then enter test mode. Six empty and six operator-tested trains must be launched to reopen. These test runs ensure that the track is cleared of all water, and once the ride is reopened, the train will not rollback immediately.
Top Thrill Dragster will not operate in winds or gusts exceeding 35 mph. A sensor placed at the top of the hill reads out onto a display in the control room. If winds persist above 35 mph for over 5 seconds, the trouble light will illuminate and the ride will emergency stop. Standard Operating Procedures requires Operator 'High Wind Speed' Confirmation at 20, 25 and 30 mph. Operators are required to notify Park Operations when wind speeds are greater than 25 mph. This is a safety and operational precaution, because a strong wind will prevent Top Thrill Dragster's cars from successfully cresting its hill.