Specific Type: Wooden, Racing, Dueling, Twister
They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice. But in the year 2000, that theory was proven wrong once and for all. To say that Pennsylvania's storm of the new century was phenomenal would be an understatement. That year, a storm quite unlike anything that had swept through the Hershey countryside before rumbled in to town. But how did a storm this immense arise? To fully understand the significance of Lightning Racer, one may need to take a race down memory lane... A race back in time to 1923 when Joy Ride was the big talk around town; when a man named Herbert Schmeck had designed his first wooden roller coaster and had every reason to be proud of the $50,000 creation.
Flashing back through time seventy-three years and two wooden coasters later, the new Wildcat revived thrills that had been lost back in 1945 when the original woodie met an undesirable fate. At exactly 100 times the cost of the original Joy Ride, and far longer, faster, and steeper, Great Coasters International had every reason to be proud of their first sweet creation. And sweet it was, putting smiles across the faces of the tens of thousands who came to challenge it those first few months in 1996. Wildcatbecame a part of Hersheypark history that year along with a new expansion designed to revive the history of American amusement parks. The Midway America expansion featured all of those traditional rides from the wooden coaster all the way to the classic ferris wheel. Truly, what more could an amusement-park-goer want?
Four years after the new Wildcat rampaged into town, the park was cooking up something that would forever change Hershey, Pennsylvania. No, this wasn't any new chocolate bar recipe that Hershey was cooking up - it was another wooden coaster from Great Coasters designed to put both its 1946 predecessor Comet and the 1996 woodie to shame. The native Pennsylvania company was at it again with this new project, and this project was something special. Hersheypark asked for a twist on tradition, and they got it with Lightning Racer. A field adjacent to Midway America soon saw concrete footers and wooden bents sprouting from the ground up as Hershey's eighth and ninth coaster tracks took shape.
Great Coasters had just completed a project known as Gwazi for Busch Gardens Africa and thus took away inspiration for a second ride that would take two separate tracks meandering through a maze of curvature while dueling with each other. But to add a further element of interaction to the experience, the company designed two separate yet similar layouts for Hershey's ride that would also race each other. The racing element would convey more of a 1920s traditional style through the ride that one would come to expect from the Midway America themed area. The end result: a stunning mass of two 3,400-foot tracks storming around several acres at the edge of the property.
The beauty of Lightning Racer's layout is fully evident with a largely symmetrical course starting off with twisting first drops and parallel S-curving second hills. From there, the tracks face off with U-turns diving towards each other leading straight underneath a waterfall and into a tunnel. Other noteworthy elements include two turnaround elements sending trains racing past each other and a zig-zagging portion of the course sending the two sides hopping over and under each other.
Heading into Midway America, Hersheypark-goers pass the diminished greatness ofWildcat, absorbed into the 1920s-era amusement atmosphere by the rumbling wooden tracks, midway games, and spinning rides surrounding. At the park's ferris wheel, the path loops around towards the entrance to Lightning Racer. The coaster's elaborate station building sits straight ahead, with a tasty mess of twisted wooden track just beyond. Inside the beautiful architecture, riders choose their side: Lightning on the left, or Thunder on the right. Seating themselves in sleek Millennium Flyer trains, coaster lovers tighten their seatbelts, push down on their lapbars, and get ready to rumble. Then, it's thumbs up and out of the station. The great race is about to begin.
While Thunder makes a slight right to head under the lift hills and then wind around a 225-degree left-hander, Lightning dips and curves to the left, navigates a right-hand turnaround, then a slight left curve to the lift. Riders on Lightning find themselves in a loftier position than Thunder, with both trains climbing equally-sized yet staggered ninety-foot-tall slopes. A minute later, both trains are nudging over the tops of their lifts - Thunder just ahead on the left. The trains plow down the drops as the track steepens to fifty-eight degrees, then the rails twist to the right to complete ninety-degree curves. At fifty-one miles an hour, the trains meet up at the base of the first drops and speed up into left-hand twists curving up into the S-hill elements.
Floating over a wide crest, Thunder presses back ahead as the trains send passengers up and over for a moment of airtime. The tracks begin rightward twists back down allowing for Lightning to catch back up, then perform a double-dip to the ground. An upcoming tunnel flies past between the two tracks as the coasters get set to dive straight into it, but not before the first fly-by maneuver. After veering away from each other with slight upward bends, the two tracks round fan curves and dive straight towards each other, passing under a waterfall and winding up in the tunnel's darkness side by side. Back out in the sunlight, the trains plow through highly-banked left-hand bends with Lightning on the inside. Up next on the menu: a pair of parallel hops climbing several feet and dipping into highly-banked turns to the right. Thunder takes the lead again at the end of the bends, then its train veers off to the right slightly while Lightning strikes a left-hand bend.
The two trains then reverse direction and sweep up and around the next fly-by element. Thunder winds around counterclockwise on the outside of the turnaround while Lightning whizzes past in the opposite direction. Thunder ends the fly-by with a straight dive and Lightning wraps it up with a crossover and ninety-degree sweep to the left. Now, it's time for some more fun. The two sides enter the zig-zag leg of the course with Lightning heading up over a hop and Thunder flying underneath. Then, Thunder heads around a right-hand bend and over a hop while Lightning crosses under. Next, Lightning bends to the right slightly while Thunderpulls around a heavy right, setting the two courses up for the final fly-by. Lightning flys around the outside of the turnaround in clockwise fashion this time while Thunder maneuvers the tighter-radius curve and crosses over out of the element.
Lightning makes a left turn getting its train in line with Thunder and now the two trains race side-by-side in a final sprint to the finish. The wooden tracks hop, then hop again and pass underneath the "Finish Line" sign, then the brakes begin slowing the ride back down. No matter who won the race, riders come off a ride of their lives.
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