Kings Dominion was always destined for greatness. The name Kings Dominion itself certainly calls forth imagery of grandeur and magnanimousness. That is, if you can separate the name from the imagery that every American theme-park lover and Mid-Atlantic resident ties to it: an almost unrivaled quantity of both steel and wood coasters, a massive water park, with some minor exotic theming and old-fashioned Virginia touches thrown in.
At first, the 1970s vision was to attract the families the same way so many theme parks were inspired to after the success of Disneyland in 1955 and Walt Disney World sixteen years later. The thought was to combine a more localized Disney-like park complete with monorails, miniature versions of distant lands, entertainment with a more traditional amusement park with midway games, carnival-like rides, and a few signature coasters. However, as the years went on, Kings Dominion and the parks that shared similar visions -- like sister park Kings Island in Ohio, New Jersey's Great Adventure, North and South Carolina's Carowinds-- fine-tuned their approach to drawing out the families. Rather than compete with the destination parks, Kings Dominion and its like-minded parks gradually discovered that the masses out for day trips and weekend getaways would rather pay to get tossed through the air as many ways as possible on the most massive collection of rides imaginable.
So, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Kings Dominion removed the more adventure-driven experiences one by one in favor of thrill-seeker magnets. Lake Charles, which hosted water-skiing shows, was drained to no more than a pond in the center of the steel looping coaster Anaconda to make way for a massive water park; the Old Dominion Line railroad left in 1993 favor of the Hurler wooden coaster and Xtreme SkyFlyer vertical ride; a 17-story artificial mountain packed with family-geared experiences was completely vacated in 1995 forVolcano: the Blast Coaster; and the Safari monorail that ventured through an African animal preserve was removed. This last removal left behind nothing more than a massive network of dirt roads that would slowly get chipped away at with each new water park addition at the back reaches of Kings Dominion's 400 acres. Yet, tens of acres of the monorail's former stomping grounds remained overgrown fields and woods.
While other parks had started scaling back their additions with the economic recession of 2007, Kings Dominion plowed ahead on its thrill-saturated path to new levels of greatness. In 2008, the massive secondhand looping coaster Dominator landed just two years after one of the largest family-geared coasters around,Back Lot Stunt Coaster. Just in the Mid-Atlantic region, Kings Dominion had already defied the trend of Six Flags America -- which hadn't added a new coaster since 2001 -- and Busch Gardens Williamsburg, with its pattern of one or two coasters a decade. Yet, on August 20th, 2009, under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, the park held a press conference to announce something so mammoth not even the most avid Kings Dominion followers could have fathomed it until just a few months prior. The park had perfected its strategy of appealing to the crowds -- now, it was time for the biggest milestone in its history, and one of the biggest in the history of the roller coaster itself. Number fifteen was on the way.
Intimidator 305 was revealed as the behemoth for the park's thirty-fifth season and a top-ten record-holder for all of the impressive stats: height, drop length, and speed. The ride's massive footprint would devour five acres of the remaining land left vacant by the monorail, symbolizing the nail in the coffin for the park's original strategy and a confident investment in the new method of drawing in the crowds -- a $25 million investment, that is. Reaching nearly to the heights solely dominated by Kings Dominion's 332-foot Eiffel Tower replica for decades, Intimidator 305 would, as its name implies, travel 305 feet above the planet's crust. While a handful of other coasters have surpassed the 300-foot mark prior to Intimidator 305 -- six, to be exact -- only two others have lift hills reaching these heights: Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Ohio and Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan. The initial drop that follows arguably pushes beyond the intensity of the two closest competitors with its nearly-vertical eighty-five-degree angle. It inches past Millennium Force and its eighty degrees, and travels far above and beyond the sixty-seven degrees of Steel Dragon 2000. As for the speed generated by that plunge, estimates range well above ninety miles an hour for a top speed. And unlike similar rides, this coaster's been designed with sustained speed in mind as one of the top aims.
Statistics like the ones belonging to this ride combined with its smooth track and a single-support lift hill required some talented engineering and a distinctive design. Instead of erecting a dozen or so support towers or enormous A-frame supports as coasters over 200 feet have traditionally required, Intimidator's unique design called for a single support for the lift hill and an identical support for the first half of the drop. How can hundreds of feet of lift hill go unsupported, you ask? Well, the same way any the arch of any skycoaster like the park's own Xtreme SkyFlyer or any structure like the Gateway Arch in St. Louis can stay upright. A diagonal superstructure would travel beneath every inch of the lift hill track, then form an arch at the top attaching to the top of the drop's main support. Thus, a nearly free-standing 450-ton lift hill was designed, and arguably one of the most visually-impressive feats in roller-coaster history. To get to the top of that impressive-looking slope, Intamin AG utilizes a speedy, efficient cable-driven system almost identical to the setup on Millennium Force. To accomodate the load from the intense g-forces pressing into the track, Intimidator will contain another innovation. The ride will join forces with the F1 Coaster at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates with a new double-spined track design from Intamin. Rather than two spines horizontally-oriented like coaster manufacturer Vekoma, Inc. tried out in the 1990s and early 2000s, Intamin's design features one spine on top of another to help absorb the forces. This new track design accompanies the most intense sections of the ride's 5,100 feet of track, with a single-spined track and non-spined track for the less intense track sections.
When parent company Cedar Fair decided to gift Kings Dominion with a ride so similar to the entire chain and arguably the entire coaster world's crown jewel, Millennium Force at flagship park Cedar Point, they decided to leave Millennium Force with slightly more impressive statistics for the most part. However, to Cedar Fair, the layout of Intimidator 305 is a hybrid of Millennium Force and another world-renown Cedar Point coaster: 2007's Maverick. After rave reviews placed Maverick towards the top of coaster enthusiasts' lists -- even above Millennium Force on so many of them -- the chain asked the brains working with Swiss company Intamin AG to combine the stats of the larger coaster with the layout type of the smaller one. The result was something even the most skilled NASCAR driver could never dream of navigating: one heavily-banked direction-change after another just feet above the ground, with high-velocity airtime-inducing hills every now and again. To further intensify the sensation of speed, the track weaves underneath the ride's supports with only feet to spare, and past evergreens that construction crews left along the ride's path.
Another aspect of the ride designed to attract the crowds is the coaster's theme. Given the audience of NASCAR in the Southeastern US region, both Kings Dominion and now-sister-park Carowinds decided to theme their 2010 coasters after the legendary race-car driver Dale Earnhardt and his #3 car. While partnerships between movie studios and musical artists definitely aren't uncharted territory for the theme park industry, the partnership between Cedar Fair and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. may just be one of the most fitting unexplored cross-promotions of the year. Now, the park can add a major ride to its car-themed coaster lineup that also includes the taxi-themed Taxi Jam kiddie coaster and the Mini-Cooper-themed Back Lot Stunt Coaster. While Cedar Fair isn't known for much more than sparse theming, the design of each lead car for the two eight-car trains will represent Earnhardt's car, the entry plaza will contain various themed objects and signs, and of course the branding will extend from the ride's name to the merchandise in its gift shop.
Finding Intimidator 305 won't be much of a problem for most guests as it dominates over the back left of the skyline. However, to get there, determined thrill-seekers will have to make a trek to the farthest reaches of the park's acreage, past Dominator, past the newly re-themed Nickelodeon Universe, and even past Volcano: the Blast Coaster in the Congo. But when they do reach the ride, they'll be rewarded richly with thrills in abundance. At the Flight of Fear plaza, the path leads guests into a wide tunnel towards the yellow and red eye-candy at the other side. Just behindAnaconda'sstation and lift, Intimidator climbs at what appears to be straight into the sky.
At its entry plaza, a replica of Dale Earnhardt's famous car in front of the coaster makes for a good photo opportunity. A train speeding around a heavily-banked turnaround at eighty miles an hour makes for another picturesque moment as soon-to-be riders enter the line. They get taken beneath the one and only brake run at the end of the track layout, between the bright yellow supports. When they finally get the privilege of climbing the stairs into the station, a black #3-car-themed train greets them. When it's their turn, they can climb over the yellow line and into the train, pulling red shoulder straps into place. Thirty-two at a time can take part in the boarding festivities, and 1,350 per hour. With a thumbs-up from the control booth to the left and ride operators on either side, the lift cable begins towing the train from the station.
With a forty-five degree curve skyward, the train begins its ascent at a rapid pace. Rural Virginia can be seen out to the left just beyond the catwalk and Intimidator track, with the park out to the right and to the back. In a few seconds' time, the once-mighty Anaconda becomes a helpless little kiddie coaster, andRebel Yell just beyond looks like a few matchsticks on the ground. Off in the distance, the Drop Tower's thin orange-and-yellow column and the Eiffel Tower's teal superstructure are the only attractions brave enough to rival the fast-approaching heights just ahead. Riders need to work quickly to savor the breathtaking view, however. It only takes around twenty seconds before the track quickly levels, disappearing ahead.
The downward curve steepens and the train flies down it at eighty-five degrees, but to riders, it might as well be vertical. The wind rips into their faces as the red track begins levelling and ninety miles an hour slips past on the way to the top speed. Intimidator's course gracefully yet intensely banks around a curve just five feet above the ground at its lowest point. Trees whizz past in a blur on the outside of the curve, followed by Rebel Yell's far turnaround as the train thunders through just under 270 degrees of curvature while nearly on its side. Towards the end of the curve, the level course transforms into a climb skyward. The second hill rises to just 150 feet -- half the height of the first -- and the same height that you'll find for the second hill of most 200-foot coasters. Why so short? Speed and airtime! Riders are flung up towards the red track bracing of the lift hill that they cross perpendicular beneath, providing a few seconds of airtime before the descent leads riders to the start of the ride's true twister mayhem.
Like any good NASCAR experience, the ride navigates a banked left-hand turn, straightens out, and bears left again. Only, on this NASCAR experience, there's some airtime on the straightaway. Now, it's time for another 270-degree curve; this time, however, it's all level, for maximum speed. Flying through at around eighty miles an hour, the train flies over future riders, past the brakes, and beyond the station only to reverse direction with a hard right. A cluster of trees flies past on the right, just feet away from passengers' heads. The track de-banks after ninety degrees and threads through the yellow columns from the second drop. The next direction change only takes a second -- a slight left-hand turn feeding into another turnaround.
Riders find themselves out at the far reaches of Intimidator's layout and Kings Dominion's property as they make a U-turn ending parallel to the base of the first drop. Now, it's up into the air while retracing the lift hill's path -- up into the air for some airtime directly under the second hill. The train drops a few stories only to get thrust up into the air a second time right next to the station. At the top of this hill, the track banks to the right, dipping over the second turnaround before rising again, reversing the banking direction, and diving in a final banked U-turn. The other half of the curve rises steeply, levels, and descends into a down-angled brake run. With most of the speed worn off, the track levels and curves to the left to another set of brakes, then back to the station.