Specific Type: Hyper Coaster
Every theme-park fan knows that there are some things every park simply has to have. In the early twentieth century, it was the latest breed of wooden coaster. Fifty years later, it was the steel coaster with as many loops and corkscrews as possible. At the turn of the next century, it was everything from the freefall tower, to the inverted looping coaster, to the launched coaster. Carowinds had been home to all of those must-haves between its ribbon-cutting in 1973 and the end of the first decade in the next century. Yet, there was one major must-have that still lacked, and Carowinds was one of the last parks around without it.
In 1989, Carowinds' now-sister-park Cedar Point had started a trend that would sweep the amusement world in a frenzy that almost any park with the funds and the lack of height restrictions would jump on over the next twenty years: the hyper-coaster. Instead of utilizing the trusty steel rails of the new generation of coasters to flip riders upside down and twist them around to their hearts' content, the hyper-coaster took the old approach of the wooden coasters from years past to the extreme: take riders as high as possible, then send them over hill after hill of airtime until they've made it back to the station. These hyper-coasters reached anywhere from 200 feet on up virtually everywhere a major theme park resided in the United States, spreading to the Southwest in 1994, to the Northeast in 1991, to the Mid-Atlantic in 1999, to the West in 2000, and to the Southeast in 2005.
Yet, we return to Carowinds in 2009 when the tallest and fastest coaster was still only 125 feet and sixty-two miles an hour. In fact, Carowinds and sister park Kings Dominion in Virginia were two of the only major hold-outs on the East Coast, surrounded by parks like Six Flags America in Maryland, Busch Gardens on the Virginia coast, and Six Flags over Georgia to the south in Atlanta that all had their time to shine with skylines redefined by hyper-coaster heights and the press that went with them. On August 20, 2009, Kings Dominion revealed that it was holding out no longer on the high-altitude, high-velocity coaster thrills as it unveiled plans for Intimidator 305. Now, Carowinds was left as the lone eastern Cedar Fair park without an at-least-200-footer.
There was hope for thrill-seekers, however. It was no secret that the Wild Thornberries River Adventure had just been wiped off the face of the park and its scenic pond filled in, leaving a dirty swath of freshly-tilled land on Carowinds' property. Rumors called for a revival of the 1977-1988 launched coaster White Lightning, or perhaps a popular floorless coaster model from designers Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M) who had previously gifted Carowinds with the stand-upVortex and inverted Afterburn. Just six days after Kings Dominion announced its shiny new coaster, Carowinds was calling a press conference to reveal its own Intimidator, minus the 305, due to a shorter yet still impressive 232 maximum height. It was indeed from Swiss geniuses B&M, and it was Carowinds' very own hyper-coaster, with an L-shaped out-and-back layout designed for sheer height, speed, and airtime.
With blueprints completely unique from Kings Dominion's similarly-named ride, Carowinds' beast instead inherited a similar layout to B&M's masterpieces around the world like Silver Star, Nitro, Behemoth, and Diamondback. The vacant piece of land left behind by the Wild Thornberries provided just enough space for a towering lift hill and 211-foot first drop at the front of the park feeding into a ninety-degree turn sending the layout parallel to the park's eastern edge, down to its South Gate, and back to retrace the L shape again. Cedar Fair's previous B&M hypers Behemoth and Diamondback had each used a variation on the typical B&M hyper coaster coaches, and Intimidator became the third coaster to use the new train design. Along with B&M's signature open sides and four-across seats raised well above the floor, the new trains take the outside two seats of each row and set them back slightly, creating V-shaped rows -- a concept introduced for the first time in 2000 with fellow coaster-maker Vekoma's Super Invertigo coasters. And, fitting with a Dale Earnhardt racing theme, the front of each train sports a 1998 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo facade.
Throughout the fall and winter of 2009-10, that swath of dirt that formerly belonged toCarowinds defunct Nickelodeon Universe section was turned into the stomping grounds for a new icon on the horizon -- an icon so relatively enormous that its first, second, and third hills exceed the top of all of Carowinds' other dozen coasters. In fact, Intimidator was advertised as the tallest, fastest, longest coaster in the Southeast. Just six days after the press conference, the first track section went up, followed by the highest section on September 13. By the end of the calendar year, Intimidator's 5,316-foot circuit was complete, and a $23 million investment was months away from blasting through the start line.
Long before boarding, Carowinds guests can spot Intimidator's thick red track and A-frame support columns rising almost to the top of the park's skyline, dwarfed only by the 340-foot Sky Tower. However, once inside the park's North Gate, it isn't long before they'll get the chance to ride. Taking a left-hand turn from the main Carowinds Plaza, they enter Intimidator's Victory Lane entry area, a cul-de-sac in the park's layout adorned by a recreation of Dale Earnhardt's famous #3 car, a checkered midway, a video tribute to the racing legend, and -- of course -- the ride's grand entrance. At the end of the queue line, one ofIntimidator's three trains waits ready to receive its next thirty-two riders. Pulling down simple T-shaped, clamshell-like restraints, riders lock themselves safely into place with assistance from the pit crew. Then, it's time to rev up the engines and send riders on their way.
Straight out of the station, the train encounters its 232-foot lift hill. Off to the right, there's an exceptional view of the other rides slipping below. To the left, there's the parking lot. Straight ahead, there's a mass of red track leaping and diving in preparation for the train. The chain reaches the top and curves out of sight as it plunges ahead of the train. The train isn't far behind, however. With screams piercing the air, all thirty-two of those riders are sent seventy-four degrees toward the earth, one row at a time. The red track becomes a blur of rails and crossties as the speed gets cranked up to the full eighty miles an hour. The track levels out two stories above the ground at the bottom and preps for another crazy dive. But first, the track needs to climb 178 feet and twist to the right in a steep banked curve. The track continues right, then banks left as it pulls out of a dive taking riders down a lot closer to ground level this time to maintain the speed.
Bolting between two support columns for the sixth hill, the train climbs over the top of the first camelback hill, a 151-foot monster designed to send riders skyward a little higher than the train in a zero-g moment. A straight drop brings the train back down, heading straight towardCarowinds' South Gate and former star coaster, Afterburn. So as not to embarrass the 144-foot coaster too much, Intimidator performs a 121-foot feat: a slight curve climbing to the right, a complete fan turn to the left, and another slight turn to the right -- the complete turnaround portion that every good out-and-back-style coaster needs. From there on out, it's a race back to the finish line as the train leaps over 105-foot and ninety-foot camelbacks parallel to the last major airtime hill.
The track banks to the left underneath the second climb, rising into a set of block brakes that slow down the fun for just a second. The seventh drop sends the red track to ground level only to have it rise back up again in a sixty-two-foot hill. Finally, a sweet maneuver to the right sets up the ride to wrap up once and for all: a nearly 360-degree helix that dives to the middle of the turn, then spends the rest of the 180 degrees climbing back up to the start of the spiral. The track dips a fair fifty feet, then shoots the train back up once more, forty-eight feet, to the top of the brake run. Even the brake run has a little more flavor than your typical straight piece of track most coasters brake along, descending from that forty-eight foot altitude to around fifteen feet at the other end of the slope as the train slows nearly to a halt. Riders round a final, victorious U-turn to the left, NASCAR style, adjacent to the entry plaza. Then, it's back into the station to unload after three minutes and thirty-three seconds of ride time.
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