“Sometimes, the car doesn’t make it all the way to the top, so it rolls backwards, and they have to relaunch it.” I cannot recall the human being who divulged this fair bit of information while I was in line for my first ride on Top Thrill Dragster in the mid-aughts. But it was forever burned into my subconscious, causing me to have to talk myself through every Top Thrill ride I took in the 19 years it operated. Unfortunately, this small nugget only hinted to the problems that would further plague the ride and lead to today’s announcement to retire Cedar Point’s strata coaster.
Top Thrill Dragster opened in May of 2003, and was, at the time, the tallest roller coaster in the world. Rising over 420 feet, the coaster was classified as a “strata coaster,” a label Cedar Point gave to coasters rising more than 400 feet in height. The ride was designed around the “thrill” of drag racing in a top fuel dragster (the long ones). Details surrounding the track emulated the feeling of staging at the drag strip, from the sounds of a dragster idling to the Christmas tree on your left with the double yellow staging lights... all the way to green. You’d then immediately be launched at 120 mph, up the 420-foot hill, with less than a second at the top to realize how high you were, before you were hurtled back to the ground via rail. The whole thing took less than 30 seconds. If anything, it took longer to get in and out of the coaster than it would to ride it.
Cedar Point would typically close the coaster for the day if it didn’t pass safety or if it were a particularly windy day — the height of the coaster would make it prone to sway from winds coming off of Lake Erie. It meant many days and visits with the Dragster was closed to the public. All of this was in the name of safety.
But in August of 2021, a 44-year-old Michigan woman was waiting in line for the ride when she was “struck in the head with an L-shaped piece of a ride that was roughly the size of an adult man’s hand,” as reported by the Detroit Free Press. She would be hospitalized immediately in intensive care, with a brain injury. Her family has shared very few updates on her condition, which is understandable.
Investigations were carried out by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) to find the cause of the piece flying off the ride. The ODA concluded that Cedar Point not at fault for the incident. As reported by The Sandusky Register:
Investigators ultimately determined that fasteners connecting the flag plate to the ride failed in an “instantaneous overload fracture,” causing the piece to dislodge. Cedar Point showed proof of routine inspections and repairs on the ride, and park staff told investigators there was no damage to the flag plate when it was inspected the night before the accident, the report states.
The investigators determined that there was “insufficient evidence” that Cedar Point had violated any state laws, and closed their case.
“Cedar Point has cooperated fully with ODA throughout its investigation into the incident and we will closely review the substance of ODA’s report,” park spokesman Tony Clark told the Sandusky Register.
Top Thrill Dragster remained closed going into the 2022 season. This month, the amusement park begins to reduce hours and days leading into Halloweekends and the end of the season, and it just feels right that they would announce the coaster’s permanent retirement now.
The Dragster was one of at least 15 - 17 coasters operating on the peninsula at any given year during its operation. Although the retirement is likely a good call by Cedar Point, the Dragster missing from the “Roller Coast” skyline will indeed be an adjustment to any of the park’s frequent thrill seekers. Let us hope they make a gravestone for Top Thrill to join the other dead coasters of the park, for future Halloweekends.