Top Thrill 2, 4/25/24

Jeff's avatar

On a very early morning in 2003, I rolled into a very dark Cedar Point, where a new ride was ready to meet the world. Top Thrill Dragster was over 400 feet tall, and a hydraulic launch system moved you from 0 to 120 mph in a couple of seconds. That day would be the first of many disappointing days for the park, as they were barely able to keep it running enough for the media to try it that day. Reporters went live to their audiences explaining that they were working out some technical issues. A few weeks after that, the cable broke, and shortly after that, they ended up closing it until the Independence Day weekend.

Years later, a cable would break and apparently spray riders with metal bits. In 2009, Dragster's sister ride at Knott's Berry Farm broke a cable that slashed through the front car and injured a young boy. Then in 2021, a part separated from a train, causing serious head injuries to a woman in the queue. That was effectively the end of Dragster. The park did a reasonable job of keeping it running, but the cost was high and there were still up time problems.

Along comes Zamperla, an Italian company that has been building mostly flat rides for decades, including many of the kid rides at the park, and they reveal that they have a new "Lightning Train" design for high speed rides. The public part everyone knew is that they were going to use such a train on a relocated Intamin ride, much smaller in scale, that was being installed in Vancouver. And they were going to replace the hydraulic launch with one moved by linear synchronous motors. This is a technology that is stable and proven on rides all over the world. What Zamperla apparently pitched to the park was that this could give new life to Dragster, but the existing space wasn't enough to propel the train up to 120 mph to get over the top. The solution was just to move it back and forth a couple of times, by adding a rear tower. Move it forward at 74 mph, then backward at 101 mph, and then all of that potential energy on that tower, with a little extra "gas" on the horizontal bit, boosts it to 120 mph, fast enough to clear the tower. This design became Top Thrill 2.

With PointBuzz in my life for 26 years, going to the park to document these new rides is virtually routine, but it's been harder to do since moving to Florida. Partly it's difficult because I can't just drive to the park with all of the gear that I would typically use. I may not do it full-time anymore, but I'm still a professional video guy, and I like doing it right. These days, I bring my R6 and do stills and a little video and try to be cool with whatever I have time to get. More importantly, these trips serve as a way to stay at least somewhat connected to a place that has so many memories and people associated with it. So whether it's talking to Walt, my partner on the site, or newer friends, it's nice to get a little real life time. It doesn't financially make any sense at all, but whatever, it's worth it to me.

I was only on the ground for about 28 hours, partly because there are so few direct flights between Cleveland and Orlando now. Worse yet, while I was able to take United outbound, I had to return on Frontier, and they're just awful. Arriving in Cleveland the day before the media preview, I met up with my dad for lunch at the Winking Lizard, my bar food favorite that does not have a good analog at home. From there, I went to Cedar Point's Sawmill Creek Resort, the golf resort they bought a few years ago. I stayed there last year as well, and while materials in the room feel kinda cheap (small towels, laminated furniture), it's all exceptionally well maintained and very clean. Most importantly, the beds and pillows are super comfortable.

By dinner time, I found myself alone and bored, so I went to the bar in the hotel restaurant. As is the case with some of the spots in the park, they stock some better liquor, and I was able to teach the bartender a couple of new drinks, too. I met and talked to a number of really interesting people. The food is way too expensive at the restaurant, and you're kinda screwed if you only eat poultry or are a vegetarian, but the drinks are priced probably too low, relative to other tourist places like, uh, Orlando. Regardless, enjoyed my brief time at the hotel.

Festivities started at 5 a.m., but I know from experience that it isn't necessary to get there that early, since the ride is often waiting on live TV hits. Also, there was a freeze warning. My rental car did not have a scraper, so while I left my room around 6:30, I didn't go anywhere for about 10 minutes while the windows melted. Parked the car around 7 and entered the park, and with the sun coming up, it was still too cold, but not wholly intolerable. I had three layers on.

I worked my way up and had my first ride with one of the Cleveland TV reporters, which is funny because I think he may have been doing this for Millennium Force, 24 years ago. One of the photographers from the Cleveland newspaper/site loaned me his gloves, and I was ready to go.

The first launch is obviously not as strong as the original, and from the ground it looks less fast, but on the ride it's still at the level that almost no rides go. 74 is not slow. As expected, you get a weird moment of float time as you go partially up the tower. When the train goes backward and gets to the motors, it almost feels like someone is pulling the train out from under you to 101. It's a bizarre sensation. More familiar is the feeling you get when it hits the pull-out to go up the reverse tower. It reminds me of the now defunct Wicked Twister, only faster and bigger. Especially in the back, it feels like you're never going to get to the top, which freaks me out because there is no stopper at the end of the track.

I have to call this out for it's sheer oddness, but at the apex of airtime in the back, I glanced to the right and noticed that I was actually looking over the top of Power Tower. I remember looking off of Power Tower over Mantis/Rougarou on the drop side. Anyway, this observation was like switching to bullet time in a Matrix movie. It seemed to last forever.

Back down, and remember, you're already going 100 or so, you gain the last bit of speed necessary to clear the tower. Your average speed for the entire length of that track is over 100, and I don't think there are other theme park rides that do that other than Formula Rossa. Before you know it, you're at the top. It doesn't just trickle over, either. Especially in the back, no matter how stapled in you are, it pulls you out of the seat hard. Then it whirls you around the spiral hard, and out of your seat. With the taller trains, it looks like they had to cut out part of the support holding the spiral, because it was inside the reach envelope.

The brakes use most of the track up to the stopping point, so there you have several hundred additional feet of track moving at high speed. The whole thing lasts about a minute, which makes this a far better ride than the original ever was. It's not even close. This is a ride that I would actually wait for, and I can't say that about it in its prior configuration. It's a new ride.

It's worth noting that the ride never appeared to have any down time of any sort. It's hard to tell, since there were long pauses at times so the TV stations could do their live hits on the ride, but I don't think there were any issues at all. (Regrettably, I did not have enough time to do a ride with my own POV, to capture the "cheek flap" from the wind.) While I don't know exactly what goes into the programming of firing LSM's in sequence, to the non-expert, the ride seems far simpler in its operation. The old ride had about a bazillion switches to sense brake fins in the wrong position, and compressors to pull the brakes down, and more sensors needed to operate the winch and the gigantic series of hydraulic motors. This one doesn't need all of that brake stuff, because if the motors aren't energized, they're effectively brakes. The motors each have blowers connected to them with hoses to keep them cool, and you can hear them near the ride.

The cool part is the track switch that puts the train on the circuit from the station. It moves pretty fast, and once it's in place, these piston-like pieces of track push into the fixed track, making it solid enough to go over 100 mph across. I enjoyed seeing that up close.

They had lunch at the BBQ joint across the midway, and it was really solid. Their food game is still, uh, on point. They set the standard for what chicken tenders should be, and sides that aren't microwaved crap. You can make good food at scale, you just have to want to. They're doing it.

I unfortunately had to leave at noon because of my flight in Cleveland, but it was a pretty great day. It was good to see friends old and new, and to see how they amazingly transformed this ride. I hope I can talk Simon into finally riding some stuff so we can eventually go back as a family.

Jeff - Advocate of Great Great Tunnels™ - Co-Publisher - PointBuzz - CoasterBuzz - Blog - Music

jimmyburke's avatar

Jeff, a very nice write-up of your venture up north to CP. And, in case you aren't told very often, thank you & Walt for this outlet that I have enjoyed perusing over time. Here's hoping your son will very soon be with you experiencing "cheek-flap", or perhaps some chicken tenders from the BBQ joint.

Jeff's avatar

I'd make the trip if I knew he'd eat the tenders!

Speaking of which, the guy behind the counter was not amused when I asked him if you could taste the hands with the handmade chicken tenders.

Jeff - Advocate of Great Great Tunnels™ - Co-Publisher - PointBuzz - CoasterBuzz - Blog - Music


then all of that potential energy on that tower, with a little extra "gas"

Ok.. I'll admit I giggled when the biggest EV cheerleader I know said this. :)

The old ride had about a bazillion switches to sense brake fins in the wrong position


June 11th, 2001 - Gemini 100
VertiGo Rides - 82
R.I.P. Fright Zone, and Cyrus along with it.

Jeff's avatar

If that number is real, weren't they in pairs, and therefore should be an even number?

Jeff - Advocate of Great Great Tunnels™ - Co-Publisher - PointBuzz - CoasterBuzz - Blog - Music

Dvo's avatar

Correct. 394 pairs plus the great eye. Zamperla found a way to design that out with TT2.

Last edited by Dvo,

384 MF laps
Smoking Area Drone Pilot

I stand by my numbers.

June 11th, 2001 - Gemini 100
VertiGo Rides - 82
R.I.P. Fright Zone, and Cyrus along with it.

Walt's avatar


Walt Schmidt - Co-Publisher, PointBuzz
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Home to the Biggest Fans of the World's Best Amusement Park

I know a guy.

June 11th, 2001 - Gemini 100
VertiGo Rides - 82
R.I.P. Fright Zone, and Cyrus along with it.

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