Continuing in our series on the history of roller coasters, this week we’ll look at The Racer, the ride that brought us through the Great Depression and sparked a new interest in thrill rides.
Following the immensely successful debut of the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland, more and more roller coasters were built to keep up with the demand. In a season now known as the industry’s golden age, scores of manufactures emerged and began striving to build roller coasters bigger and better than ever before. Just as roller coasters were reaching the peak of their popularity, the nation was unexpectedly slammed with the Great Depression in the 1930s. As amusement park attendance plunged to an all-time low, demand for new coasters fell and manufacturers stopped innovating new designs. Even after Americans began to recover from the Depression, interest in roller coasters continued to dwindle. The condition of the industry was so bleak in the 1960s that John C. Allen, the president of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, made up his mind to retire from designing coasters.
Allen didn’t stay retired for long, though. At the IAPPA convention in 1970, he met a man named Gary Wachs, who was in the process of relocating the rides from Cincinnati’s flooded Coney Island park to a brand new amusement park, Kings Island. Trouble was, the park’s most popular ride, Shooting Star, had been too damaged by flooding to move. Since Shooting Star had been designed by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, Wachs came to Allen for help. He wanted a classic racing roller coaster that would become every bit as popular as Shooting Star. Though Allen turned down the request at first, he finally gave in and agreed to design the ride.
In his design for “The Racer,” Allen mapped out what would become the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world. Two trains would race on parallel tracks, rushing over hills just the right size for airtime. For the turn-around, the two tracks would split up and take opposite directions, something uncommon for racing roller coasters at that time. Also an industry first, The Racer was assembled in pre-painted sections that could be lifted into position by crane. The sheer size of the ride was greater than anything before it. Little did Allen know that it would be just what America needed to reignite interest in roller coasters.
On April 29, 1972, The Racer opened to the public with immediate success. Riders flocked from all over the country to take on the ride’s 88-foot hills and race for the finish line. In 1973, the ride was featured on national television in an episode of The Brady Bunch. Suddenly, the next generation was enraptured with roller coasters, and manufacturers could not keep up with the exponential demand for new rides. In the ensuing roller coaster renaissance, hundreds of new rides were built, and amusement parks became more popular than ever before. Thanks to Allen’s Racer, the roller coasters would live on.
In 2007, The Racer received the Coaster Landmark Award from the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), recognizing its significant contribution to the thrill industry. This year, The Racer celebrates its 45th year of operation, and it remains one of Kings Island’s most popular roller coasters.
Next week we’ll explore how the advent of the world’s first hypercoaster started an era known as the Roller Coaster Wars.