When it debuted in 2003, Top Thrill Dragster was the top dog--the fastest and tallest roller coaster in the world. The similar Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure has since eclipsed it, although not by much. Like all rocket coasters, Top Thrill Dragster is all about the hang-on-for-your-dear-life launch.
- Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 10
The epitome of a thrilling ride. Insane acceleration, speed, height, and drop.
- Type of coaster: Hydraulic launch rocket coaster
- Height: 420 feet (World's tallest in 2003. Today's world's 10 tallest roller coasters.)
- Top speed: 120 mph (World's fastest in 2003. Today's world's 10 fastest roller coasters.)
- Location: Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio
- Featured coaster element: 420-foot tall top hat tower, with 90-degree ascent and descent
- Ride time: 30 seconds
- Top Thrill Dragster and other Cedar Point Rides Photo Gallery
- Top Thrill Dragster Animated Video
A Mind-Blowing Blur
Cedar Point knows roller coasters. The park is loaded with them. But Top Thrill Dragster is a different breed of thrill machine. Like some mutant monster that emerged from a pile of radioactive goo, it sits smack dab in the middle of the park's midway looking impossibly tall and menacing. No slow click-clack-click ascent up a lift hill; no teetering-at-the-top followed by a cathartic first drop; no inversions. It's just an unholy 120-mph launch up, over, and down an insane 420-foot tower.
The coaster sports a drag racing theme. The ride ops are dressed like a pit crew, and there are checkered flags everywhere. Sitting in the loading station, the anticipation builds for riders as trains stacked in front of them depart. When they reach the front of the line, huge racing car starting lights along the straightaway and on the tower itself signal the launch by changing color from red to yellow to green.
As with most launched coasters, the brakes release just before Top Thrill Dragster takes off and leave the train momentarily free-floating in neutral.
In that split second when I was on Top Thrill Dragster, I think my life flashed before my eyes. Then, an explosion of force ripped me from my review as it sent me hurtling straight ahead at 120 freakin' miles per hour. It's all a blur--a mind-blowing blur. The train barreled down the track, shot 90 degrees straight up the tower, slowed as it reached the 420-foot apex, and then dove head-first 90 degrees straight down the other side. A 270-degree spiral on the descent added a bit to my sensory overload.
A Single-Note Blast of Speed Metal
Before I could process what happened, the train was racing for the "finish line" and slowing as it approached the station. I was shaking, rattled, and weak-kneed, yet elated. Top Thrill Dragster confers a dragon-slaying sense of accomplishment onto riders that few coasters can match.
Unlike Kingda Ka, which is located in a corner of Six Flags Great Adventure and is only accessible via its loading station, Top Thrill Dragster's center-stage spot at Cedar Point grants parkgoers many vantage points from which to view the monster.
It's a hoot to stand on the midway and watch riders' faces change from nervous smiles to sheer terror as the trains launch.
While the rides are essentially the same, I prefer Top Thrill Dragster over Kingda Ka and give it a slight ratings edge. In addition to its more remote location in the park, the Six Flags coaster adds a 129-foot airtime hill after the top-hat tower that is lame, anticlimactic, and detracts from the ride. It seems that tower coasters work best when they concentrate on the tower. While the New Jersey ride is a bit taller and faster, I defy anybody to notice the difference.
I don't rate either coaster more than 4 stars, however. While Top Thrill Dragster is an incredible ride and should be experienced for its sheer speed, height, and acceleration (by those brave enough to withstand its onslaught), it is really a single-note blast of speed metal.
I prefer the more nuanced symphony that a great hypercoaster can deliver. Still, it easily makes my list for the scariest coasters.