Story and Photos by Andrew Hyde (Twitter @OnlineHyde) unless noted. Andrew has an incredible passion and knowledge of the amusement park industry, and offers us a peak into the 2003 media event for Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster.
In 2000, Cedar Point’s Millennium Force took the world by storm, and to some extent was still very much in the spotlight years later due to being the first roller coaster to break the 300 feet barrier. Then in 2002, Cedar Point added Wicked Twister, which was a decent sized addition that fulfilled the wants of theme park fans for more coasters at the park. So the last thing any of us expected was another coaster in the wake of record setting attractions.
After the closing of the 2001 season, Cedar Point removed the Dodgem 1 ride across from the Magnum entrance and relocate them to Michigan’s Adventure. By mid-April 2002, Cedar Point had secretly been building the foundations for Top Thrill Dragster on the former Dodgem site.
On Cedar Point opening day May 5, 2002, sharp eyed fans noticed some large footers near Magnum’s entrance inside a new fenced in area and land clearing nearby.
A group of us rode Magnum over and over just to spend the entire lift climb looking back at what the heck those three giant footers were. Remember, this was the same day Wicked Twister was opening – no one thought Cedar Point would build big coasters back to back years.
On June 21, 2002 several signs appear on the wall/fence surrounding the former Dodgem 1 site. The signs read: “Cedar Point is building for the future, look for news later this season.”
Fast forward to August 21, 2002. Out of nowhere and without any fanfare, track pieces randomly showed up next to Mean Streak. Then by August 27, track was being placed in the Soak City parking lot.
Random track pieces without an explanation launched the enthusiast community into a “strata” level of excitement. This was pre-Twitter or Facebook where social media creates viral news stories. Word spread through message boards and everyone anxiously waited for someone with a camera to run over to the park.
The next few months were more of the same story – with each week more track showed up and/or more land was cleared inside the park. During the week of September 3-6, 2002, Cedar Point removed Troika and Chaos across from Power Tower. By mid-September vertical construction was underway. And yet no announcement (sound familiar? Cough…Mean Streak) of what was going on at the park.
On October 11, 2002, the first pieces of track were installed onto the tower, now giving enthusiasts their first glimpse into what was to be expected.
By the time the end of the 2002 season ended, track had been installed down the pullout and through the brake run.
During the off-season, very few details started to leak out. Permits were filled on November 21, 2002 with very limited details except for some financial figures: a hydraulic building was going to cost the park around $200,000 dollars; an electrical building around $40,000, and the ride station at about $450,000. Footers for the ride were estimated to cost the park one million dollars.
The holidays came and went, the ride was topped off, yet still no announcement.
Then on January 9, 2003, Cedar Point announced Top Thrill Dragster and everyone was blown away!
I remember just a few years earlier when Millennium Force was just a rumor and everyone was thinking 300ft was crazy, but this was 400ft just a few years later. This roller coaster at Cedar Point put them in a whole other league.
Top Thrill Dragster Media Day
Top Thrill Dragster media day was held on May 1, 2003 and pulling up to the park that day I realized this was not just any other ride opening. I fondly recall a passerby’s comment from that day, “The President must be here because I have never seen so much media in one place.” Local and national news stations from a multi-state region were present for the Top Thrill Dragster media event, and this was BIG.
Stations were not just doing the “look new ride – here’s some footage” spots- they built sets and were doing their whole morning shows live from the park. TV trucks lined the midway from Dragster all the way down the Main Midway towards Raptor.
Scheduled to open early in the morning, the ride had a delayed start due to what was rumored to have been a lightning strike the previous day. After a brief opening ceremony the line quickly formed.
With all the media attention, nearly every train was going “live” on some TV station so everything had to be timed. All the TV timings caused the line to quickly build up and off the top of my head I want to say I waited 4 hours, but it was hard to tell through the excitement.
To thank us for our participation, guests were given a rare Cedar Point Top Thrill Dragster Inaugural Rider coin.
Everyone that has rode Top Thrill Dragster knows how the story goes from there. Being there for the opening was special, not just to ride it, but to see how the public reacted to this incredibly huge and fast new attraction.
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