Sitting about as far away from the front gate as one can get in the Midway section of Hersheypark in Hershey, PA, is the Great Coasters International (GCI) gem known as Lightning Racer. This thrill machine was America’s first Racing/Dueling wooden coaster when it opened in 2000; with a height of 90 feet and top speed of 50 miles per hour, Lightning Racer packs a punch. The twin tracks are each 3,393 feet long, which offer a surprisingly long ride time of 2 minutes and 20 seconds – a longer ride time than most coasters at the park.
The ride begins as you roll out of the station to the Christmas tree lights shining green and a voice telling you to “Start Your Engines!” Whichever side you are on, Lightning (red right) or Thunder (green left), you better prepare yourself for the inevitable plunge down the drop and into the heat of the race. At the top of the staggered lifts, take a second to look at the entirety of Racers course, from the graceful fan turns at the far end, to the feared ‘sideswipe alley’ right next to it. Then, the chain disengages and both trains fall and rise into the first hill as graceful as a pair of synchronized swimmers. A small hill provides jump of floater airtime, and your opposition peels off to the side as you both rise into the pair of beautiful ‘fan turns.’
Falling like a shooting star from the fan turns, a photo op awaits in a tunnel which also hides a pleasant surprise! After the bunny hill, you speed into the ride’s first fly-by. The two trains run right in the other’s path, and split away from each other at the very last moment. Next, you head into another one of Racers signature elements, ‘Side Swipe Alley.’ During this unique element, Thunder leaps over Lightning, and Lightning then crosses Thunder, which provides a nice jolt of airtime. Next, you fly towards the second and final fly-by. Following the last near miss, you continue your race towards the finish line. At this point, Lightning was leading the charge by a few feet into the double up. And the winner is……!!
Lightning won. But hey, when you’re riding this coaster, everyone wins!
[Feature Image courtesy of Coaster Addict Brianna.]