Someone says, “This was a bad idea.” Another rider says, “I think I can see Atlanta”. Meanwhile, Intimidator’s black and red NASCAR-themed train ascend further and further into the sky. I look over my left shoulder and I can see Charlotte’s cluster of skyscrapers in the distance. Most of the other riders are glued to their seats bracing for the ensuing plunge. Twenty stories below, people look like insects as the train finishes its climb and rolls over the 232 foot peak. Finally, the train plummets down the largest drop most riders have ever experienced.
Years of Anticipation
After more than a year of speculation and construction, I was riding Carowinds new roller coaster Intimidator. I had been hoping for a large new ride since the Carolina Cobra Media Day back in March of 2009. The log flume ride had been removed which kick started rumors of a new ride for 2010. Die hard Carowinds fans have been waiting much longer for a for a ride this big. The park hadn’t received a large new coaster since 2004’s Nighthawk (formerly BORG). After clues and hints both real and fake (White Lightning?) the official announcement was made in August. Carowinds is now home to the longest, fastest, and tallest roller coaster in the South East. Fittingly, for a North Carolina based-ride, the roller coaster has a NASCAR theme and it bears the nickname of possibly the most famous stock car driver of all time, Dale Earnhardt “The Intimidator”.
Start Your Engines: Loading & the NASCAR-themed Trains
As I approached Intimidator’s queue I was happy to find a single rider line. Guests who enter this separate line for the ride can expect to have their wait time cut in half. The only downside is that you won’t be able to ride with your group. Intimidator’s black Chevy Monte Carlo-themed trains seat four guests in each row. When guests from the main queueboard in a group of three, one person from the single rider line is added to their row. This assures that the trains are fully loaded, which in turn helps to keep the lines moving. I waited about twenty minutes on my four rides. I asked people from the main queue and they said their wait was about 40 minutes or more. The comfortable bucket seats are elevated so your feet can swing freely and there are no walls surrounding the cars. On B&M hyper coasters like Intimidator, you’re basically riding in an elevated chair with nothing around you. The comfortable contoured lap bars have handles on them for those who wish to brace themselves. The enthusiastic ride op asked everyone if they were ready. After an excited response, he dispatched us as a voice over the speakers exclaimed: “Start Your Engines!”.
After the 40-plus second climb to the top, the train dove down 211 feet reaching over 75 miles per hour. As I expected there’s some air on the way down that 74 degree drop. Almost immediately, we climbed the second hill which has a turn at the top and some interesting banking. The train travels back down and then back up again for a traditional parabola shaped hill. Each time the train traveled close to the ground, the speed seemed even more intense.
Next up, is the hammerhead at the far end of the ride’s course near the South Entrance and Top Gun/Afterburn. As the train rises up, it banks slightly to the right and then left again as it pushes skyward into a heavily banked u-turn a hundred feet in the air. Coaster enthusiasts will recognize this element from Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve seen this element before, but it wasn’t as much fun as I expected.
On the way back to the station, the train flies through two more textbook camelback shaped hills. Near the lift hill, the train enters a brake run that briefly slows the train before it drops down a small hill. Intimidator’s finale is a pretty force-less, pretzel-shaped, downward helix followed by another small hill. The final magnetic brakes gave riders quite a jolt. Trains returned with applause and riders eager to jump back in line. The guests enthusiasm was fun to see as I’m sure many had never ridden a hyper coaster.
Seating Is Key: The Air Up There
Seating for Intimidator is assigned by a ride op as you enter the station. While this helps to keep the line moving, itwon’t allow you to make sure that you experience the ride from every row. Guests basically have to “gamble” and hope they get lucky by being placed in an area of the train that they haven’t ridden in yet. How important is where you sit? While Intimidator doesn’t disappoint from any seat, the airtime (moments when you’re lifted out of your seat) varied greatly. On my first two rides I was placed in the 5th car and the 6th car and I was unimpressed by the little air that I experienced. There was only a little floater air while the train descended the hills. A ride in the second to last car seemed to produce even less air than the middle.
Luckily, I got to experience Intimidator in the very front car, right center seat. Surprisingly, the air in the front was of the ejector variety. I was being lifted pretty forcefully on nearly every hill right at the crest, starting with a surprising lift at the top of that cool banked second hill. Again, airtime is abundant in the front of the train and minimal in the middle and back. I’m not typically a big fan of the front seat, but the airtime and the added effects of the view and the wind in your face, make the front seat of Intimidator one of the best seats in the country.
I put Intimidator on par with the other top-notch hyper coasters that I’ve ridden. It has height, speed, a smooth comfortable ride and abundant airtime (in some seats). I’m a bit perplexed by the airtime discrepancy towards the back and I’d love to hear from others who have ridden Diamonback at Kings Island or Behemoth at Canada’s Wonderland as those two coasters also have B&M’s new trains. Still, Intimidator is a solid ride with no real flaws, it just doesn’t blow away the competition. Which, for a long-time enthusiast is pretty stiff. Final Rating – 9.0 (Excellent)