Skip to Main Content

The Racer introduced the second coming of the Golden Age of the wooden roller coaster

Kings Island announces important updates regarding the rest of the 2020 Season. Learn More.

Skip to Next Section

The second coming

John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

Coney Island’s Shooting Star roller coaster was immensely popular with guests. However, after years of flood damage, and general operational wear and tear, it could not be relocated to Kings Island for the park's opening in 1972. Besides, park designers wanted something bigger and better.

When Kings Island was being conceived, Gary Wachs (Coney Island Vice-President) had recalled the “racing” type coasters that were popular back in the early part of the century. The new Coney Island section would be a nostalgic nod to Turn-of-the-Century parks, so that style coaster would lend itself perfectly. Problem was, they needed someone to build it.

So Wachs turned to John Allen, the president of The Philadelphia Toboggan Company. Allen’s work building amusement rides and coasters was well known among park owners. However, well into his 60’s, Allen had been in the business for 50 years and was preparing for retirement. So he turned the project down.

But Wachs didn’t take no for an answer. At an industry trade show in Chicago, he and his father, Ralph Wachs, invited Allen for drinks and by the end of the evening, they had convinced him to design and oversee construction of their coaster.

What none of them realized is that the coaster would revolutionize the industry – literally breathing a second life into a dead art form. Prior to The Racer’s opening, there had been a drastic decline in interest of roller coasters. Of the estimated 1,500 that once dotted the country in the 1920’s, only around 120 were left. In the 1940’s-1960’s, construction of new coasters had slowed to less than a handful being built per decade. That all changed once The Racer opened.

When it premiered on April 29, 1972, The Racer was the longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world. It stands 88 feet high, has a 45-degree first drop of 83 feet and reaches a speed of 53 m.p.h. It has four trains (two Red, two Blue) that were timed to “race” along two tracks, each nearly 3,500 feet in length. It was built using over 600,000 board feet of virgin Douglas Fir lumber shipped from the West Coast. Originally budgeted for $700,000, The Racer’s final price tag was $1.2 million.

Allen designed what he termed a ”negative gravity experience.” He calculated the height and speed of the hills to raise riders an average of 7/16 inches off their seats. The design and engineering started in December of 1969, construction began in September of 1970. 

The Racer holds the little-known distinction of being one of the first coasters where sections called “bents” were first assembled on the ground then raised by crane and bolted in place. It’s a process by which all modern wood coasters are built today. In addition, the coaster was painted as it was being assembled, rather than after construction was complete.

The Racer took its maiden voyage in September of 1971, to which Allen exclaimed “It rides like a baby coach!” It opened to the public with Kings Island on April 29, 1972.  John Allen was present at Kings Island that day to see the public react to his ‘baby” and he couldn’t have been happier. It was an immense success, and garnered such national media exposure that park owners across the world clamored to build new coasters of their own. This is what amusement industry leaders, and coaster enthusiasts, refer to as the beginning of the “Second Golden Age of Roller Coasters.” 

In the 45 years since The Racer made its debut, there’s been hundreds of new coasters added to parks – and it is all thanks to Allen’s Racer.

Allen would design and oversee the build of five more wooden coasters after The Racer, including Woodstock Express (originally the Scooby Doo) for Kings Island. 

In 1977, the Kings Island management once again asked Allen to design another coaster. Unable to take on a project of the size and scope they were planning, he instead gave them his engineering calculations. That gift enabled the park to design and build The Beast, which opened in 1979.

Allen passed away at the age of 72 in August of 1979 but his “Baby”, and his legend, lives on.

 

Share This

John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

Post a Comment

Skip to Next Section

Kings Island GM presents next round of Over The Top awards to seasonal and part-time associates

Last month, we shared with our Kings Island Blog readers a new initiative the park’s vice president and general manager, Mike Koontz, has introduced that recognizes seasonal and part-time associates that have gone “Over The Top” to make the experience for our guests memorable and exceeding their expectations along with what they're doing for others. 
Read More

Check out this morning view of the sun rising behind Orion 

Good morning! To begin another week of content on the Kings Island Blog, we’re sharing this look at the bright sun rays rising from behind the Orion giga coaster in Area 72 to usher in a new day at the park.
Read More

Kings Island Foodie News: Double-cooked Short-Rib highlights Saturday's Chef's Plate menu 

Available on Saturdays only beginning at 5 p.m. until park closing (or while supplies last) at the Wishbone Grill on International Street, Chef’s Plate features a specialty entrée that changes each week, giving our guests and All Season Dining members a fresh and exciting new menu option every week.
Read More

New videos added to Kings Island's 4k cinematic YouTube series

Kings Island's 4k Cinematic YouTube Series features the best views of your favorite attractions in the park! Enjoy a virtual amusement park tour by watching four new videos that have been added to the series.
Read More

Kings Island at Night: The Grand Carousel

This Kings Island “At Night” video was captured at one of the park’s most delightful and beautiful rides, the Grand Carousel. It’s a magnificent visual at night as the park comes alive with an ambiance that just cannot be replicated during the day.
Read More

August 25, 1970: 50 years ago today Kings Island was named

Before Kings Island officially opened its turnstiles on April 29, 1972. Before the park’s Eiffel Tower construction had broken ground. Before the Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera welcomed its first families. There’s one date that might just be the most important in Kings Island history. August 25, 1970.
Read More

Kings Island GM presents 13 more seasonal and part-time associates with the Over The Top award

Earlier this month, we shared with our Kings Island Blog readers a new initiative the park’s vice president and general manager, Mike Koontz, has introduced that recognizes seasonal and part-time associates who are going “Over The Top” to make our guests experience memorable and exceeding their expectations.
Read More

Check out this sunrise over Kings Island's Banshee roller coaster

Whether it’s watching the sun climb up and over the Banshee roller coaster or seeing the first rays of light frame International Street, check out Kings Island's sunrise views!
Read More

The Astro-Comet: Remembering King Cobra

In 1984, Kings Island was standing room only as King Cobra made its way into the spotlight of the Adventure Village area of the park. Designed by TOGO, it was the first roller coaster in the world to be designed from the ground up as a stand-up. Other stand-up roller coasters that preceded King Cobra were sit-down models later modified to accommodate stand-up trains, so this made it truly the world’s first.
Read More

Kings Island Foodie News: Chef's Plate pop-up style dining experience new at Wishbone Grill

We have some exciting news for our foodie fans! On Saturdays, Wishbone Grill located on International Street will feature Chef’s Plate, an exclusive dinner hand-crafted by Kings Island’s culinary team.
Read More