We did a couple trips to Chocolatetown, USA, Hersheypark this summer to bust my son’s rollercoaster cherry. The first trip to Hershey, PA in June had its moments, but was at times a miserable affair on Father’s Day weekend due to crowding. Grub lines for Subway and the in-park fast food kiosks alone were taking up to 40 minutes, never mind an hour and a half for the Great Bear suspension coaster. The queue for the easygoing monorail was jammed up and there was as heavy contention for the oldie coasters like The Comet as there was for the newer steel rides. Chocolate World was people packed as well, and we found our consolation at missing out on line-stuffed rides with some of the most outrageous milkshakes we’ve ever had. I myself took down a flight of Hershey’s, Reese’s and strawberry Kit Kat mini-shakes. If that sounds insane, check it out:
For the June excursion, we got in Great Bear and the Sooper Dooper Looper, at one glorious time in the 1980s, the mack daddy coaster as the first looped ride on the east coast. Back then, you rode that sucker and got your “I Survived” t-shirt since it counted as bragging rights of fortitude at school. They still have those tees in their original design available for nostalgic saps in certain gift shops in the park. My son didn’t want the shirt, but he can claim the Sooper Dooper Looper (now in its 45th year) as his cherry popper.
Our second round to Hersheypark was on an August Wednesday, far more lucrative as we were able to hit seven coasters this time and other rides. Chocolate World was far more navigable and no obscene lines waiting to hit the chocolate factory riding tour like the prior visit. A S’mores milkshake was the tasty rage this time.
Finally able to get on board the other rides, we were wowed by the new Candymonium, Sky Rush and Jolly Rancher Remix along with Storm Runner and Fahrenheit, the latter of which takes you straight up and drops you at a 97 degree angle. My kiddo was cool as a cucumber on the rides, though he sweated with anticipation on Jolly Rancher Remix and he confessed to being terrified by Candymonium’s towering descents. We looked at each other with that rare moment of being on the same level, father and son, flat on our backs during the scary scooch up Fahrenheit.
I couldn’t get my son on The Comet, as he’d had the fear put inside of him that a wooden coaster has a tendency to lift you out of your seat. Never mind the daredevil antics of sidewiding, loops, corkscrews and whips we took from the steel coasters. As his father, I couldn’t not let the child experience the speed and adrenaline rush a classic wooden coaster delivers. I had to use some dad intuition and reverse psychology once we found our way to Lightning Racer.
Built in 2000, the Lightning Racer is Hersheypark’s barreling duel coaster, a huge deal when it was built alongside its fearsome wooden sister, Wildcat. To my dismay, Wildcat has been shut down permanently. As the name implies, two trains go out at the same time on Lightning Racer via two different tracks. One green, one red. Winner takes nothing except wind-pummeled hair and ten second braggadocio.
The coasters set off with red taking the higher incline than green, though both come down at 90 foot drops and a 3.6 G force. Paltry maybe compared to the blast launch of Storm Runner or the zip up the first ascension on Sky Rush, this is still a serious wallop for an old school-styled wooden coaster. Lightning Racer can give even the famous Cyclone at Coney Island, New York a good run, even in the brutality department. The Cyclone will leave bruises on you. Lightning Racer batters you around, dropping some happy licks you can pop ibuprofen for later.
The biggest thrill to Lightning Racer, winning over my skeptical son, was the number of times the trains intersect at top speed. The coasters dash close to each other and separate and wind back overtop each other until the rackety soar to the finish line. Bad form playing spoiler, I know, but anybody in the park who rides Lightning Racer will tell you; green always wins.
What makes Lightning Racer a road lesser traveled is one, the fact it’s planted in one of the furthest stretches in Hersheypark and two, the ease in which you can hop on with little-to-no wait.
Located in the park’s Midway, you have to push deep into the bowels of the campus from the main gates near Candymonium. Make your way over to the “Boardwalk” section of Hersheypark and keep veering past Breaker’s Edge Water Coaster. You’ll find the East Coast Waterworks and Tidal Force, themselves an entire afternoon’s worth of wet frivolity. Once you spot the Hersheypark ferris wheel, you’ll find Lightning Racer right behind it.
My son and I got on Lightning Racer twice in a fifteen minute span, riding the red train first, then the green. The lines move so fast, one because most everyone lurks in the ride zones within reach of Chocolate World or at Hersheypark’s ZooAmerica. Also because the trains are loaded with such expedience you’re forced into a split second decision which side to ride. Treat yourself and take both colors at least once, even if you’re on the red side and subjected to sneering faces, mocking gesticulations and blown raspberries from the green train. Hop back on and return the favor from the other perspective!
Wooden coasters may be considered out of fashion to some, but even on our second round at Hersheypark, the line for The Comet was bigger than its dwarfing yellow steel neighbor, Sky Rush, one of the highest and fastest coasters in the park. A classic is a classic.
If an old-time thrill is what you’re seeking, hit the Comet, yes. It’s mandatory. Then grab a packet of Hershey kisses for the schlep to Lightning Racer. You won’t be sorry you did, and you’ll have already finished it long before the Fahrenheit riders get within reach of the loading bay.
–Ray Van Horn, Jr.