Inside a crowded theater at Dollywood today, Dolly Parton unveiled the theme park’s latest project, a revolutionary new wood coaster named Lightning Rod scheduled to open in March 2016.
Both the world’s fastest wood coaster and the world’s first launching wood coaster, Lighting Rod is a 1950s-era hot rod themed, 12-car train that takes 24 passengers on an adrenaline-charged lap through the trees in the hills and valleys surrounding Dollywood.
The wood coaster is currently under construction with its launch area in Dollywood’s Jukebox Junction fenced off from curious guests and trees concealing most of the site work on surrounding hills.
“It’s been a big month for us,” Dolly Parton said after riding onto the stage in a candy apple red hot rod sporting flames on the sides. “We just opened DreamMore Resort to guests and now we get to make the biggest ride announcement in the history of Dollywood.”
Just like a hot rod, Lightning Rod uses 1,500 horsepower to launch riders from zero to 45 mph more than 20 stories up its lift hill to one of the ride’s first airtime moments. At the crest of the hill, riders face twin summit airtime hills before tackling the daring first drop. The train races down the 165-foot drop and propels guests along its 3,800-ft. track to a top speed of 73 mph, the fastest speed for a wood coaster in the world. Passengers experience nearly 20 seconds of airtime.
“For a third of the ride your seat is going to be off the seat,” said Pete Owens, director of Public Relations. “For the other two thirds of the ride you’re going to be on the edge of your seat.”
Dollywood’s development team chose Rocky Mountain Construction, of Hayden, Idaho, as the coaster manufacturer. They are no stranger to out-of-the-box coaster projects, having designed a number of innovative attractions around the world. Lightning Rod employs several unique features including the lift hill launch, twin summit airtime hills, a 90+ degree banked breaking wave turn, a 90+ degree outside banked turn, and a non-inverting half loop. Continuously welded track ensures the ride will be smooth.
At a cost of $22 million, Lightning Rod is the single largest attraction investment in The Dollywood Company’s history. It is part of a plan developed two years ago to reinvest over $300 million back into Dollywood over ten years, according to The Dollywood Company President Craig Ross.
“Lightning Rod reminds me so much of those colorful cars cruisin’ up and down Main Street in downtown Sevierville back when I was in high school. I remember all those souped up cars; but what I remember most were those good lookin’ boys behind the wheel with those flat top and ducktail haircuts,” Dolly Parton said with a laugh.
“I’m truly excited about this ride because it will let our guests experience something just as fast as those hot rods I remember,” she continued. “Even better, it’s the fastest wooden roller coaster in the world, so I think we’re going to see a lot of people coming from all over to peel out on the Lightning Rod.”
Dollywood is becoming a haven for roller coaster enthusiasts. It is home of the Thunderhead roller coaster, which is among the world’s top five wood coasters. In 2012, the theme park added the $20 million Wild Eagle, the country’s first wing coaster. FireChaser Express, the nation’s first dual-launch family coaster, opened at Dollywood in 2014.