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A Real "Spine Snapper”: The History of Drachen Fire
By Nancy E. Sheppard

DFire imageSummer means a lot of things to locals, including spending copious hours at our beloved local theme park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg. But many will remember one of the park’s great missteps as the infamous roller coaster, Drachen Fire, which terrorized park guests for only seven years before unceremoniously closed.

Rewind back to the early 1990’s when roller coasters began dominating theme park landscapes. Arrow Dynamics was the elder statesman of the ride design companies. It was the company responsible for the world’s first log flume, tubular steel coaster track, inverted roller coaster, and many of the beloved early rides at Disneyland. They were also geniuses for two of the most beloved attractions Busch Gardens Williamsburg: Loch Ness Monster and Big Bad Wolf.

However, their monopoly in the industry was threatened when newcomers, Bolliger and Mabillard (or B&M), burst onto the scene with a new, innovated design that created a smooth coaster ride experience. Still a new company, B&M was overwrought with orders for new coasters when Anheuser-Busch Entertainment Corporation (predecessor to SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment) approached them to build two roller coasters: one for their Tampa park, and one for Williamsburg. After hammering out initial concepts, B&M decided that they were only able to commit to one roller coaster, which would go to Tampa.

But what about the ride for Williamsburg? Anheuser- Busch Entertainment Corporation turned to their trusted "old faithful,” Arrow Dynamics, to complete development of their new roller coaster. Thus, Drachen Fire was born.

Building upon B&M’s original concepts, the job was given to famed engineer, Ron Toomer, who was responsible for some of the most popular Arrow coasters ever built. What baffled Toomer was B&M’s original concept of including an inversion that went over the 150-foot lift hill. When his final design was completed, this original concept was morphed into an awkward inversion that occurred after the first 50 feet of the initial drop, with five more inversions in the original design. These included a "batwing” element, which was developed specifically for Drachen Fire, and included two inversions in one element. To add to the inversions were two interlocking corkscrews and a camelback element, which allowed riders to experience lateral g’s.

But this roller coaster was like no other Arrow coaster – and not in a good way. Tell-tale signatures of Arrow were missing… their typical, box-like support structure was replaced by something more akin to the tall, slender poles used by B&M, the track layout was uninspired, and the trains were completely redesigned. Instead of the pointed-front trains indicative of an Arrow coaster, these trains were rounded yet box-like. As popular Busch Gardens fan blog, BGW Fans states, "Arrow attempted to force an evolution in design concepts within their own company artificially.”

When Drachen Fire opened in 1992, crowds remarked on the brutal ride experience. Guests were advised to remove any earrings before boarding the train and from the first inversion after a lack-luster drop, heads banged against shoulder harnesses nonstop throughout the ride. Even movie star, Alex Winter, quipped how it snapped his vertebrae.

To find out the fate of Drachen Fire, check out next week’s Yorktown Crier- Poquoson Post!

 





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