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

Continued from the Page 1 story published in last week’s Yorktown Crier | Poquoson Post

DFCont imageBusch Gardens: The Old Country unveiled its latest roller coaster, an Arrow Dynamics creation named Drachen Fire, in 1992. The twisted mass of bright blue tubular steel track, designed by famed engineer Ron Toomer, proved to be more than most riders could take, with actor Alex Winter commenting how it felt like it snapped his vertebrae. Busch Gardens knew they needed to act fast in order to not lose what they already invested in the $4 million dollar ride.

In 1994, the first corkscrew was removed, bringing the number of inversions down to five. They also added a break run in a lackluster attempt to decrease the ride’s roughness. However, none of this made a difference to the many that got off it with red ears, headaches, and injuries from having their heads being slammed against the hard, black shoulder restraints.

In the meantime, Busch Gardens was in talks with new, popular roller coaster designer, Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M) to design an inverted coaster for the park. In 1997, Busch Gardens unveiled Alpengeist. Typical of B&M’s signature style, the experience was incredibly smooth while still exciting. Additionally, it was taller and faster than any other coaster in the park. Fans flocked to Alpengeist, turning Drachen Fire into an afterthought for park goers. Quietly, Drachen Fire's gates were shut mid-season 1998. Cindy Sarko, of Busch Gardens’ Public Relations team, said, "There has been a steady erosion of ridership, combined with the high operating expenses of the ride, it helped officials make the decision to shut it down.” She suggested that the park would attempt to modifications in order to make it more rider-friendly for future operating seasons.

But seasons passed and Drachen Firesat dormant in the corner of Oktoberfest. Attempts were made to sell it, but every contract fell through. On 2001’s Member Preview Day, guests were excited when they spotted Drachen Fire's bright red trains running empty on the tracks. The excitement was short-lived and the coaster was never reopened. In 2002, the track was disassembled and the steel recycled.

The land whereDrachen Fire once stood is now known as Festhaus Park. Vestiges of the ride remain with her former queue, maintenance, and gift shop buildings still standing. The grounds are used for overflow celebrations and a haunted maze during Howl-O-Scream. Rumors persist that one day the grounds and buildings will be reutilized for another roller coaster, but anything has yet to come to fruition.

The same year that Drachen Fire was disassembled, Arrow Dynamics’ long legacy came to an end when they filed for bankruptcy and their assets sold to S&S Worldwide. Companies like B&M, Intamin, and most recently, Rocky Mountain Construction, filled Arrow’s absence. In 2009, Busch Gardens closed Arrow Dynamics’ Big Bad Wolf, with the iconic Loch Ness Monstertheir only still standing Arrow coaster.

Drachen Fireremains a bittersweet memory of headaches and a misstep in coaster innovation. Its cult following remains and it is the subject of fascination for many as one of the many mistakes that led to the demise of a coaster titan.


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