Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville has had a rocky history. It has been through multiple owners, has closed and re-opened a couple of times, and until its latest rebirth in 2014, nobody was sure it would ever be open again.
The latest rebirth needed a signature ride to signal the "Return of the Kingdom" and Chance Rides Inc was called in to provide the first-ever installation of their new product, the "Hyper GT-X" model coaster.
The coaster itself is mid-sized, and positively dwarfed by most of the huge coasters at King's Island just up the road in Cincinnati. The track design, with its C-shaped cross ties separating the rails looks antiquated compared to more recent box-beam styles. The layout is compact and free of any upside-down moments. Surely, if this park wanted to make a name for itself, it needed something more - especially since Kings Island had just opened Banshee, the world's longest inverted coaster, just a few weeks before, and was getting all the attention.
Watching the trainloads of riders from the queue, you begin to wonder if all the screams you're hearing indicate a ride that belies its humble statistics and produces unforeseen goodness... or if the folks on it are simply the kind that will scream at anything, even a smallish coaster with no loops. Eventually you get close enough to notice a few more things:
Things like riders' hair standing straight up over the tops of every hill. Like arms that are trying to stay down, but fling up in the air uncontrollably as the train tops each crest. Like how the screams of joy sound more like screams of terror once in awhile. Could it be that this is going to be something that good? Anticipation begins to build as the queue reaches its end and you climb the stairs to the loading station.
From the stairs, you notice that when the train comes back home and hits the final brakes, everyone is laughing, cheering, applauding... I haven't seen unanimous brake-run reactions like this since Outlaw Run opened down in Branson.
Now in the station, you really notice how beautiful those trains are. Sleek, sexy, and completely without shoulder bars. There are, however, seat belts and lap bars with shin guards that get pushed down by the attendant until your bladder is screaming for mercy and your thighs are aching. I had to beg the attendant to reset mine, as the first time she pushed it down, I had just exhaled and the bar prevented me from inhaling again fully. She obliged and I was stapled again, but with a little room to breathe this time. I'd really prefer a lot less pressure on my body from the restraints, but it seemed that they needed to be REALLY tight before the control system computer would give the OK. Many times, multiple people on the train would have to have the attendant physically shove the bar onto their legs repeatedly to get an OK. Hopefully, this can be adjusted in the future, as it also prevented some people from riding at all due to not being able to get the restraints tight enough. It also made the loading process very slow.
Once the bars are down and in place, it becomes obvious that the bars have no hand-holds and even if they did, they'd be too far down in your lap to hang onto, anyway. That leaves only a bizarre, flexible strap across your lap that I suppose you could hang onto, but I can't imagine it would provide much mental comfort, being so flexible and all. The left side bracket holding the strap is free to pivot as well, so the hand-hold (if that's what it is) will move around during the ride. If you're already afraid of coasters, this little tidbit isn't going to reassure you in the least. If you're not afraid, you'll likely be going hands-up anyway, so it's not an issue.
Climbing the lift affords a view of the Kentucky Expo Center parking lot and the airport across the freeway. No thrill there. That's when the front cars begin their descent and you pick up speed toward the top of the hill. You hear screams from the front-of-the-train riders and then it happens...
That seat you felt positively stapled to just a moment ago tries to drag you to hell. The drop is nearly vertical and it feels much, much bigger than its hundred-foot advertised height. In fact, the only way you even realize that it's a short drop is because you somehow don't have enough time to exhaust your profanity vocabulary before you get to the bottom. Doesn't stop you from trying, though.
The bottom of the drop has a quick left-hand turn that produces four positive Gs and... believe it or not... laterals. In an age where manufacturers are apparently doing their best to remove any lateral forces at all in the interest of smoothness, Lightning Run does the unthinkable for a coaster in this day and age: it lets you become acquainted with the side of the car. It's not rough nor uncomfortable in any way, like older Arrow or Vekoma rides can be, it's just... there. It's a beautiful thing.
No time to savor that, though, as you find yourself rocketing skyward into a hill that tries to launch you to the moon with airtime. Suddenly you realize that you don't even mind that you're stapled into the car as I imagine thighs would be quite sore after meeting the bar with this much force, even with minimal distance between leg and bar. A deep dive follows, then an overbanked turn.
Overbanked turns, or turns banked beyond 90 degrees, have become quite popular in designs lately, likely due to the massive popularity of Cedar Point's Millennium Force, which incorporates a ridiculously effective set of them in its layout. Most overbanked turns are quite large, high up, and have a substantial radius for the turn. Lightning Run's is small, lower to the ground, and with a tight turning circle fit for a MINI Cooper. It races around this thing with speed to spare and before you even know what you just did, it twists back the other way and throws another airtime hill at you.
A semi-helix in the opposite direction, full of humps and valleys, leads to a surprise head-chopper dive under the previous hill, then a swooping turn back to the right.
The next hill has a tiny bit of reverse-banking at the top, which caught everyone on the train off-guard and elicited a rousing chorus of "WOOOAAAHHHH" before plunging into a ground-level zig-zag track with heavy banking, quick directional changes, and even more laterals, taken at ridiculous speed. I'm hoping the park plants a bunch of hedges or bushes around there to enhance the speed sensation even more, plus block the sight lines a bit so the turns are blind. It's a riot of forces down there, yet still remains perfectly smooth and very intense.
This sets things up for the bunny hop finale. I must tell you that I worried a bit about this section, since Chance Rides, the designer of Lightning Run, had acquired Morgan Manufacturing and even though Morgan had built some good coasters, the one part of them that always seemsed to be "off" were the bunny hops. They provided airtime, yes, but usually jarring and uncomfortable. I'm glad to report that Lightning Run didn't inherit any of Morgan's bunny formulas - in fact, they might be the best-engineered string of bunnies of any steel coaster I've ridden. Ejector air that's still pain-free is a very good thing and I love that the middle bunny tricks you by barely having airtime, then you get positively launched on the following one.
Kentucky Kingdom has a bonafide hit on their hands with Lightning Run and I hope it leads to a flurry of similar installations at lots of parks in the future.
Many thanks to Chance Rides Inc for providing some on-ride footage and logos to greatly improve my "movie trailer" video.