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Dollywood is known for its innovative, record breaking rides and Lightning Rod is no exception.
Located in Jukebox Junction, Lightning Rod currently boasts two incredible accolades: It’s the fastest wooden coaster in the world and it’s the only wooden launch coaster in the world.
Let that sink in for a moment: In. The. World.
When one rides, one wonders to themselves: “Has Dollywood discovered a way to break the laws of physics?”
However, it’s not always easy being an innovator.
Since its debut in 2016, the coaster has required a great deal of maintenance.
This ongoing maintenance has resulted in an unusual amount of downtime, especially compared to its brother and sister coasters inside the park.
This summer, the ride was finally shut down for the season with a sign at the entrance of the attraction that reads: “Lightning Rod is closed for the balance of 2020 as it receives an upgrade from manufacturer Rocky Mountain Construction. In 2021, lightning strikes twice.”
Don’t despair Lightning Rod fans – the coaster will ride again in 2021 after receiving a few necessary upgrades.
What upgrades will Lightning Rod receive?
According to American Coaster Enthusiasts Southeast, Lightning Rod is set to become a hybrid version of a topper track and I-box track.
These upgrades will make the coaster more reliable and improve maintenance going forward. The layout of the coaster will remain unchanged.
When installing a Topper Track, the top two layers of the wood track are replaced with steel and coated with laminated wood.
An I-Box installation will enforce the existing wooden support structure with steel ledgers.
These changes will allow Lightning Rod to maintain the current look and feel of a traditional wooden coaster while minimizing maintenance and providing for a smoother ride.
My first Lightning Rod experience
Since the coaster was built in 2016, my own first Lightning Rod encounter is still fresh in my mind.
I clearly remember the first time I set my sights on the new tricked-out wooden-steel hybrid and its 165-foot drop.
My husband and I were queuing up in line behind a young girl (who looked like she was probably about 11 years old) and her mom.
The young girl, who could clearly read the apprehension on my face, turns to me and says in a comforting tone: “This is my new favorite ride in the park – you’re going to love it!”
Moments later, I was being launched from zero to 45 mph, 20 stories uphill feeling my butt lift off the seat as I wondered if I had just met the bravest 11-year-old ever to walk the face of the earth.
Lightning Rod, as it turns out, is not for the faint of heart. Lightning Rod has all the speeds and heart-racing maneuvers of a steel coaster, with the adrenaline-charged thrills of a classic wooden beast.
It features launch (similar to the steel Hulk at Universal Studios), speeds of up to 73 mph and boasts nearly 20 seconds of “air time” for those brave enough to ride.
In case you’re wondering what “air time” means – please see prior “butt off the seat” reference.
For comparison, Universal’s Hulk launches riders from 0 to 40 mph with max speed of 67. Lightning Rod is basically like a bigger, faster Hulk on wood. In short, it’s terrifying, and I love it.
Lightning Rod coaster receives acclaim from coaster enthusiasts
In 2019, Coaster101.com asked their readers to nominate their favorite attractions in a variety of categories, and named Lightning Rod “Coaster of the Decade”.
“Lightning Rod was undoubtedly one of the most defining moments of the past decade for wooden roller coasters. From having the first launch on a wooden coaster to the world record-breaking speed, Lightning Rod has amassed widespread acclaim from the coaster enthusiast community,” said John Stevenson, a writer at Coaster101.com.
“Lightning Rod has become a favorite among coaster enthusiasts who have ridden it and a must-ride for those who haven’t. It redefined the limits of a wooden coaster and provided thrill seekers a ride like no other.”
Lightning Rod coaster has not only scored Dollywood notoriety among even the most discerning of coaster critics the world over, it has literally changed the standard against which all future coasters must now compete.
It’s like the Michael Jordan of basketball, or the Dolly Parton of country music. It’s a star in its own right, and deserves our patience as it undergoes an upgrade that will hopefully keep it running in tip-top shape for many years to come.
Dollywood is located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
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