Themed after a 1950’s hot rod, Lightning Rod is the world’s first launched wooden coaster and recent (as of 2016) addition to RMC’s (Rocky Mountain Construction) impressive portfolio. A terrain coaster, it’s built on a mountain and hidden from view except for the lift hill, overbanked turn at the end of the ride and small section of track leading into the turn. So for anyone riding it for the first time, there’s an element of suspense in that you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for.
With six cars seating two across in two rows for a total of 24 riders, the train makes a right turn out of the loading station and approaches the lift hill, where it is launched. (The restraint consists of a lap bar and shin guard, the same restraint system on other RMC creations.) The launch is an unusual one in that coasters are typically stationary when launched whereas this one is already in motion. Also unusual is that the launch becomes progressively faster instead of remaining at the same speed. Upon reaching the top of the lift the train takes a short, deceptive drop before rising and dropping a breathtaking 165 feet at a 73-degree angle. It then takes riders on a fast-paced course of steeply banked turns, veering left (breaking wave turn)/ right/ left/ right/ left/ right. In the midst of this is the so-called “twist and shout” element, which has riders breezing through a section of crazily twisted track. The quick changes of direction, interspersed with airtime hills, make it almost impossible to anticipate what’s coming next. On one of the turns riders are thrown somewhat forcefully to the left. The latter part of the ride features a double up and quadruple down leading into a 180-degree overbanked right turn (publicized as a “non-inverting half loop”), from which the train descends and veers right before hitting the brake run.
The ride is short but absolutely amazing. What makes it amazing is the combination of velocity, novelty and unpredictability. There was so much being thrown at me that I found it difficult to process. It offers good airtime with some nice lateral G’s. From start to finish, Lightning Rod is electrifying. 5 out of 5 stars. For more information about rides at Dollywood, visit www.dollywood.com/