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Drachen Fire in 1996
|Busch Gardens Williamsburg|
|Park section||Current Festhaus Park|
|Opening date||April 4, 1992|
|Closing date||July 11, 1998|
|Lift/launch system||Chain lift hill|
|Height||150 ft (46 m)|
|Drop||130 ft (40 m)|
|Length||3,550 ft (1,080 m)|
|Speed||60 mph (97 km/h)|
|Inversions||6 (1992-1994) 5 (1995-July 11, 1998)|
|Height restriction||48 in (122 cm)|
|Trains||3 trains with 7 cars. Riders are arranged 2 across in 2 rows for a total of 28 riders per train.|
|Drachen Fire at RCDB|
Pictures of Drachen Fire at RCDB
Drachen Fire was a steel roller coaster located at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, in Williamsburg, Virginia. Operating from 1992 until 1998, the roller coaster was manufactured by Arrow Dynamics. It featured electric-blue track and silver supports, and was located in the Oktoberfest portion of the park, behind the Big Bad Wolf and Das Festhaus. The tagline for the ride was "Feel the Heat." The ride had three separate trains, featuring seven cars each, with each car holding passengers arranged two by two. The cars were red, with grey seats, and featured red trim lights illuminated the trains at night. Upon opening, the ride featured a 150 foot tall lift hill, six inversions, and a zero-gravity camel-back hump element. The ride was shut down in the middle of the 1998 season following a history of low ridership, and complaints of roughness.
In 1991 the Anheuser-Busch Entertainment Corporation announced a myriad of new rides for their various entertainment parks. Keith M. Kason, then current General Manager for Busch Gardens Williamsburg, announced the Drachen Fire ride in the fall of 1991, stating "Anheuser-Busch has shown a commitment to reinvestment and making a real strong quality statement, and we will do it with this roller coaster." Construction began in the fall of 1991, and was heavily filmed. Footage of the design, construction, and testing process of Drachen Fire can be viewed in a 1993 PBS special of their NOVA program, titled "Roller Coaster."
Construction was completed in early 1992, and the ride was set to open on April 4 of the same year. The park hired comedian and self-proclaimed roller coaster enthusiast Dana Carvey to officiate the opening ceremonies. However, on opening day, the ride experienced mechanical issues. Carvey offered an impromptu stand-up comedy routine to entertain the crowd and keep the guests occupied, though the issue was not resolved on what should have been the opening day.
The ride drew large crowds, and was a hit with many coaster enthusiasts. However, less than a month after opening, the coaster gained a reputation for roughness. After increasing complaints, decreasing ridership, and at least one lawsuit filed, the park removed the corkscrew element between the block brakes and the cutback element, replacing it with a straight section of track and trim brakes. Passengers were advised to remove their earrings prior to riding because of roughness.
Drachen Fire was featured on a 1996 edition of "Theme Parks a Go-Go" on the E! Network. The segment was hosted by actor Alex Winter who would be shown riding this, at the time fastest in the park, ride through some its many inversions. Upon completion of the ride, he stated that his vertebra was snapped like a twig. Although famous at that time for his comedic roles, this comment stands as a testimony to the Drachen Fire's reputation for being a rough experience.
With decreasing ridership (possibly from its reputation of roughness), coupled with the popularity of the parks 1997 roller coaster Alpengeist, the ride was finally closed in the middle of the 1998 season. When questioned for the reason, park PR director Cindy Sarko stated, "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." Sarko went on to say that they would attempt to modify the ride, but gave no estimate on when the ride would reopen.
The ride was listed for sale in 1999, and stood "Standing but not operating" until 2002. The coaster was tested during the Passholder Preview Day in 2001, leading many to hope it would reopen, however this turned out not to be the case. Sarko made a statement as to the sale of the ride, stating the park initially planned to modify the ride, but decided later to place the ride for sale. She went on to say "We had several inquiries from potential buyers, but for various reasons, we couldn't reach any agreements." A train was traveling on the track on Opening Day of 2001, testing the ride to decide whether or not to re-open it for the 2002 season, as well as raising many people's hopes about the possibility of opening with the rest of the park, but the ride was never re-opened.
After failing to find a buyer, the coaster was torn down in February 2002 and its steel recycled. When the park opened for the 2002 season, the track and supports were completely gone. The station and maintenance bay are still standing today. For the 2002 and 2003 season, the trains could still be seen sitting in the maintenance bay, although all other track had been removed. Drachen Fire's loading station and train storage house are currently used for Howl-O-Scream Halloween festival.
After leaving the station, the ride made a small dip and turned 180 degrees to the left, where it entered the lift hill. At the top of the 150 foot lift, the ride made a shallow dive of around 50 feet, then entered a wraparound corkscrew which had an apex of 120 feet, before descending the remainder of a curving drop, ending up facing the opposite direction of the lift hill, and achieving a speed of 60 miles per hour. The ride then entered a first of a kind camel back hump hill, which was designed to balance the riders between positive and negative g-forces, giving a feeling of weightlessness. The ride then entered the Batwing element (cobra roll), which featured two inversions in one element. The ride then turned up an ascending hill to the left, and entered a run of Block Brakes. Next, the ride dove down into a corkscrew, then a slight left turn over the park midway into a cutback. The ride then traversed back over the midway, under the first corkscrew and entered a second corkscrew. It then quickly entered a counter-clockwise helix. Exiting the helix, the ride made a right hand turn onto a final brake run, which would then lead straight into the ride station.
The majority of Drachen Fire’s track was located behind the present day Verbolten ride, in an area now called Festhaus Park. A large elevated curve in the ride did extend over the concrete walkway and into the area behind Das Festhaus, near the Black Forest Picnic Area, before looping riders back around again into a corkscrew.
To enter the ride area guests would pass through a metal framed gateway, whose arches held the Drachen Fire sign. Today that same passage leads to Festhaus Park, a multi-purpose area used sporadically as a concert venue and for various special events. While most attractions have a highly visible entrance that can be seen from quite a distance, this was not the case for Drachen Fire. Guests had to pass between the Der Autobahn ride, to the left, and the large Das Festhaus building, to the right. This may have made the ride more difficult to locate for some park guests and could offer an insight as to why no permanent major attraction exists in this location today, despite several rides being added to the park since the 2002 dismantling.
At least three of the major structures created for the ride still exist on the property today, all of which are located beyond the Festhaus Park gateway. A park map from 1997 shows the wooden building containing 5 metal roll up doors, which resides on the left side of the concrete walkway, was the Drachen Fire gift shop. The previous ride boarding station is the largest wooden building located inside the Festhaus Park area and a slightly smaller wooden building served as the maintenance facility. Some portions of all three buildings are visible during daylight hours, shortly after crossing the Rhine River, while looking right (towards the park) on the Busch Gardens Railway train ride. In June 2019, local network affiliate WAVY-TV reported that a plan was approved by local officials to construct a new ride in the former Drachen Fire location that would be approximately 355 feet (108 m) in height.
In 2006, Busch Gardens began to use the former Drachen Fire site as a concert venue.
In 2009, Busch started holding the Glory at the Gardens concert series in Festhaus Park due to overflowing The Royal Palace Theatre in Aquitane.
In 2016, Busch Gardens began selling Drachen Fire T-shirts at the park for the first time since the ride's closure.
- Soloman, Digby (April 26, 1992). "Going for a Joy Ride". Daily Press.
- Marden, Duane. "Drachen Fire". Roller Coaster Database.
- Cohn, Meredith (15 August 1999). "Busch Gardens' Drachen Fire For Sale". The Virginian-Pilot. p. D1. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
- Hagstrom, Suzy (March 22, 1992). "Busch Gardens Relies on Ride to Lift Profit". The Orlando Sentinel.
- "Roller Coaster". PBS NOVA. PBS.
- Blattner, Bob (March 22, 1992). "Busch Gardens Relies on Ride to Lift Profit". Daily Press.
- Wilford, Kate (April 5, 1992). "Comedian helps save rocky day when Busch coaster fails to roll". The Richmond Times Dispatch.
- Petkofsky, Andrew (20 April 1992). "Some riders rate Drachen Fire as pain in the neck". The Richmond Times-Dispatch. p. 8.
- Rosenberg, Patti (July 8, 1995). "Busch Gardens Faces Lawsuit". The Daily Press. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
- O'Brien, Tim (11 February 2002). "Extinguishing the fire: Work begins to dismantle ride at The Old Country". Amusement Business. 114 (6): 7. ISSN 0003-2344. Retrieved 11 December 2010.
- Hall, Brett (June 12, 2019). "Busch Gardens gets OK to build tallest ride in park history". Wavy.com. Retrieved June 13, 2019.