Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia operates the world’s longest hybrid coaster, the world’s first 360-degree vertical loop and the West Coast’s tallest pendulum ride.
So when the executives at the self-described roller coaster capital of the world were looking for a new kind of thrill to offer adrenaline-junkie fans, they turned to the uber-customizer behind the MTV series “Pimp My Ride” and tapped into the growing demand by amusement park fans for a new experience with each ride.
West Coast Racers, Six Flags’ new twin-track coaster that opens next week, was designed with the help of Ryan Friedlinghaus, the mastermind behind “Pimp My Ride” and the follow-up series “Street Customs,” two shows about the art of high-end car customization.
The new coaster features vehicles that were designed and painted by Friedlinghaus to look like custom sports cars. The entrance to the ride, part of an overhauled 4.5-acre land called the Underground, also resembles Friedlinghaus’ auto shop, West Coast Customs in Burbank. Passholders, park members and members of the media will get to preview the coaster until Jan. 9, when the ride opens to the general public.
“It’s different, fun and never been done,” Friedlinghaus said of his partnership with the manufacturer of the coaster, Baltimore-based Premier Rides.
Although Friedlinghaus’ roller coaster is unique, it reflects the push by theme park designers to give riders a new experience during each ride, prompting fans to return more than once.
The latest example is Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Disneyland, which has a varied outcomes with riders in control of the iconic “Star Wars” spaceship. At Knott’s Berry Farm, an interactive attraction called VR Showdown in Ghost Town lets users rack up points by destroying an invading robot horde.
Work is underway to complete a new land at Universal Studios Hollywood based on popular Nintendo video games that is sure to include a few interactive features. An opening date has not been announced.
Martin Lewison, a business professor at New York’s Farmingdale State College and a roller coaster aficionado, said that dual-track coasters date to the 1920s but that many theme parks don’t always make the extra effort to launch the two vehicles at the exact same time.
An amusement park in the Netherlands called Efteling opened a popular dual-track racing coaster in 2010, Lewison said. At the end of the ride, a banner falls over one of the tracks, signaling the winner of the race.
“That is part of the appeal of the racing coaster,” Lewison said. “Sometimes you’ll get off the ride and get right back on again.”
At Six Flags Magic Mountain, the new dual-track coaster will allow two vehicles to race each other through sharp curves, loops and flips, with the speed of each vehicle being influenced by the overall weight of the passengers, the mass of the vehicle, head winds and other factors. No one knows until the end of the ride which car will win.
In another twist, each vehicle will get to race around the tracks twice, each time racing against a different-colored vehicle.
Halfway through the ride, the vehicles stop in what looks like a mechanic’s shop, where Friedlinghaus, speaking via a TV monitor, tells the riders that his crew is going to upgrade their vehicles before they speed off for the second lap. The sounds of auto shop tools blast from hidden speakers. The ride lasts two minutes.
“One of the great features of this is that you have two, not one, racing experiences,” said Jim Seay, president of Premier Rides. “Both of those outcomes are very specific to the ride you took.”
Friedlinghaus acknowledges that West Coast Racers is similar to Radiator Springs Racers, the car racing ride at Disney California Adventure. The big difference, he said, is that his ride is geared toward thrill-seeking teenagers and car junkies.
Just don’t ask him what he thinks of his own ride. Friedlinghaus doesn’t do coasters, saying he suffers from terrible motion sickness.
“I’m not a roller coaster guy, which is really funny,” he said.
The coaster touches on another growing trend in the theme park industry: adding videos, interactive games and animatronic characters to the queue to entertain waiting riders.
Visitors waiting in line to ride West Coast Racers will get to watch a video on flat-screen TVs that shows how Friedlinghaus and his crew at West Coast Customs built the roller coaster vehicles.
The roller coaster replaces several retail outlets, located between the Apocalypse wooden roller coaster and the Cyclone 500 go-carts.
It comes at a time when theme parks are investing heavily to take advantage of a strong economy and positive economic outlook among most park visitors.
In May, Disneyland opened its $1-billion Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion, and it is on schedule to open a new land at California Adventure next year based on the superheroes from Marvel comics and movies.
In July, Universal Studios Hollywood completed an overhaul of its Jurassic Park ride featuring state-of-the-art technology. In addition to adding a new land based on Nintendo video games, Universal Studios Hollywood plans to open a new attraction next year based on the animated movie “The Secret Life of Pets.”