By Jason Foster
FORT MILL What's being touted as the largest, most exciting and most expensive ride in the 37-year history of Carowinds was unveiled Wednesday to give adrenaline junkies a new high and pay tribute to the life and legacy of one of the all-time thrill-seekers, the late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt.
The Intimidator, a $23 million, 10-acre attraction said to be the highest, fastest and longest roller coaster in the Southeast, will open next spring. It is named for Earnhardt, who died in a 2001 crash at the Daytona 500 and whose nickname was “The Intimidator” because of his aggressive driving style.
At 23 stories at its peak, the roller coaster will be Carowinds' tallest ride and will boast seven steep drops and a top speed of more than 75 mph. In other words, family members said, Earnhardt would have loved it.
“Dad would've been excited,” said Kerry Earnhardt, the eldest Earnhardt son, who was on hand for the announcement. “Dad was all about the excitement and thrill of everything he was involved in.”
With a duration of three minutes and 33 seconds, the ride promises to replicate “the speed and intensity of a fast-paced NASCAR race,” according to Carowinds.
This summer has been a tough one for theme park operators. With the recession and cooler-than-usual weather in most of the country in the last few months, attendance and revenue are down at major amusement park companies.
Carowinds' parent, Ohio-based Cedar Fair, said in July that attendance at its 11 parks this summer was down 11 percent and revenues off 12 percent compared with a year earlier. Rival Six Flags filed for bankruptcy protection in June.
Plans for the Intimidator were aided by York County, which offered Carowinds a 43 percent reduction in property taxes for 20 years on the new investment. Mark Farris, York County's economic development director, told the Observer it's unclear how much that reduction will cost the county, but that it's likely to be in the tens of thousands of dollars. The county has struck similar deals on two other roller coasters in recent years, including Nighthawk (formerly the Borg Assimilator), he said.
He said the property tax discount was needed to keep Carowinds from building the coaster on the N.C. side of the park and not receiving any property taxes for it. The park straddles the state line. Carowinds paid more than $490,000 in property taxes to York County last year.
“We do this more routinely for the traditional kinds of projects,” he said, such as manufacturing and office developments. “But Carowinds, obviously having the ability to locate the facility on either side of the line – it's a truly competitive project in that sense.”
The Toledo (Ohio) Blade contributed.
Here's a breakdown of what to expect from the park's 13th coaster:
Opening date: Spring 2010.
Length of the track: 5,316 feet.
The ride's peak: 232 feet.
Maximum speed: 75 to 80mph.
Ride duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds.
Minimum height to ride: 54inches.
Location: The new ride will be in Carolina Plaza.
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