Why I tried to have as little fun as I possibly could on Carowinds’ new roller coaster

Expressionless reporter rides new Carowinds rollercoaster, “Copperhead Strike”

Theoden Janes went to Carowinds to test out the park's newest roller coaster, Copperhead Strike. He attempted the ride without cracking a smile or a scream.
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Theoden Janes went to Carowinds to test out the park's newest roller coaster, Copperhead Strike. He attempted the ride without cracking a smile or a scream.

Going to Carowinds and climbing into the chair of a roller coaster pretty much makes me feel like a kid again every time, and when I get in that head space, it can make me do some fairly sophomoric things.

So on Thursday morning, as we waited in line to try the new Copperhead Strike “double-launch” coaster at the Carolinas’ largest amusement park, a media pal and I decided it’d be hilarious if I tried to make it through the entire 2-minute and 24-second ride without cracking a single expression.

You can watch the video and decide for yourself whether it is, in fact, amusing. But I’ll tell you this: It was harder to pull off than I thought it would be.

Copperhead Strike, which officially opens to the public on Saturday, is the first major coaster Carowinds has unveiled since Fury 325 in 2015 and is the centerpiece of the new Blue Ridge Junction area of the park — and the two rides couldn’t be much more different.

While Fury is all about height (325 feet!) and speed (95 mph!), Copperhead Strike seems incredibly tame by comparison with its maximum height of 85 feet and its top speed of 50 miles per hour. But try not to pay too much attention to what’s on paper.

It’s the surprises that matter.

And the first one comes right out of the gate in the form of what’s called a “JoJo roll” — basically, it’s a barrel roll that puts riders upside down (not via a traditional loop, but literally a twist in the track) almost immediately after the train leaves the station, taken verrrrry sloowwwly ... meaning if you’ve got change in the pocket of your shorts, your chances of losing it are high.

By the way (and I just learned this today, thanks to Google): The “JoJo roll” was apparently named for a guy named Joe Greene, who came up with the idea back when he was vice president and general manager of Dorney Park in Allentown, Pa. This should be disappointing to those out there who may have been led to believe it was named for pop singer JoJo’s 2004 hit “Leave (Get Out).”

But the main selling point of the ride is its “double-launch” capabilities. A launched coaster is basically one that gets a powerful and sudden boost of speed at one point during the ride. “Double-launch” just means this happens twice.

Carowinds launched Copperhead Strike, the Carolinas’ first double-launch roller coaster, Thursday with its first riders, fireworks and samples of eats from the park’s new Blue Ridge Country Kitchen. The 2019 season kicks off this weekend.

Carowinds has been touting that Copperhead Strike’s first launch sends the train from 0 to 42 miles per hour in 2.5 seconds. It also boasts that the ride has five inversions — “the most of any double-launch coaster in North America.” (I actually haven’t been able to determine how many others there are, and therefore don’t know how impressive that claim is. Not that it matters a ton, and maybe I’m just unobservant, but I also couldn’t quite figure out exactly where the second launch happens.)

But while on paper that top speed of 50 miles per hour, again, seems underwhelming, in the front seat the ride feels plenty fast; in large part, that’s because there aren’t really any significant straightaways on Copperhead Strike, whereas Fury 325 has long downhill sections of track to help the trains build that tremendous speed.

Anyway, Copperhead Strike is certainly fast enough that the air time — i.e. the moments when you get that feeling of weightlessness/that feeling that you’re going to lose your lunch — on several of the hills is noteworthy. It’s certainly more fun than I made it look. (Although, careful observers may be able to tell that I’m having a tough time trying not to crack a smile, especially toward the end.)

And it’s certainly worth a trip back to the park later this spring, so I can go to the other end of the emotional spectrum and really unleash some good screams.

Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.