Carowinds to get one of the world’s tallest, fastest coasters

It began with the dimming of lights, fog machines, a buzzing sound and a glowing teal honeycomb pattern cast on a giant video screen.

But the event inside Carowinds’ Harmony Hall Marketplace had nothing to do with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, and everything to do with what will become the fifth-tallest roller coaster in the world when it opens at the park late next March.

The hornet-themed Fury 325 will stand 325 feet and is expected to rank among the 10 fastest coasters in the world, achieving a top speed of about 95 miles per hour. The Intimidator, currently the park’s tallest and fastest roller coaster, peaks at 232 feet and travels at a maximum speed of 75 to 80 mph.

“This is a huge deal, a ride of this magnitude,” said Mike Fehnel, general manager at Carowinds. “They just don’t build roller coasters this large.”

If you want to get geeky about it: Although 456-foot Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey and three others stand taller, Fury 325 will be the world’s tallest “giga” coaster, which is how roller coasters measuring between 300 and 399 feet are classified. The four taller rides are either “shuttle” roller coasters that do not make a full circuit (instead reversing at some point to travel the same track backwards) or “launch” coasters – like Kingda Ka – that lack a traditional lift hill.

Now, back to that hornets theme.

“During the American Revolution,” Fehnel said, “we were called ‘a hornet’s nest of rebellion,’ and the city has adopted that moniker, and it runs through multiple themes.”

But despite the teal color of the section of Fury 325 track on display outside of Harmony Hall Thursday, he steered clear of any talk that the ride might remind locals of their favorite NBA team, which has reclaimed its old nickname and its teal and purple colors. (The last song the band played before Carowinds’ announcement was Prince’s “Purple Rain.”)

“We need to make sure that we’re different enough, and we are,” Fehnel said.

Fury 325 is being designed by Bolliger & Mabillard of Switzerland, which has built three other coasters at the park: Vortex in 1992, Afterburn in 1999 and the Dale Earnhardt-themed Intimidator in 2010.

In a news release, Carowinds said the ride is part of a $50 million multiyear project that will see the park revamped “from top to bottom to celebrate Carolina culture, including new rides and attractions, signature Carolina food offerings and entertainment.”

Fury 325 will feature three 32-passenger open air trains that start their journey by ascending a 30-story-tall hill – which will become the highest point in the park and the tallest structure in the area outside of uptown.

From there, it will drop down at an 81-degree angle (nearly straight down), then hurtle through a barrel turn, a high-speed S-curve, a horseshoe turn, an underground dive and a high-speed banked curve. The ride will last nearly 31/2 minutes, and its 6,602 feet of track make it the longest steel roller coaster in North America.

“This will get the attention of a lot of coaster enthusiasts around the country,” said Joel Bullock, a Concord resident who started CoasterCritic.com and attended Thursday’s event. “They’ll make Carowinds a destination where they might not have before.”

“I think it is the first step for Carowinds to transition from that regional park to a destination park,” added Andrew Stilwell, a writer for Coaster101.com who lives in Pinehurst.

“If you’ve got a record-holder like Fury 325, people are going to want to come ride it. You’re going to get people not just from the Southeast and North and South Carolina, but you’re going to get people coming down from the Northeast, Midwest, the West Coast – because they’re all going to want to ride this new coaster.”

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