There are few things in life that eclipse the excitement of roller coasters as a kid. Without spending the next 6 paragraphs on the subject matter let's just take my word for it. Roller Coasters are fucking awesome. And for those of us in Chicago, we know this because Six Flags Great America is also fucking awesome. Doesn't matter if it's the 7th grade end-of-the-school-year field trip or you cashed in your 500-minute-reading voucher with your cousins or you were going up sophomore year at Lincoln Way East to hold hands and split a funnel cake with your girlfriend at Fright Fest. Regardless of circumstance, going to Six Flags was a formidable experience for everyone.
Don't even get me started on the misters:
Why do I have to go all the way to Six Flags to get a good mist?
My point is that you should all have some kind of positive emotions tied to Six Flags Great America. Even bad trips are good trips provided you didn't get stuck upside down on Demon and pass out from the blood rushing to your head.
Notwithstanding those 2-dozen people I think we can all agree Six Flags Great America is a place for everyone's enjoyment. Whether it's a day in the trunks at Hurricane Harbor or a mild afternoon on Condor or maybe you're in one of those families that takes these kinds of pictures:
If any of this sounds familiar, then this blog might be for you because I'm here to focus the Six Flags Great America conversation into a technical review and power rankings of the roller coaster scene. Just this past week I got into a heart-to-heart with Eddie about where certain rides rank for me historically, and I'll be honest guys it was a pretty hard conversation. Is Raging Bull still the #1? Do you respect people who prefer Giant Drop to a traditional ride? Is going to the amusement park in your early 30's still acceptable or do you end up on a watch list?
My emotions have been swirling. If it were any other year then I'd take the trip up to Gurnee to find out for myself. But facts remain that the rides are shut down and no timetable for their return. Although I think we can all agree it's nice that they're keeping Hurricane Harbor open under working safety protocols. Still probably won't do anything for that ear infection you always get from the water but at least you know they're giving COVID their best effort. Like an experienced mid90's Mike Krzyzewski squad, you can always expect a Best Effort from Six Flags.
Here's what else you can expect:
Some GREAT fucking roller coasters. Without offending anyone from Cedar Point or anywhere in Texas and other communities that pride themselves on robust amusement park infrastructure, let me just say that Six Flags Great America is a Tier 1 amusement park. Some remarkably heavy hitters spread out across their history and quite honestly some world class architecture and engineering. Maybe not the GOAT in the expert's eyes, but same time you would show Scottie Pippen all the respect in the world if he walked in the room right now. I ask that you do the same to Six Flags Great America.
In that light, I think it only appropriate to begin the rankings, 600 words into the blog. Sometimes you gotta set the stage guys. This is me touching your inner thigh and whispering sweet nothings in your ear. Sue me for setting a mood.
TO THE RANKINGS
Unranked: every good list should include notable exceptions so let's start there. There are two notable rides that simply cannot sneak their way into the rankings and that's for two separate reasons.
First, they're retired. Out of respect to common sense it doesn't work to power rank something that no longer exists. Sad, yes. But I have to do my job with integrity and moral conviction.
Second and more important from a liability-standpoint, I couldn't recommend these rides even if they still existed because they're simply too dangerous. Everyone knows somebody who spent an afternoon on Shockwave because the brakes thinned out after lunch. Everyone knows somebody who sees a chiropractor to this day because of Iron Wolf damage. This shit is very real.
That said, I'd be a sucker if I didn't say these two rides were the most impactful on a young Barstool Carl. It is on these rides I learned the risk reward of the habitually short roller coaster line. Usually a red flag to most but to pre-teens that's basically crack cocaine. You see a short line for a coaster, you go get in it plain and simple. Then you ride it till your ears beed from the kick back.
Richie Rich knows what I'm talking about:
Iron Wolf went mainstream when it was used as his personal roller coaster. And as a peer of Richie's, I was enamored with this connection for at least 3 more summers. Ultimately though I was on a short list as park officials would later close the ride because it was too dangerous, uncomfortable and expensive. Not a good mix.
Shockwave was similar in the fact that it was very dangerous and had no lines and a lot of risk. But different in that it was blue and took about 3 minutes to climb the apex. Just listen to this fucking thing:
Classic Shockwave: instilling the fear of good and faulty engineering into each and every rider's soul. It was also sweet because it was the first roller coaster you picked up on the horizon on your drive to Gurnee either from the north or the south. First thing you'd see is the blue peek and you'd get all amped up knowing you had a big day ahead.
Unfortunately, operational issues weighed heavy and the ride would close after 14 years:
Shockwave was plagued with some operational issues throughout its lifetime. Due to the speed and stress from the train negotiating the first vertical loop, a track fracture developed and needed attention on a regular basis in order to remain safe for operation. The wheels for the ride were expensive and wore out quickly according to ride operators, which required a vigilant crew and frequent 10-15 minute closures for maintenance staff to be dispatched to change them out. Shockwave also gained a reputation for its roughness. A sharp turn located after the third vertical loop and before the mid-course brake run was most notable, often resulting in unprepared riders smashing their heads on the restraints.
Not exactly the lifespan you envision for a $6,000,000 roller coaster but that's roller coaster life. Sometimes you just gotta ride it and make the best of it, which finally brings me back again to the rankings.
These are the 11 big dogs that eat every day at Six Flags. The ones that pay the bills and force Uncle Frank to drop $18 on a substandard plate of nachos for lunch. Yes the ambiance is nice and the park is generally fun. But you'd be a liar if you're there for any other reason than to ride roller coasters.
So let's ride some fucking coasters:
11. Vertical Velocity
I'll be honest I didn't even want to put VV in the rankings but you have to because of the launch-style technology. Like it or hate it, you can't deny that launch-style coasters serve some kind of unique purpose. The initial bolt is obviously exciting but after that it's no different than the space shuttle ride that I refuse to go on. Rocking up and down the whole time like an early 9th-century Norse expedition ship taking on one of Thor's great storms. Fuck that noise. Vertical Velocity is a gimmick and thus dead last.
10. The Whizzer
Maybe I'm a pussy but this was my first ever coaster. Many of you can say the same. I was in 1st grade and sat in my mom's lap. I probably cried like a little bitch when it ended but that has no bearing on these rankings. For now it's clearly on the back side with absolutely zero appeal other than being very rider friendly and comfortable. The lines are minimal. It's got premier location. Just no punch when it comes to leaving an impact, which is then diverted to sentimental memories. Like riding the Whizzer with my mom in the summer of '94. Love you Mom.
If Demon sounds familiar it's because I used it as an example earlier for how dangerous roller coasters can get. 23 people spent the better part of 2 hours completely upside down on this ride just a few years ago and I still don't care. Neither do the Demon diehards. It's usually your first entry point into roller coasters that go upside down. There's a couple decent corkscrews in there that will put some hair on your 12 year old's chest and better prepare you for Raging Bull and some of the big hitters. That said, this at #9 says just as much about Vertical Velocity at #11 and Whizzer at #10. Not dragging those rides at all just saying you should trust me when I'm ranking them behind a ride that has a noted chance of severely injuring you.
8. The Joker
Just a complete gimmick that should have never been authorized but here we are. I give it credit for being unique and playing off the Batman ride that's been so good for so long. But the concept of rolling in your cart like it's a ferris wheel makes me upset. Not nauseous or sea sick or any of that. I'm talking good old fashioned pissed off Carl that they would do that to people. What kind of sick fucks enjoy this torment? Much more of a ride than a roller coaster. But still - points for innovation and branding and taking a chance. Granted they installed 4 of these in 4 separate parks so it seems like there's a market for the free-spin style roller coaster. But to me I need more traditional power. It's just who I am.
7. Superman: Ultimate Flight
They ripped down Shockwave to give us Super Man and you have to admit it's a pretty sweet concept. Flying through the air at the speed of a bullet will never get old to me. Although these lines fucking SUCK if we're being honest. And much like the other superhero rides (Batman, Joker) it's not long enough. I feel like they know we're going to love this ride so much because of that, and then they go out and intentionally make it shorter. Especially working with the same real estate as Shockwave and having the capacity to really stretch it.
Even so, Superman is bad ass in a way that many roller coasters are not. First off, Pretzel Loop. They got the first Pretzel Loop in the history of coasters. Next, speed. You're getting over 50mph from a 106' drop. Not too fucking shabby when suspended in air and that's probably why you see Superman:Ultimate Flight in a lot of mid-2000's top 50 rankings for steel coasters. The hype is real but objectively you want more when you get off the platform. Don't be afraid to loop this twice just to start the day.
Does holding 3 separate wooden records mean anything to you? Longest drop. Steepest angle. Fastest speed. Any of that mean shit to you because Goliath is here to check in with some authority. This is the mother of all wooden roller coasters on paper and a good reason why it nabbed #3 on the list of new wooden roller coasters in 2014. Since then it's maintained a steady grasp on the top-40 wood with no looking back. In that regard, you might expect this to be a lot higher on the list.
Well simply put folks, it just needs time. Would be way too easy for me to come in here blowing Goliath when I know there's another 5-6 years before it starts really making a mark in the middle of the Six Flags lineup. That's the old school part of my rankings. You gotta earn that top-5 and I don't think Goliath has the service time to make that argument yet.
That said, how lucky are we to have such competition in our backyard? People forget about all this competition.
Hold on to your ballsack because things are starting to get interesting. X-Flight is newish relatively speaking (2012) and as such has higher speeds and drops than Superman. Interesting because those two rides kind of work the same section of my brain. You got the twists and inversions. You get a great keyhole element in the air traffic controller tower. There's the red steel and some man-made fog as you enter a traditional Immelmann loop in the 2nd half. It's these classic elements mixed with the newer technology that tell me X-Flight is a perfect mix of coaster perspectives. Think of a golf course that captures history and tradition while still having modern aspects that appeal to today's golfer. Maybe there's a nice simulator hitting bay or the electric carts are fitted with bluetooth capabilities. Shit like that. That's how I see X-Flight. It's a phenomenal ride.
4. American Eagle
Outdated, maybe. But let's talk world records one more time:
Launched in 1981, American Eagle was set out to do amazing things and it's done exactly that. Forward or backwards, red or blue. The big white wooden tracks mixed with the overly patriotic theme are enough to reach anyone's emotions. Seeing it emerge on the horizon with Shockwave is a feeling we all know and it never gets old. You can literally feel and hear and smell the tradition this great coaster bestows upon its rider. Some would even call it a destination coaster. The biggest diehards have come from all over the world just to feel its majesty and power. And for a lot of us, American Eagle was a ride of passage. It's not until you grow older and put some experience under your belt that you realize just how special this ride really is at 39 years and still going. All time staying power.
Complaints here are limited: opposite side of the park. Not a lot of action around it. You give up a lot of rides on other coasters to hit this one. Gotta get it early in the day and then maybe once more before you go home to get the views going south from Gurnee over the explosive tree growth that blankets Chicago's northern suburbs. Also not the most comfortable ride in the park and extremely long. So that's the short list of complaints. In all rankings this needs to be top-5.
Probably my most controversial ranking but if you're still with me, you shouldn't be surprised. Viper checks A LOT of boxes. From a "rideability" standpoint it could be #1 on the list. Put me on Viper for 10 straight hours and I probably come out well rested and relaxed. It's that smooth of a wooden ride.
Definitely not as sexy as American Eagle. Not as powerful as Goliath. You won't be buying the print out at the end with your hands in the air and your buddy making that stupid face he always makes on roller coaster. You won't be telling your dad how many times you ride Viper. It just kinda sneaks into your world and then you end up riding it 10 times.
The lines? QUICK. Even if long, this is a well run ride so turnover moves quick. It's got a lot of speed and great drops. Not the biggest but the kind of drops that make your stomach fall based on American engineering alone. Viper hits the sweet spot on the drop sequencing don't ever forget it. Then finally the theme of Viper with the Southwest Territory looming is absolutely perfect.
In a lot of respects, Viper is the guy or girl you take home to your parents because it's well rounded. There's prettier girls. Funnier guys. More successful people to pick from. But overall you just love the way you feel around Viper and that's why you guys are getting married.
Let's get the criticism out of the way. It's short. The line is long. It smells when you get inside in the Gotham City part. You have zero clue at all times how close you are to the ride. And then you get on and it's over in 30 seconds and you start the loop again. That's what it means to ride Batman to me, and you know what?
I don't give a shit. You could rattle off every negative aspect of this ride and it's still #2 to me for so many reasons. Easily the best theme in the park. Easily the coolest coaster cars with your legs suspended. Easily the best air conditioned indoor waiting experience and that's all before we even get to the unrelenting twists and turns. Yes it's short but that's the point. Any longer and you'd all be dead. That's how Batman operates. He sneaks up on you and then takes you to the brink of death but never kills you. The fact the ride operates the same way should be talked about a lot more if we're being honest. (We're always being honest.)
1. Raging Bull
Built in 1999 at an estimated $25,000,000…there is literally no other roller coaster in most Chicago kids' lives that can hold a candle to Raging Bull. We're talking about a 208 foot drop, nearly twice as big as Superman:Ultimate Flight. I've probably logged at least 50 hours of my life waiting to ride Raging Bull and my only regret is that it's not 150+. Find someone to disagree with me on this point and then never talk to that person again. That's how much of a slam drunk Raging Bull is at #1. Almost didn't even write the blog because of the lack of suspense. If that makes me a meatball then whatever. End of the day these are my rankings and I stand by my work.
Do these rankings suck? Debate responsibly in the comment section below: