Broken Bracket on Top Thrill Dragster Blamed for Woman’s Critical Brain Injury

Drag racing is one of the most thrilling races to watch or participate in. Even cars not typically built for drag racing want in on the action, as was when a Kia Forte and a Mazda3 were pitted against each other in what was probably the slowest drag race ever. Events such as Roadkill Nights, presented by MotorTrend, allow people to enjoy street and drag racing legally since both are typically illegal outside of sanctioned events. However, what if you want the thrill of drag racing without actually driving a dragster? Enter Cedar Point Amusement Park and one of the park’s biggest attractions, the Top Thrill Dragster, where a terrible accident just took place.

The Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio

'The Corkscrew' Cedar Point roller coaster in Sandusky, Ohio
A Cedar Point roller coaster | Bettmann via Getty Images

Opening in 2003 as one of the most extreme roller coasters globally, the Top Thrill Dragster is not for the faint of heart or stomach. The Top Thrill Dragster is the second tallest roller coaster, with the second-highest drop, and is measured as the third-fastest steel roller coaster in the world. It features a true drag strip “Christmas tree” light that counts down before it launches, and then it launches riders 420 feet straight up in the air, at a 90-degree incline, going from 0 to120 mph in 3.8 seconds. From there, riders are not at the peak of the coaster for very long before it flies back down, with a 270-degree twist on the way down. The entire ride only lasts 17 seconds.  

The Top Thrill Dragster definitely has a drag-racing theme and feel, but it is based on a specific dragster type. Top Fuel dragsters. According to the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), Top Fuel dragsters are the “kings of the sport,” and with 11,000 horsepower allowing them to cover the dragstrip in less than 3.7 seconds at 330 mph, that moniker makes sense. 

One park guest was critically injured waiting in line

According to The Detroit News, on August 15, 2021, a piece of metal approximately the size of a fist flew off the coaster and hit a woman waiting in line for the Top Thrill Dragster. The woman, identified as Rachel Hawes, is in the ICU with a critical brain injury. The piece of metal that hit Ms. Hawes was identified as an L-shaped bracket attached to the coaster’s back and hovered above the track as part of the sensor system that tells the coaster’s computer where the coaster is on the track. 

What are the mechanics of the Top Thrill Dragster?

So what allows this coaster to fly 420 feet straight up at 120 mph? According to Hydraulics and Pneumatics, a hydraulic launch system transmits around 10,000 horsepower. Like the Top Fuel dragsters, this huge amount of horsepower allows the coaster to accelerate to 120 mph in just a few seconds. That is one of the big reasons hydraulics are used. Hydraulics have an inherent ability to store energy and release it quickly while controlling the acceleration and velocity. The coaster also uses hydraulic cylinders to hold the rider’s lap bar, the primary safety restraint, safely in place. 

Once the coaster reaches the top of the hill, typically using just enough energy to propel it over the crest of the hill, gravity takes over and the coaster races back down the hill at 120 mph, making that 270-degree twist on the way down. A permanent magnet braking system then slows the coaster after it has come back down. The coaster’s computer is used to control how much energy is released for each launch, ensuring it does not go too fast and doesn’t go too slow.

Because the amount of energy needed can change based on variables such as the weight of the riders, occasionally, the energy doesn’t quite push the coast over the crest, and it will roll backward. Riders are warned this might happen. If the coaster does speed back down the track, another permanent magnet braking system automatically decelerates the coaster. 

The Top Thrill Dragster delivers if you are looking for the thrill of a drag race and have the stomach for it. Unfortunately, it will remain closed for the rest of the 2021 season while officials investigate what caused the metal bracket to fly off and injure Ms. Hawes. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Hawes and her loved ones.

RELATED: ‘Mario Kart 64’ Champion Becomes the World’s Fastest in All 32 Race Tracks (Even Rainbow Road)