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Thunder Road, Carowinds: 26 July 2015   4 comments

Posted at 12:52 pm in closing

UPDATE 21 March 2016 Wow, who would have thought this photo and letter would turn up at my house at this late date, but there we are: David Pearson's first ride crew on Thunder Road. See the text below for details.






Grit Your Teeth
Bear The Load
Enjoy Your Ride
On Thunder Road
-- Burma Shave

I was on the first run of Thunder Road on 3 April 1976.

As it happened, I had won a phone-in contest on WIS Radio. I suppose there were similar contests on stations all over the Carolinas to fill both cars. It was not the first time I had been to Carowinds, I remember a school trip in particular, but it was not the quick jaunt from Columbia it is nowdays, as I-77 between Columbia & Charlotte was not yet finished and it was a longish two lane drive on US-21.

In its initial configuration, the two track coaster was promoted as a "race" between moonshiners and police with the trams on each track having automobile body front ends. For the initial ride, we contest winners were divided into two teams, one per car, and in the front seat of each car was a then prominent NASCAR driver. I'm afraid I didn't (and don't) really follow NASCAR so the names of our team leaders has totally slipped my mind. I have the feeling that our team was on the right hand track, and that we were the law, but I couldn't swear that to you. What I do remember in particular is the set of four Burma Shave signs, quoted above, which were between the two tracks as the cars were chain pulled to the top of the first hill. They gave you something to laugh about just before cresting the hill and that first precipitous descent.

At the time, my experience with roller coasters was pretty limited. My father did not trust the travelling coasters at the State Fair, so the only coasters I had ridden were the Swamp Fox in Myrtle Beach, and the mining themed Goldrusher also at Carowinds. There was really no comparison, and Thunder Road was a thrill ride far and above either (though I still love both the others). There was just something about that initial jerk and the clank of the chains as you went up that first hill, then teetered on top of the world for a second before the bottom dropped out..

I rode Thunder Road many other times over the years, though probably not any after the early 1980s. I totaly missed the era when they ran one of the trains facing backwards.

When I heard that Thunder Road was to be retired, I wanted to try and be on the last ride, but in the event I was on vacation that day, and while I seriously considered making the ten hour round trip drive, in the end I didn't. It would make a better story, but that's life.

I did go out last weekend though and get what pictures I could of the attraction before it is all torn down. The entrance is in what is now the Snoopy section of Carowinds while the main body parallels the water park area.

It's kind of sad how little of the original Carowinds remains. Really, I think the only two remaining original rides are the Eastern Airlines Skytower and the aforementioned Goldrusher. While I was googling some Thunder Road facts for this post, I ran across a teriffic site Carowinds The Early Years where most of the links above come from, and which you should definitely visit. Who could forget The Oaken Bucket, The Hillbilly Jalopies, The Powder Keg Flume, the awful food at The Grubsteak (You expect grubs to be good steak? we asked..), The Paddle Wheel Steamer, The Skyway and The Monorail?






































UPDATE 14 August 2015: My sister (who was also there the first day of Thunder Road though she did not have a first ride ticket) says she remembers that the NASCAR teamleaders were Cale Yarborough and David Pearson and that I was on Pearson's team. She has also found online sources saying it was Bobby Allison & David Pearson though that's not the way she remembers it (and all it takes is for one source to get it wrong and then be quoted by everyone else..)

I have also found a number of Youtube videos of Thunder Road. Here are a tribute video and then a front car POV video:

4 Responses to 'Thunder Road, Carowinds: 26 July 2015'

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  1. Since the debut of Carowinds I have had a certain fondness of said park. I grew to appreciate the grounds as they do not present an unkept appearance. They appear to stay up to date and well maintained. I have noted some parks have been slow to adapt to the times and I suspect that is why many are struggling. Doing research on the pending demise of the coaster only reaffirms said parks commitment to staying relevant.
    This comment was for you Andrew.


    11 Aug 15 at 4:49 am

  2. Damn, I'm gonna miss that old girl! Not that I have been to Carowinds, much less ridden Thunder Road, in years but it's a crying shame to see these old classic coasters coming to an end just to be replaced by the giant metallic behemoths all trying to outrun, out climb and outdo every record set by another coaster the year before. I just love wooden coasters. The ratcheting of the chains on the climb. The rattles, creaks and moans that seemed to permeate from the tracks, the frame and every other part during the entire ride. You only had the one lap bar that semi-sorta held you in place; at least it was something to hold onto when you didn't have your arms stretched in the air.

    When Carowinds first opened I would go with my folks on that US21 route that Ted mentioned. I was stuck to the rides like the mine train, the steam train, the monorail and the 'kiddie' rides because of the parental 'issues' and the fact that my parents could not stand a 'fast' ride. The most daring ride I ever got them on was the log flume.

    Later on my best friend and I would take an annual day trip to Carowinds. The first stop would always be the Oaken Bucket so we could scramble our equilibrium to get us ready for what was to come. Then it was straight to Thunder Road. After fighting the lines, we'd probably ride it about five times before heading off for another round in the Oaken Bucket (gotta keep the brain scrambled). After White Lightning opened that would have been our next stop for about another five iterations. After that, if it was a very hot day, we might ride the log flume a couple of times in order to cool off. The we'd hit several other rides and the arcades until a last round of the Oaken Bucket and a few more passes on the coasters.

    I would never eat or drink anything other than water to ensure that there were no 'accidents' while on the rides. I used to love to ride in the back car on Thunder Road because of the way you were snatched over the hills by the weight of the rest of the cars until I saw someone in the other train get sick going down the first hill. Needless to say, everyone behind him was hating life the rest of the day. From then on, I only sat in the front car which gave another unique feel as you seemed to sit still for a second just over the original crest (staring down the drop) until the rest of the train ratcheted up behind you.

    I had another experience on the Octopus/Tilt-A-Whirl or whatever name it went by there. Someone in one of the car segments had a little too much cotton candy, watermelon or something but about halfway through the ride all you could see was spew of pink that looked like one of those little rotating water sprinklers.

    I would have loved to have ridden on the old girl one more time. I wonder how different it would have felt at 57 than it did at 20??


    12 Aug 15 at 1:12 am

  3. I've never been to Carowinds...I've heard that there's a spot with a line carved in where you can step between the Carolinas and I think I'd like to find that line and utilize it between the two states...

    I don't see myself riding very many rides as I got to where they're uncomfortable for me to ride after getting much of that out my system when I was Elementary School age at the SC State Fair...


    12 Aug 15 at 10:13 am

  4. That is in fact the case. The SC/NC state line is a big part of the main entrance. In fact a "Carolina" theme was initially a big part of the park as you might infer from the name. That's more or less gone now.


    13 Aug 15 at 1:43 am

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