'The Racer' and its Lasting Impact on Roller Coaster Culture

Blog by Stacha Yundt

An Abridged and Incomplete History of Roller Coasters

It may not surprise you to hear that roller coasters haven’t always been the cultural phenomenon they are today. You might not even be surprised to learn that at one point in time, so many roller coasters had closed down they were well on their way to becoming an endangered species. What may surprise you, however, is the fact that their dip in popularity came on the heels of the Great Depression, nearly a century ago.

Yup. Roller coasters have been around so long that they were on their way to disappearing in the 1930s. True, they didn’t always have loops, corkscrews, or 300-foot hills, but even as far back as the 1600s, people have always enjoyed the rush of rolling down those tracks.

The 1920s brought with them the first Golden Age of Roller Coasters, the rides’ popularity climbing even faster than their train cars as designers and engineers worked to build bigger, better, and faster rides. But then, in the 1930s as the Great Depression raged and World War II continued to escalate, roller coasters began to disappear.

In 1955, Walt Disney took the first critical step in reversing this trend when he opened California’s Disneyland, but any history on roller coasters would be incomplete without a chapter about The Racer at Kings Island.

The Racer | Kings Island | Mason, Ohio

The Second Golden Age of Roller Coasters

Kings Island first opened its gates in 1972. Plans for the park got underway after flood waters submerged historic Coney Island, a popular amusement park located near downtown Cincinnati and just a short drive from Warren County. (As you might have guessed, the park’s Coney Mall section pays tribute to Coney Island – and is also the part of the park that The Racer calls home).

The Racer was one of Kings Island’s original rides, and it was the talk of the town, the county, the state, and even the country from its very first trip around the track. Or should we say tracks? The Racer’s iconic design features two identical tracks that run parallel with each other so that its Red and Blue trains can race one another out and back to the station. Unlike other racing roller coasters that remained side by side throughout the ride, The Racer’s trains split from one another before the first turn, only reuniting again when they returned to the station.

In 1973, a year after its debut, the ride made a special appearance in the famed Brady Bunch episode “The Cincinnati Kids”, strutting its stuff on national television. The Racer’s popularity ignited interest in roller coasters that hadn’t been seen in decades and is credited by many as helping to usher in the Second Golden Age of Roller Coasters

More than 50 years later, this iconic coaster is still enjoyed by visitors and has given over 100 million rides over its lifetime. In 2022 as part of the park’s 50th anniversary, The Racer received a little TLC in the form of a freshly laid track and a new coat of paint. While it might not have all the bells and whistles (or height and speed) of some newer rides, The Racer has more than earned its place in the history books. And who knows what the landscape of amusement parks and their rides might have looked like today if not for The Racer. You might say that The Racer walked so that Orion could hurtle down a 300-foot drop at 91 mph.

Race to ride this piece of amusement park history on your next visit to Kings Island right here in Ohio’s Largest Playground!