AHEAD OF THE CURVE: I spent six years of my career as a flight engineer. Then, in 1988, I was sailing off the coast of Marina del Ray, in Southern California, and I met some executives from Six Flags Theme Parks at one of the after-race parties. As we talked, we discovered that the technology of the aerospace industry was conducive to the world of amusement park rides. So that year, I ended up trading professions and going to work for Six Flags. My first big design came in 1995, after I'd left to join a local design firm called Premier Rides [www.premier-rides.com]. It was a roller coaster called Outer Limits: Flight of Fear at Paramount's Kings Dominion in Virginia. Riders were launched to 60 mph in less than four seconds and traveled 2,705-feet of track in near-darkness. It was awesome.
THE UPS AND DOWNS: I bought Premier in 1996. Since then, my team has created countless rides across the globe, including Joker's Jinx at Six Flags America in Largo and Speed at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas. It's still a thrill for me to ride one of my own creations. Recently, I rode Revenge of the Mummy at Universal's theme park in Orlando. When the coaster came to a stop and people started high-fiving each other, it was true validation of a job well done.
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ON A ROLL: The heart-line roll is the basis of Premier Rides. Basically, it's a horizontal track that twists tightly -- almost like a strand of DNA -- so vehicles spin head-over-heels around it. The rider's center of gravity is around the heart-line, so it gives you the sense of excitement and fear, but with less stress on your body. If you ride a coaster that uses a heart-line roll and then ride one that has a hump or "camelback" turn, you can really notice the difference.
GRAVITY GROUPIES: American Coaster Enthusiasts, or ACERS as they're more affectionately known, are the loyal riders who travel from city to city trying out roller coasters. Park systems like Six Flags have a program called Exclusive Ride Time (ERT) for them. They're rewarded by being allowed to enjoy the ride multiple times, without waiting in line. ACERS [www.aceonline.org] know all the subtle nuances. For instance, a roller coaster enthusiast knows that when the ride gets warmed up it will go slightly faster. So wait until noon to ride the coasters!
As told to Karen Hart
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