Thrill of the Cyclone Racer

Steve Propes

Roller coaster riders are apt to seek thrills as part of their experience. But what creates the thrill in the ride? Downey-based engineer and Cyclone Racer advocate, Larry Osterhoudt believes he has the answer.

“The Cyclone Racer ranks right up there with other grand projects of the ‘30s like Hoover Dam and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge,” said Osterhoudt before the Long Beach City Council on October 1, 2013. “The Cyclone Racer’s impressive superstructure and profile is a thing of beauty and synonymous with Long Beach.”

The proposal to allow the rebuild of the Cycle Racer was advanced by then-Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske. “We have an exciting opportunity to bring a bit of nostalgia back to Long Beach. More importantly, bring something that will bring to us tourists and the revenue that comes with those tourists. At no point is he City of Long Beach going to spend. If somebody came to us, get the city council to support crazy items, throw them off the end of Pine Avenue Pier. I would ask us to think out of the box and we give this gentleman due consideration. We need to be encouraging people who want to step up and give us bold ideas.

“In 1902, the city of Long Beach set about becoming a major tourist destination in Southern California,” Schipske continued. “The way that it did that was to open the Pine Avenue Pier. In 1907, Long Beach got its first roller coaster.” In 1915, came the opening of the Jack Rabbit Racer. “We were always competitive with Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. When they introduced the Cyclone Racer in 1927, Long Beach soon had its own Cyclone Racer in 1930,” said Schipske. “It was considered the largest and fastest in the U.S. The ride was called the racer because there were two separate cars on two tracks. By the time it was closed in 1968, [most people] rode it – more than 30 million. New York City decided this kind of ride will invigorate and become an economic stimulus.”

“The Cyclone Racer is the most impressive, period,” said Osterhoudt in recent conversation. “Put it against anything, new or old, and it’ll come out number one. Fred Church was the designer. They were at the pinnacle of what you can do with a roller coaster. Other companies could not copy the technology he had in there – to make it do what it is. Today, almost all that information has been lost, I’ve got it. It’s literally a lost technology. They don’t understand how everything works in harmony.”

“If you look at the Cyclone Racer, it literally has about 7,400 feet of track, ten turns in there, nine out of the ten are banked, some of them are intentionally under-banked and you’ve got 17 hills. The Ghost Rider wooden coaster at Knotts only has 14 hills and it’s ugly.”

Osterhoudt asserted the construction material creates the thrill. “It’s all wood with metal rails. You can’t run it on wood. There are no rubber tires, they are metal for the most part. Wood has an advantage – it allows you to under bank the track. With steel, you’ve got to have a perfect bank. You will not laterally lean left or right going in the curve, you more or less stay centered on your seat. Leaning will crack the steel over time because of the stress you’re putting on it. With the wood track, the coaster builders call wood the big rubber band. It stretches and comes right back. It allows you to under bank the ride. You want it to under bank, because that’s what gives you the thrill, the lateral motion the rider goes through.”

Several residents who testified in that October 2013 meeting were not shy in their praise for the Cyclone Racer. Tim Cole said, “It will be the jewel of that area.”

“I rode the greatest ride that ever was,” said Larry Seigelstein. “We lost the Spruce Goose and we lost the carousel, among other things.”

Linda Collie stated, “I really think this Cyclone Racer is an opportunity to see if you can put the shine back on it.”

Local historian Morgan Humphrey added his support. “I am thrilled with the possibility of it being rebuilt in Long Beach. The Cyclone Racer was the most exciting and complex ride on the NuPike and after it was destroyed, the NuPike disappeared. The Cyclone Racer is considered to be one of the greatest roller coasters of the time by Roller Coaster Magazine. Long Beach has the chance to bring back our Cyclone Racer, possibly the greatest roller coaster of all time.”


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