Members of all branches of military convened at California’s Great America on March 31 to kick off the debut of the park’s newest rollercoaster, Patriot.
California Air National Guard Staff Sergeant Dan Olivas–who sang God Bless America during game two of the 2012 World Series–sang the National Anthem then Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Great America’s Vice President and General Manager Raul Rehnborg gave a few opening remarks before the ribbon cutting ceremony.
In addition to speaking about Patriot, which occupies Vortex’s track and changes out the coaster’s standup trains for floorless cars, Gillmor and Rehnborg explained some of Great America’s future plans. Rehnborg also noted that Patriot was the park’s last project before obtaining the green light from City Council to expand.
“We’re excited to open this new attraction, Patriot, and as mayor Gillmor said, this is [our] first floorless coaster,” he said. “We’re always excited to give our guests a new perspective when they ride the rides. This ride is going to take riders up nine stories and drop them into a 360 degree loop and several hairpin turns … The most exciting aspect of this ride is that, from the guest’s perspective, they’re going to be dangling their feet inches above the track.”
Great America’s Construction Manager and Santa Clara resident Lowell Esposo, said that while there were no structural changes to the track, there were many improvements made to the ride’s station.
“One of the biggest things was to install the floors,” he said, adding that construction took about six months. “They’re very intricate. They’re very sensitive but they have to be strong enough to hold your weight. It’s a very interesting piece of engineering … One of the biggest challenges was fitting it to the existing deck. The deck was already there, so we had to fit this particular new element into the actual coaster platform. You’re kind of, in some manner, taking a square peg and trying to jam it into a round hole and you just have to be finessed with it and be very careful with how you install it. It was a challenge to get it all aligned correctly.”
The station was also expanded, giving riders additional room while waiting and leaving the platform.
Air National Guard Captain Chris Russek was one of the military members who volunteered to ride Patriot first.
“It was great,” he said. “I hadn’t been here for probably 15 years, but growing up, I came here a lot as a kid and have a lot of nice memories. It’s great to see the park going strong … It’s an awesome ride.”
Gillmor and Councilmember Kathy Watanabe admitted some pre-ride anxiety, but said they enjoyed the experience.
“I’m still breathing hard,” said Gillmor. “My adrenaline is just flying … It was thrilling, it was fun, the twisty parts were scary. I was scared. I was nervous and scared to do it, but at the end I wanted to ride it again. I’d love to ride it again.”
California’s Great America is open for the 2017 season. As part of Patriot’s launch, current and past service members with valid identification will receive free admission through May 29. Visit www.cagreatamerica.com for more information.