On May 23, Carowinds management announced the end of the road for Thunder Road, a rollercoaster that's been a part of the park for 39 years. Thunder Road was named after a 1959 Robert Mitchum movie about an illegal moonshining business, and over the years it ran more than 40 million times back and forth over the North Carolina/South Carolina state line. In the days leading up to the rollercoaster's closure, Creative Loafing sat down with the bi-state legend and got the disturbingly jaded coaster's thoughts on the climbs and drops of the last four decades.
Were you saddened to hear the news that Carowinds management would be shutting you down?
Thunder Road: Not even close. Every day I wake up to 539,000 feet of wood creaking and cracking and it hurts. Coasters need highs and lows and I've been going downhill for far too long. First, a group of guys — probably Communists — came and stripped my original red, white and blue paint off me. In the '90s, they started removing memorabilia. The P.C. police took away the two moonshine stills that once stood at my entrance, so a man can't even have a drink after a long day of jerking people around.
But those weren't actual moonshine stills.
Nothing is real anymore. What the hell is a giga-coaster, anyway? It sounds like a Russian weapons system and that's probably what it is. Then, after they removed my moonshine stills they came for the air conditioning in 1995. Folks waiting their turn for a ride just had to tough it out. You ever seen what happens to a kid in JNCO jeans and goth make-up standing in 90-degree heat in a 93-foot-high tinder box? The fattest kid in Charlotte couldn't get halfway through a Creamsicle before it was all over his shirt. I became a very unpleasant, rickety old man at that point.
That was about the same time they flipped one of your cars around to ride backwards, right? That must've been fun, at least?
I'd like to put a big splinter in the ass of the guy who came up with that idea. Let's overheat them then send them screaming down the tracks backwards until they spew everything they've been snacking on in the park all day. From that disgusting water-park pizza to the weird cream sauce that results from the mixing of stomach acid and a full plate of powdered sugar; it's amazing to me what people put into their bodies at these amusement parks. Yet more amazing how willing they are to eject that same crap right out into my cart. "Grit your teeth, bear the load, enjoy your ride on Thunder Road." It's a message I've been repeating since 1976 and people still refuse to bear their fucking load!
You're the only wood coaster to cross state lines in America. Is there a certain amount of pride involved with that?
Every time one of these delinquents hops on one of my carts with a bag of grass in his pocket he makes me accessory to a felony two times over. There's nothing prideful about committing a federal crime.
Nobody calls it grass anymore.
I don't care what you call it these days. Giga-drugs, probably.
To be honest, you always sort of gave me a headache.
The feeling is mutual. It was media like yourself that attacked me when those carts crashed in '99. Seven people get roughed up a bit and here come the wagons circling. The TV cameras may as well have been pitchforks. They painted me in the press to be out-of-date, then a bunch of know-nothings prodded me and pulled my brakes all day long. It was a horrible experience all because of a slip-up.
You've had a pretty clean record since then, though. Is that something your proud of?
I haven't been proud of anything since they stripped my glorious American colors from me. Don't go reporting your clean streak just yet, reporter boy. I still have a couple days left of action and I may just go out like ol' Luke. You ever seen the movie, Thunder Road?
Robert Mitchum's character Luke dies in a fiery wreck at the end. Are you threatening to do the same?
I'll see you in hell.