Rookie Racer introduces family thrills, lower height requirement
Vekoma junior coaster fills gap in Six Flags St. Louis coaster lineup
AT: Tim Baldwin
EUREKA, Mo. — Six Flags St. Louis retired its kiddie coaster in 2006. While the park boasts a diverse lineup of roller coasters — including three wooden roller coasters, a rarity nowadays — a family coaster that young children can ride had been missing.
The availability of a family junior coaster from Vekoma materialized in January, and the park immediately requested it. Six Flags didn’t wait until next season to debut it; the park opened Rookie Racer in late September.
“We have received a bigger response to this family coaster than we have for a ride in … I cannot remember how long,” said Elizabeth Gotway, public relations. “We have been absolutely blown away by the response to this ride. We have wanted a family coaster for years. When we moved the kids’ area up the hill and created Bugs Bunny National Park, that was something we lost in the process because there wasn’t room up there. That was a kiddie coaster, but for years, we have wanted a family coaster.”
“Rookie Racer adds an experience for all ages at Six Flags St. Louis. It is extremely smooth, with family-friendly track elements and nice theming. The perfect combo for families. Kids will love it; so will their adult companions!” said Ricardo Tonding Etges, vice president sales and marketing for the Americas, Vekoma.
Gotway admits that January was a late start to begin a new-for-2023 project, but the availability to fill a notable void in the park’s offerings was too good to turn down.
“We knew it would be late in the season, but we wanted that coaster,” she told Amusement Today. “We said, ‘yes’ — astoundingly yes.”
Gotway and Six Flags have been pleased with the response on social media. She smiled at one response: “I thought this was going to be lame, but it might be my favorite coaster in the park.” She loves standing at the exit and seeing the reactions of the new riders, particularly younger kids who realize they are tall enough to ride.
“They feel like they have won the lottery,” Gotway said.
“Theme parks are places for families to have fun and create memories together,” Etges told AT. “I am a strong believer that parks should focus on offering experiences to all age groups, regardless of location, IP or size of the park. Rookie Racer, with its 36-inch rider height restriction, is probably going to be the first real coaster experience for many kids and an opportunity for different family members to create memories together.”
Gotway praises Paul Ambrose, the IT manager on property, for making the ride even more exciting. It was his idea to add racing car audio throughout the experience, both in the station and with speakers along the track. The effect is even more immersive for the riders, as the speakers kick in when the train approaches that area.
“You hear all the cheering and hear all the race car sounds, and when you head into the helix, you hear, ‘Okay racers, this is it, last push!’ And you come in and hear the roar of the crowd and ‘All right, rookie, that’s a P1.’ In formula racing, that is Position 1,” said Gotway. “It’s loud. It is so cool. It makes the ride. When the kids come into the station and hear the cheering, they cheer. It’s immersive; it makes it a package deal.”
People in the queue hear a different audio that features commentators covering a race. Fun commercials, such as “Bob’s Garage,” have Easter eggs for those in the know as they were created by people in the park or names of people who used to work at the park are written in the script of the pit crew.
“The audio really makes the ride a completely different experience,” said Gotway.
Operations can be set to run the ride with a single circuit or two laps. The park has chosen to run it taking riders around twice. The track length is 843 feet. The train seats 16 passengers.
Because of the sunken terrain upon which the ride is built, the ride itself is elevated, which makes it look bigger. The space was used for a go-kart attraction up until a few years ago. That was removed to put in a large thrill ride in 2020, but the global pandemic delayed that attraction. In that time span, the park decided to place that thrill ride in a different location, leaving the space available for the coaster. Being raised up gives a sense of impressive height, even for a junior coaster.
“It took me a little off-guard the first time I rode it,” Gotway said. “I wasn’t expecting the first drop to be as much as it was. If you are in the back seat or the back four cars, that is a completely different ride than the first four cars.”
The tight spirals make the 27-mph speed feel forceful.
The name Rookie Racer was chosen because of the Formula 1-style coaster cars. The park felt the name suggested it was for the younger guests and everyone would be able to ride. The trains have been praised for being comfortable for adults as well. Gotway is happy teenagers and adults without kids are seeking out a spin on the new ride as well.
“We’re really proud of it. We absolutely know we made the right choice,” said Gotway. “Thrill seekers come in all heights, in all sizes. They start young, and this is where you build their love for roller coasters and theme parks. You build it from the young up, and if you don’t have anything for them to ride, they don’t catch that fever.”
The new coaster gives Six Flags St. Louis 10. Reaching those double digits is always a milestone for a theme park to offer guests a truly diverse lineup of coaster thrills.
“To have 10 coasters is a double reward because of what the tenth one was — to be able to say we truly have something for everyone,” said Gotway. “The Mine Train [Arrow, 1971] is most definitely a great ride for kids to start on, but again, that’s 42 inches. There can be a couple of years in those six inches for kids waiting to get to a coaster.”
Rookie Racer will have its first full season in 2024, but the park will also be debuting a large Giga Discovery from Zamperla, as well as reintroducing its Grand Ole’ Carousel, which has undergone a multi-year, stunningly beautiful restoration. Excitement for next season will deliver both high thrills and family fun.