Kennywood fanatic, 82, rides Jack Rabbit 95 times in a row
Vic Kleman raised his arms every time the rattling, clacking cars of the Jack Rabbit crested a hill, and he went whooping into its freefall — even on his 55th consecutive ride of the Kennywood roller coaster Sunday.
“It's still fun. That's all I'm doing it for, is the fun. It's great for Kennywood, and I love Kennywood,” said Kleman, 82, a longtime coaster enthusiast and occasional actor at the historic West Mifflin amusement park.
Kleman rode the Jack Rabbit 95 consecutive times to commemorate its 95th anniversary, pushing his record past 5,000 total circuits on the coaster.
Throughout the day, Kleman was joined in his cart by fellow coaster lovers, friends and Kennywood staff. Other riders who'd heard about his feat wished him well.
“The people on all the different rides seemed to make it go faster, when everyone around you is so joyful,” he said. “I felt pretty good afterward… Of course, there's no telling how I'll feel tomorrow morning.”
Kleman first rode the Jack Rabbit in 1959, he said, with friends who tricked him into heightening his vertigo by taking his eyes off the track just before the cars plummeted into the Jack Rabbit's trademark double-dip.
“We laughed so hard as we came out we were falling all over each other,” Kleman said. “I thought, OK, well, maybe I'll ride some more.”
Since then, he's collected slips from Kennywood employees marking each ride, eventually filling a drawer in his Knoxville home with thousands of the slips. He passed the 3,000-ride mark in 2001, earning a plaque from the American Coaster Enthusiasts.
He rode the Jack Rabbit 80 times for his 80th birthday and 90 times for the ride's 90th anniversary in 2010.
“Vic embodies the ‘enthusiast' part of our name,” said Bill Linkenheimer, social media manager and regional representative of the American Coaster Enthusiasts, of which Kleman has been a member since 1981. “I've done close to 40 (circuits) once on Phantom's Revenge, and I felt exhausted. As much as I love that coaster, I was exhausted.”
“I hope I can do that when I'm his age, but I can't do it now,” said Dave Hahner, 53, of Ross, the ACE's historian. “I've done 27 times on The Steel Phantom, and I ended up with vertigo afterward; I was dizzy for days.”
Kleman limited his food and water intake beforehand, and a wheelchair was standing by at the ride's exit, but Kleman had no intention of stopping more than halfway through Sunday afternoon.
He'd started just before 11 a.m. and completed his 95th ride shortly after 7:15 p.m. Kleman walked off under his power — although with his cane — and went straight to a restroom.
Opened in 1920 and designed by John Miller, the Jack Rabbit is one of only a few wooden “double dip” coasters in operation, and is even rarer in that riders' experience has remained unchanged, Linkenheimer said.
The cars have been rebuilt, and safety upgrades have been added, but the coaster's course into a ravine and through several climbs, turns and drops has otherwise remained the same for Kleman's 5,000th ride as it was for his very first.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.