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Wednesday, July 15, 1998 Published at 07:50 GMT 08:50 UK


The duel of the Big Dippers

The rollercoaster track keeps going round and round and....

Many people are too frightened to get on a rollercoaster, but after more than 550 hours on a Big Dipper the new world record rollercoaster rider is too frightened to get off.

American school teacher Richard Rodriguez began his marathon ride at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach on June 18.

The BBC's Paul O'Gorman speaks to Richard Rodriguez as rides the Big Dipper
He has been riding the Big Dipper day and night ever since, breaking his own world record of 549 stomach-churning hours, which he set in 1994.

But he cannot come down from the rollercoaster for fear of losing his title to a rival bid currently underway on the other side of the world.

Dipping duel

Normand St Pierre began an identical challenge at La Ronde, an amusement Park in Montreal Canada, three days after Mr Rodriguez started his.

The rivals have broken each other's records in the past, but the new title holder is determined to reign supreme.

[ image: Matching well-wishers on day one]
Matching well-wishers on day one
"I don't get the feeling that this Norman St Pierre fellow wants to get off the coaster. I know I'm here for the duration so this could go on for another month," Mr Rodriguez said.

"He has been a consistent marathoner and I take my hat off to him. But I'm not going to let him surpass us. I'm not going to let him prevail."

Ups and Downs, Ins and Outs

In accordance with strict guidelines laid down by the Guinness Book of Records, Mr Rodriguez must eat, drink and sleep on the Big Dipper.

His carriage has been adapted with side panels to prevent his belongings from falling on the track.

He is allowed five minutes rest every hour which he stores up to take a shower and have one hot meal a day.

At night he pads himself in with foam rubber, pulls canvas over his head and puts in earplugs so that he can sleep. Then the days and nights just roll into one.

But he admits it's difficult not knowing when it will all end.

"If I knew I had to get off here in like a week I could just target that and prepare for it. Now I'm just riding it's like an unknown. I don't know when I'm getting off the coaster. So I get a lot of mood swings it makes me sometimes down in the dumps," he said.

The Big Dipper

Maintenance and safety checks are carried out on the Big Dipper during Mr Rodriguez's breaks.

The 75-year-old track is one of five wooden roller coasters on the site which are known to enthusiasts as "woodies".

[ image: Blackpool, popular holiday spot]
Blackpool, popular holiday spot
With a track length of 3,295 feet, each circuit lasts about three minutes. Riders have to endure five terrifying drops and a host of twisting banked turns at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach is happy for Mr Rodriguez to stay on the ride for as long as he needs.

Medics are on hand to ensure that he can cope with the exposure and wind burn which are the occupational hazards of being a full-time roller coaster rider.

Charity along for the ride

An insulin-dependant diabetic, Mr Rodriguez is donating funds raised through the record attempt to diabetes research.

His fascination for roller coasters began with a visit to Coney Island where he cut his teeth on a ride called the Cyclone aged 16.

At 19 he set his first world record of almost 104 hours of constant coasting.

20 years later he warns his rival that he has no plans to climb down from the Big Dipper.

"I wish him luck but I look off to getting off the ride as the champion. I will try and psyche him out."

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