How would you like to have one of the fastest cars in the world? And what if that car had special gadgets that allowed it to jump over obstacles, cut through objects in your path and navigate under water? You would be really groovy and perhaps become a world champion race car driver.
This article contains spoilers so if you’ve never seen Speed Racer and plan on watching, please do not continue reading
Such was the premise of Speed Racer, a cartoon that aired in 1967. Adapted from a Japanese anime franchise called Mach GoGoGo and the rights purchased by a company called Translux, it was translated into English by Peter Fernandez, who also served as writer and director, and renamed. Speed Racer aired on American television from April 1967 to March 1968.
As a child growing up in the 1970s, I watched a variety of cartoons such as The Flinstones, The Jetsons and Kimba The White Lion. But my favorite was Speed Racer. It aired weekday afternoons on my local station Channel 48.
A recent Twitter hashtag on May 21, 2019 about “1st Cartoon Crush” brought back memories of the catchy Speed Racer theme song and prompted a re-watch of all 52 episodes as well as this article.
Video Courtesy of Super Hero Cartoon Site
Speed Racer was a teenage race car driver who dreamed of becoming a world champion racer. He drove the Mach 5, a high tech car designed and built by his father Pops. The car was equipped with many useful features that gave him many advantages while racing. I always felt Speed should have been prohibited from using the Mach 5 as it gave him a leg up on the competition.
I believe Speed Racer was influenced by many things that were prevalent during the 1960’s as Speed looked like a Young Elvis type and Trixie had a resemblance to Gidget. The Racers were a nuclear family with Pops adopting the attitude as head of the household what he said was law and his children better not disobey him. An edict forbidding his oldest son from racing professionally caused Rex to leave home.
Rex Racer/Masked Racer/Racer X (Voiced by Peter Fernandez)
Racer X was my favorite character on Speed Racer. Originally called The Masked Racer, he was mysterious, a great race car driver, an international secret agent, an excellent fighter and overall awesome. “Unknowned to Speed, Racer X was his older brother Rex Racer who ran away from home years ago” was the introduction every time Racer X appeared on screen. I found this amusing for a few reasons. I guess the writers wanted viewers who may have a missed an episode to be aware of the connection. Maybe they thought watchers would be confused why Speed’s competition would be so overly concerned for his safety. The other thing about this that amused me was I never felt Rex ran away from home but more like he left to pursue his dream. He argued with Pops for crashing the race car due to his limited skill as a driver. And as his father refused to allow to race professionally gain the required skill, Rex told Pops he was leaving to become a world champion, that’s hardly running away. What always confused me was if Rex wanted to show Pops he was wrong, why did he use the alias Racer X? I would think he’d want his father to know he’d achieve success as a world champion so he should have used his real name. It’s understandable after Rex became international secret Agent 9 he’d want to hide his identity to protect his family, but why before? And obviously watching out for Speed aroused the teen’s suspicions. Speed came right out asked “Are you my brother? Are you my brother Rex Racer?” but got a punch in the gut for his question. Sadly, The Racer family never got the reunion fans wanted to see with Racer X revealing he was Rex and returning home.
Speed Racer (Voiced by Peter Fernandez)
The title character was the epitome for doing what’s right…and that often got him into trouble. Although Speed’s goal was to become a world champion, he refused to cheat to win his way to the top (high tech gadget cheating car aside). And calling him a cheat, those were fighting words. However if Speed saw someone in danger, he’d forfeit a race to help. Integrity was a character trait Speed Racer possessed. If I had to talk flaws, his two were that he was curious (translate: nosy) and stubborn. Like his older brother Rex, Pops first forbade Speed to race professionally. But unlike Rex who left home, Speed was like “whatever Pops” (remember, stubborn) and did so anyway. Pops later reluctantly agreed. The only thing stopping Speed from doing his best to win a race was his curiosity (translate: nosiness) when he realized someone was in trouble by the variety of bad guys that the young racer came across. Good thing he had Racer X who “was his older brother Rex Racer who ran away from home years ago” to save him.
Speed and Trixie (Voiced by Peter Fernandez and Corrine Orr)
Trixie was often referred to as Speed’s girlfriend. But the only impression I got from their relationship was that she was his friend who just happened to be a girl. She traveled around the world to join him for races with the pretense of being his navigator (No Siri in the 1960s guys). But I think she just came because she was afraid to leave him alone in case he caught another girl’s eye. Trixie needed hadn’t worried…Speed flirted occasionally but was more interested in fast cars and engines like the GRX. Racing wasn’t Speed’s only talent, he aided the police at the request of Inspector Detector (cool name) and captured many criminals. Because in the 1960s law enforcement relied on teenage race car drivers!
Spritle and Chim Chim (Voiced by Corrine Orr and Jack Curtis)
Rex and Speed had a younger brother named Spritle. And Spritle had a pet chimpanzee, Chim Chim. This duo were the comic relief in Speed Racer and could often by found hiding in the Mach 5’s trunk. I laughed every time someone (Trixie) said “I wonder where Spritle and Chim Chim are.” It wasn’t like Pops, Speed and Trixie didn’t know about Spritle and Chim Chim’s preferred mode of transportation. But my question is: Why didn’t Speed just lock his car trunk? Also, Mrs. Racer was a really bad mother. She never knew where her youngest son was!
He was the Mach 5’s mechanic and Speed’s friend. He kept the car in tip top shape. And was also handy with a lasso! (That’s another story).
Speed Racer had some violent scenes for a children’s cartoon. Even in the opening theme, viewers see cars bumping into each other, crashing and exploding. But there were always valuable lessons to be learned in the episodes. Honesty, morality and doing what’s right just because were the underlining themes.
Watching Speed Racer was an enjoyable important part of my childhood.
Photos taken from the internet; credit given to the original sources
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