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Derived from the live-action comedy film The Great Race, Wacky Races is a Hanna-Barbera cartoon production where 11 outlandish vehicles compete in absurd cross-country races. Hilarious hijinks ensue, partly due to whatever area they are racing through, but mostly due the absurd lengths one racer (Dick Dastardly) goes to cheat and sabotage the race, even though these attempts backfire in the end and cause him to always finish in last place (if he even finishes at all).

Hanna-Barbera gave co-credit for it to Heatter-Quigley (the producers of The Hollywood Squares) of CBS Saturday morning in 1968, where Wacky Races marked the end of H-B's Superhero adventure cycle and a return to slapstick comedy. Heatter-Quigley was to have provided a live game show segment in which children won prizes for predicting the outcome of the races; CBS nixed the plan, but Hanna-Barbera kept Heatter-Quigley in the end credits (even though the end copyright still reads "© 1968 by Hanna-Barbera Productions"). Subsequently, Peggy Charren, head of the organization Action For Children's Television, blackballed the show, charging that it enticed kids to make monetary wagers on the races' outcomes.

Many of the visual gags look suspiciously similar to those in Road Runner cartoons, including the use of painted scenery that people can enter, and fake railroad tracks that suddenly have trains running over them (and Dick Dastardly). Michael Maltese, who wrote just about all of the Chuck Jones Road Runner cartoons, was a writer for Wacky Races.

The six voice actors were Daws Butler, Don Messick, Paul Winchell, Janet Waldo, John Stephenson and Dave Willock as the Narrator. In 1969, Wacky Races was rerun on CBS, along with its two spin-off series: Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. (All three shows were widely syndicated in the 1970s and '80s.) In 1990, the cartoon was revived as Fender Bender 500, a part of the Anthology show Wake, Rattle, and Roll. In this incarnation, only Dastardly and Muttley returned (this time with a Mean Machine Expy called the "Dirty Truckster") — the roster was otherwise made up of classic Hanna-Barbera all-star characters like Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. More information:

The Wacky Races video game adaptation for the Dreamcast is notable for being one of the first games to use Cel Shading.

Frequent Wacky Races Tropes

  • Dick Dastardly setting a trap for the other racers, and inevitably getting caught in it.
  • Muttley snickering when Dastardly's plans backfire.
  • The dragon in the belfry of the Creepy Coupe.
  • Professor Pat Pending changing the shape of his Convert-a-Car.
  • The Red Max flying over the other racers.
  • Penelope Pitstop's beauty gadgets, built into her Compact Pussycat.
    • She's also been shown cooking rotisserie chicken and popcorn under the car's hood (using heat from the engine).
  • The Ant Hill Mob's getaway power: six pairs of legs protruding from the underside of the Bulletproof Bomb.
  • Peter Perfect's Turbo Terrific falling apart, usually after him making a remark on how good, reliable and resilient it is.
  • Radar displays during the race.
Tropes used in Wacky Races include:

 Dastardly: (pissed after losing another race) Oh, who wanted to win this old race, anyway? (bursts into teary tantrum) I DID!!! I WANTED TO WIN THE RACE!!! I NEVER GET TO WIN A RACE!!!

  • Blinding Camera Flash: In one episode, Muttley photographs Penelope Pitstop during the race. Penelope is blinded so severely by the flash that she has to stop driving momentarily.
  • Broken Aesop: Dick Dastardly just won a race! And by legitimate means, too! How could...oh, it's been recalled and the trophy taken away because...the nose-cone of his car extended on an accordion-thing and crossed the finish line first? How is that gimmick any more deserving of disqualification than everything else on the show?
    • To add insult to injury, Peter Perfect wins a race in another episode by doing exactly that, and noone complains.
      • Probably because Status Quo Is God. Dick Dastardly must always lose, no matter what the other racers do.
  • Catch Phrase: "Drat and double drat!" for Dick Dastardly; "And the wacky beat goes on" for the Narrator
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Muttley, most notably in "Race to Racine", where he's supposed to sabotage the Ant Hill Mob within, but ends up sabotaging Dastardly.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: Seven issues by Gold Key Comics, plus an appearance in Golden Comics Digest #2 and Hanna-Barbera Fun-In #5. Also two issues by Archie Comics and a few by DC Comics.
    • In the Gold Key issues, the cars are shown running from left to right as where they go right to left on the TV show. Also, a running gag on some stories loosely adapted from TV episodes has Penelope Pitstop managing to eliminate Peter Perfect and Red Max by getting them to fight over her. Peter's car in the Gold Key series was called the Varoom Roadster (its working name) and the Ant Hill Mob's car was the Roaring Plenty (identified in the show as such once).
  • Contemporary Caveman: The Slag Brothers.
    • Their design was recycled for Captain Caveman (except there was only one of him).
  • Cool Car: Eleven of them, in fact.
  • Cowboy Bebop at His Computer: Several reference books have a character in the show called The General as voiced by John Stephenson. There was a one-shot general in the episode "The Speedy Arkansas Traveler," but the only military personnel in a regular level was Sgt. Blast and Private Meekly.
  • Damsel in Distress: Penelope Pitstop, quite often - a woman whose Catch Phrase is "Hay-elp! HAY-elp!"
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Dick Dastardly is of course one of the Trope Namers.
  • Defictionalization: The Goodwood Festival of Speed has built working replicas of all of the vehicles (minus the extraneous gadgets and hijinks, of course).
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: The Trope Namer. In many cases, Dick Dastardly might actually win a race if he wasn't so insistent on setting traps to sabotage the other racers (which always end up backfiring on him).
    • In most episodes it could be argued that he got that all-important lead not by having the fastest car or sabotaging the other racers, but by taking a short cut on the non-linear route. He'd technically still be in last place, but could place his traps ahead of all the other cars. When they were out of the race, he could return via his shortcut and drive the route properly. But there are also several races that are straight marathons, where it wouldn't work, AND HE STILL CHEATS!
    • Averted by the Ant Hill Mob in "Free Wheeling to Wheeling":

 Clyde: We'll never win at this rate unless we--

Ring-A-Ding: Cheat! Right, boss?

Clyde: Wrong!! Unless we lighten the load, you dum-dum!

Ring-A-Ding: (as the Mob tosses out stolen money, machine guns, etc.) Who says it pays to win? There goes our ill-gotten gains!

      • To be sure, they do win it.
    • Lampshaded in the Wacky Races comic book story "Follow Through to Yoo-Hoo" (Gold Key #4, August 1971). All the racers use a book called "How to Win a Race by Hook or Crook," written by Dick Dastardly himself.
    • The unaired pilot for the revival Wacky Races Forever makes it a certainty. Dastardly (presumably the son of the original) is instructed by a figure in the employ of Peter Perfect (whose son Parker is racing) to just win the race, and he's a yard shy of the finish line which Muttley points out. But Dastardly firmly states "We're the villains...we're supposed to cheat!!"
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Peter Perfect in almost every episode. This cost him the race at least once as he screeched to a halt just before the finish line to avoid running over a cat that had wandered onto the track. Did earn him a new cat though. Also, Professor Pat Pending frequently stops and uses his car's inventions to help others.
  • Dope Slap: Dick to Muttley.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: From this exchange at the start of "Rhode Island Road Race":

 Narrator: Leading the pack is Dick Dastardly, the Dracula of the drag strip.

Dick: I resent that remark.

Narrator: But do you deny it?

Dick: No, I just resent it!

  • Failure Is the Only Option: Dick Dastardly's car is much, much faster than the other racers, and would win if he followed the rules. Yet, he cheats and fails every time at it, and loses, often coming to a stop right before the finish line to watch everyone else pass it.
  • The Fool: If you drove a car by reclining, sleeping and steering with your feet, you would drive about a hundred yards or so before crashing into something. Luke, however, does not need to worry about that.
  • Fountain of Expies: You'd be surprised how many Muttley clones there are. If not clones, there are those who mimic his signature laugh.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Penelope wields one in "Idaho a Go Go".
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Pat Pending.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Take a good, hard look at the shape of Peter Perfect's car and then try telling me that it wasn't intentional on the part of the designers. (Though it may simply be a mashup of a vintage F1 and an old school dragster.)
  • Generation Xerox: In the Wacky Races Forever pilot, Peter and Penelope's children, Parker and Piper, are racing in vehicles strongly resembling their parents'.
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: In "Beat the Clock to Yellow Rock", a group of bear cubs do this to the Ant Hill Mob.
  • Greek Chorus: The race announcer acted as one of these.
  • Harmless Villain: Dick Dastardly.
  • Hey, It's That Voice!: Naturally, Daws Butler, who is near half the headline cast of Hanna-Barbera's cartoons. Also, Tigger is Dick Dastardly, and Scooby Doo is Muttley.
    • The Japanese dub voice of Dick Dastardly ("Black Maou" in that version) eventually went on to voice none other than Gold Roger, not to mention Dr. Eggman, and even (at least in the commercials) Wario.
    • "Milk-chan" (Penelope Pitstop), would later go on to be the voices of Miime, Nobita Nobi, and Claudia LaSalle.
  • Honour Before Reason: Peter Perfect tends to help out anyone who's been sabotaged. Especially Penelope.
    • He even helps Dastardly in "The Super Silly Swamp Sprint," albeit after pulling him and Muttley out of the alligator-filled swamp he throws them and their car in the back of the pack (only to be catapulted from a tree into the front).
  • Hopping Machine: One of the Convert-A-Car's alternate forms uses 'Pogo Power'.
  • Idiot BallEveryone, whenever it would get a laugh.
  • I Would Say If I Could Say
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: Peter Perfect.
  • Leitmotif: Dick Dastardly had a very prominent theme, which played in pretty much every episode whenever he pulled a trick on the other racers. Penelope Pitstop also had a far less played motif as well.
  • Limited Wardrobe
  • Literal Minded: Numerous examples (in the interest of wordplay), at least one of which cost a racer first place; in "By Rollercoaster to Upsan Downs", when Sgt. Blast told Pvt. Meekley to "head for that finish line, and step on it", Meekley hurried to the finish line on foot and planted his foot firmly on the line. He then had to watch as Red Max, the Slag Brothers, and Lazy Luke and Blubber crossed the line in their cars and took the top three spots.
    • Muttley was also prone to this from time to time; when Dick Dastardly is trapped on the spray from a whale's blowhole in "Eeny Miney, Missouri Go!", he tells Muttley, "Do something! Anything!" Whereupon Muttley proceeds to do a tap dance... which does qualify as doing something, just not something relevant.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • The Mafia: The Ant Hill Mob.
  • Market-Based Title: In Latin America (and Spain), the show is known as "Los Autos Locos" (lit.: The Crazy Cars); in Japan it's called "Chiki Chiki Mou Race"; in France, the show's name is "Les Fous du Volant" ("The Crazy Drivers").
  • Moral Dissonance: Dick Dastardly set a lot of traps, yeah, but if the other contestants used their cars' special abilities (one was a tank, one had buzzsaws for wheels, one had a dragon in it, one was an airplane, one could turn into any type of vehicle its driver could imagine, etc.) to gain an advantage or even disable or destroy the other vehicles, nobody even batted an eye. Only Dick was considered to be cheating.
    • Presumably it was the Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat aspect that made his antics "cheating"-if he'd contented himself with taking potshots as he passed, probably no one would have batted an eye at his shenanigans either. In the Sega Dreamcast game, Dick can't stop to cheat (because the programmers didn't include that option), so he has to content himself with choosing three powers out of a selection, and racing by the rules like everyone else.
    • Easier explanation: Dick Dastardly and Muttley are Obviously Evil, The Chew Toy and Acceptable Targets, and most of the things in the universe is run on Rule of Funny. Or, putting it another way, they are HB's equivalent of Wile E. Coyote.
    • More egregious game examples, from the PS2 version: Dastardly has no "bullet" or "explosive", or otherwise "lethal" weapons - his weapons are a magnet (non-lethal), a shrink ray (non-lethal), and some glue (non-lethal). The Surplus Six has one bomb and one homing missile. The Anthill Mob has a machine gun. Supposedly peaceful Luke has his cousin, who fires a shotgun at the opponents. And those are only the "bullet/missile/bomb" examples. On the whole, the Mean Machine is probably the least "lethal" car of all in the game, bar Pat Pending (who is very, VERY defensive but can be used to screw with the opponents by a good player). Yet, Dastardly is the "evil" one.
  • Motionless Chin
  • Nervous Wreck: Blubber Bear.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Dick Dastardly was based on Terry-Thomas; Clyde, on Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, and Red Max, on the World War I pilot Max Immelmann.
    • "Free Wheeling to Wheeling" may indicate that Clyde was based on Clyde Barrow of Bonnie & Clyde fame:

 Clyde: All right, you mugs...everybody out and push!

Ring-A-Ding: Aw, gee Clyde. Do we gotta?

Clyde: Maybe you'd rather I should tell Bonnie on you?

  • No Fourth Wall: Zig-zagged throughout the series as many of the drivers look to the camera and converse with the show's announcer. Most notably in "The Wrong Lumber Race" when Dastardly tries to take over:

 Dastardly: And now the Double Zero takes the lead, it's gaining on one, and--

Announcer: Hold it, hold it, Dastardly. I'll do the talking here, you do the driving!

  • The Notable Numeral: The Gruesome Twosome.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Rufus Roughcut as Sawtooth (a beaver), Luke has Blubber Bear, and Dick Dastardly has Muttley (a dog).
  • Offscreen Crash
  • Oil Slick
  • Painted Tunnel, Real Train: In one episode, Dick Dastardly tries this trick to waylay an approaching Peter Perfect. Not only does Peter drive into the picture without ill effect, but a bus then drives out of it and runs over the apoplectic Dastardly.
  • Percussive Maintenance: The Bouldermobile.
    • At one point the car pulls out its own club and hits back just before completely falling apart.
  • Panty Shot: An episode has Penelope Pitstop with her laundry wind-drying from her car as she drives, and on the line we see a slip and a pair of panties.
  • Revival: A made-for-TV movie, Around The World With The Wacky Racers, was planned for 1988 (as part of the Hanna-Barbera Superstars 10 line of TV cartoon movies) but it was never carried out. The 1990 segment The Fender Bender 500 (part of the series Wake, Rattle and Roll) is considered a revival of Wacky Races merely because it has Dastardly and Muttley in it. Also, Wacky Races Forever, an unsold pilot for Cartoon Network featuring the son and daughter of Peter and Penelope (who got married), plus Pat Pending (who, it seems, went gleefully insane, and who now seems willing to use attack abilities), plus a cute vampire girl and her companion subbing for the Gruesome Twosome.
  • Road Runner vs. Coyote
  • Road Sign Reversal
  • Sergeant Rock: Sergeant Blast.
  • The Smurfette Principle
  • South of the Border: "Baja-Ha-Ha Race".
  • Speech-Impaired Animal: Muttley and Blubber Bear
  • Stealth Insult: This exchange from the comic book adaptation of "Mish Mash Missouri Dash": (Gold Key #2, Feb. 1971):

 Narrator: Let's face it, Dick. You're just a born loser. You've got nothing.

Muttley: Snaffacrassin Frassin...(translated: "What do you mean 'nothing'? He's got me, hasn't he?")

Dick: That's exactly what the man meant!

  • Stock Footage: Some drivers' dashboards.
  • Team Rocket Wins: Although Dastardly and Muttley never won a race in the original series (not even on a technicality), a few episodes of the Fender Bender 500 had them win for once. Even they were surprised.
    • In the Dreamcast version, going through the rigamarole of tasks necessary to unlock Dastardly is worth it just to win a race as him and listen to the narrator's either disgusted or bewildered reaction.
    • In the comic books, Dick won twice ("The Scavenger Scramble," Gold Key #7; "Trek to Tanzania," Archie Comics #1), but in each case there was a catch to the victory.
    • Lampshaded and subverted in "Whizzin' to Washington," in which Dastardly passes everyone en route to finish first without cheating only to suddenly stop:

 Announcer: The Double Zero has yet to cross the finish line. What happened, Dick?

Dastardly: I stopped to give somebody my autograph.

Announcer: You're kidding. Who would want your autograph?

Dastardly: (pointing to Muttley, who holds a note pad with Dastardly's autograph) Him!!!

    • "See-Saw to Arkansas" had a similar lampshading/subversion; on the home stretch, Dick Dastardly is dead level with Red Max, the Gruesome Twosome, and Rufus Ruffcut, and the announcer declares that they will need a photo finish - a declaration which gets Dastardly's attention. When the photograph is taken, Red Max, the Gruesome Twosome and Rufus Ruffcut are shown to have taken first, second and third, respectively... while the Mean Machine has stopped just short of the finish line, and Dick Dastardly and Muttley are posing next to it. The announcer declares Dastardly a big ham, to which Dastardly and Muttley chuckle.
    • Dick and Muttley are about to cross the finish line first in "Speeding For Smogland", but it wouldn't count—due to a multi-car collision that catapults three other drivers from the vehicles, they wind up in the Arkansas Chuggabug. The narrator tells Dick and Muttley that crossing the finish line in the wrong car constitutes a disqualification.
  • Thememobile: All of the cars are themed on their drivers. The lumberjack drives a car with buzzsaw wheels, The Mafia drive a 1920's sedan, etc.
  • Those Magnificent Flying Machines: Most noteably Red Max and his Crimson Haybailer, also Professor Pat Pending and his Convertacar and the Gruesome Twosome's Creepy Coupe. On occasion, the other cars will take flight as well.
  • Transforming Mecha: the Convert-a-Car.
  • Trickster Archetype: Dick Dastardly. Sure, he can win the race by playing fair but he insists playing the race his way. Of course he loses, but he keeps coming back for more.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Dick Dastardly's plans to hinder the other racers only worked out (temporarily) on the very rare occasions when he didn't explain them out loud beforehand.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: This is a standard Dick Dastardly tactic in the Wacky Races, to try to get a leg up on the competition.
  • Wacky Racing: the Trope Namer.
  • Weaponized Car: Most of the male racers have some kind of combat capability (a cannon, buzzsaws, a dragon...)
  • What Could Have Been: There was an apparent revival of the series in 2005, but it quickly went under. The pilot's on YouTube, though.
  • Wiper Start: In one episode, Sergeant Blast ends up in the Compact Pussycat [Penelope Pitstop's car]. Trying to stop it, he activates the controls that apply face powder and lipstick. Granted, these are not standard controls in a car, but it does raise the question of why he thought the brakes would be activated by a button on the dashboard. Meanwhile, over in the Army Surplus Special, Penelope winds up firing the cannon.
    • He doesn't drive; Meekly does. And given that all controls he deals with are by hand (firing stuff)...