We moved to the new house in 1970, so I must have fell head-over-heels for Speed in 1973-74 when I was seven and in the third grade. That year our local TV station WJBK Channel 50 UHF Detroit began running the cartoon at 3 pm about the time school got out for the summer.
I say cartoon, but this was no ordinary cartoon. The people were real people; no wise cracking rabbits or dancing mice. And they found themselves in real situations with real dangers like evil gamblers, assassins and kidnappers; things that were on the news. People actually died in this cartoon.
Speed was an 18-year old world-famous race car driver and he drove the unbeatable Mach 5 designed by his father Pops Racer. His friend Sparky helped keep the Mach 5 in tip-top shape, his girlfriend Trixie was a resourceful gal, she could drive the Mach 5 as good as Speed in a pinch and fly a helicopter when needed. Then there was his younger brother Sprital who had a crazy chimpanzee named Chim Chim. Okay, so one animal, they were the comic relief.
Speed was dreamy; large blue eyes, dark hair, super-long eyelashes; I was smitten. He was the magic age of 18, at 7 I thought anyone who
was 18 had special powers, 18 was what I most wanted to be. Speed was cool.
No matter what Speed faced, he never gave-up. When he was blinded in a crash he continued to race the dangerous Alpine course and won. But before he won he risked losing by warning his arch enemy (he had many), Snake Oil, crack driver of the Car Acrobatics Team, that he had an oil leak and his car would explode. Snake, of course, did not heed the warning. But Speed was the better person putting life before winning. How could you not love that?
This cartoon featured two, three and even four part episodes that always ended with Speed in great peril until the very end, so you had to tune in the next day to see if Speed made it or not. They were very good at making me believe it was possible he would not make it. There was a running story line through the episodes, something not seen in other cartoons, Racer X was really Speed’s older brother Rex who had a fight with Pops and ran away from home. Racer X is always on hand to help Speed. I thought it was possible I had an older brother I did not know about who would come in disguise and solve my 7-year old problems. I think this is the origin of my interest in brother stories.
Speed’s house was within driving distance of many exotic locations like Monacco, The Alps, Italy and Germay. There is one episode set in Africa. It was no ordinary cartoon and me, my sister and brother never missed it. It did not matter where we were, we heard those first few hums of the opening theme and we came running. Three ‘o clock was the time of our daily candy snack and my Grandma, who lived with us, would have former plastic margin tubs ready with our candy. We lined-up on our stomachs glued to the TV stuffing our mouths with candy. It was one half-hour our Grandmother did not have to wonder what we were in to. At some point, WJBK expanded the show to an hour. It was bliss seeing both parts of an adventure in the same day. I even wrote the TV station a letter thanking them for this.
Although I remember it being longer, I think my love for Speed lasted only one summer. He was pushed out by a fireman; paramedic John Gage.
Speed Racer is a Japanese produced series created by anime pioneer Tatsuo Yoshida. It was first produced in comic print additions and was titled Mach GoGoGo. The books were so popular in Japan they paved the way for the formation of Tatsunoko Produtions in 1962. The 52 episodes of the series I saw as a kid aired on Fuji TV from April 1967 until March 1968 and then was re-voiced for the American market sometime after that. A live action movie was made in 2008. Speed races on in Manga additions today.
Watching some episodes for this post, they seem to be missing something. Me and my siblings had very vivid imaginations when we were kids and often played as if we were our favorite TV show characters. Or we sat around and made-up stories using the characters; 1970’s fan fic. We mixed characters from Speed Racer, Lost in Space, Gilligan’s Island, Emergency, Starsky & Hutch and occasionally The Brady Bunch and The Monkees with John Denver joining mix at some point. You had to accept whatever the other person did or said. One memorable “story” had Don West, from Lost in Space, caught in a love triangle between Ginger Grant and Judy Robinson that came to a climax when he had to decide who to save first from the head hunters; Judy or Ginger.
Each of us had a character that was ours and the others could not change it. Speed became the property of my younger brother when my crush fell onto John Gage, whose character I owned. Speed and Gage became good friends and with their buddy, Johnny (John Denver, my sister’s character) they owned a store and put on a variety show each week. Gage was the youngest of 12 sisters in my world and Speed became a lovable buffoon when he was not behind the wheel of a car. It is these characters I remember. The ones we created and embellished over the years.
I got a cassette recorder for Christmas and we began recording our “stories.” One masterpiece involved, Gage, Speed, Johnny and Starsky. We took turns playing Starsky. It was called Pine Tree to Pine Tree Travel and was about Starsky and friends getting flung from one pine tree to another because of various scenarios we concocted. It kept us laughing through three rainy days. I have searched for this tape in my parents attic, but it either was recorded over or thrown out.
Other writers tell me my superpower is character. Writing this, I know now where that ability comes from and why I have no trouble writing male or female characters. When I was young, I just did it with out a thought. It took me a long time to re-learn that as an adult. Do not question it. Accept that it is. It seems I have found the source of my superpower.
Please enjoy the action-packed, cliff-hanger episode of Speed Racer “The Most Dangerous Race” Part 1. You can find Part 2 and Part 3 on YouTube. Part 3 is where Speed drives blind, not to be missed. You’ll see the roots of my flair for drama. LOL!