In 1965, Blake Edwards’ comedy “The Great Race” hit theaters, starring Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, and Jack Lemmon. The movie inspired Hanna-Barbera to create “Wacky Races”. Some of the main characters from the show were even based on ones in the film. Dick Dastardly was based on Lemmon’s Professor Fate, Penelope Pitstop was based on Wood’s Maggie DuBois, and Peter Perfect was based on Curtis’ Leslie Gallant III. You could even say Muttley was based on Peter Falk’s character Max Meen, a henchman to Prof. Fate. Unlike the movie however, the races on the cartoon show were all contained in North America.
On September 14th, 1968 CBS premiered “Wacky Races” and its unusually large cast of regulars. There were a full two dozen if you count the commentator. Despite that they got by with only six talented voice actors. Each half hour episode was made up of two short 10 minute races from somewhere in America. Seventeen episodes were aired from that September to January 4th, 1969 and then on into syndication from 1978 to 1982. Besides the races there were also some very short commentary interludes between the narrator and various racers.
The racers in order of their racing numbers were as follows:
00 Dick Dastardly (Paul Winchell) and Muttley (Don Messick) in the Mean Machine. Dick Dastardly was a villain in the old melodrama style, while Muttley was his snickering dog companion.
1 The Slag Brothers in the Boulder Mobile. Rock (Daws Butler) and Gravel (Don Messick) were a couple of cavemen (whose look obviously was reused later for Captain Caveman) who spoke gibberish and wielded large clubs.
2 The Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe. The very large Tiny Gruesome (Daws Butler) and his little counterpart, Bela Gruesome (Don Messick) were typical cartoonish Halloween monsters. Their car actually had a dragon inside a tower which could boost its power. There were often bats in the tower as well.
3 Professor Pat Pending in his Convert-A-Car. Prof. Pending (Don Messick) was an inventor who looked a little like Larry Fine from the Three Stooges and was able to transform his car into all kinds of strange vehicles.
4 The Red Max in his Crimson Haybaler. Max (Daws Butler) was styled after a German WWI pilot. His car was a cross between a WWI style plane and a regular car which could fly for short distances.
5 Penelope Pitstop (Janet Waldo) in her Compact Pussycat. Penolope was a sweet Southern Belle with a very feminine car. She was quite attentive to her appearance, perhaps more so than her racing.
6 Sgt. Blast (Daws Butler) and Pvt. Meekly (Paul Winchell) in their Army Surplus Special. These guys were the very typical big mean Sgt. and skinny little private stereotypes and they basically drove a tank.
7 The Ant Hill Mob in their Bulletproof Bomb. These were a group of seven dwarves modeled after 1920s style gangsters. Their names were Clyde (Paul Winchell), the leader, Ring-A-Ding (Don Messick), Rug Bug Benny, Mac, Danny, Kirby, and Willy.
8 Lazy Luke (John Stephenson) and Blubber Bear (also John Stephenson) in their Arkansas Chuggabug. Luke was a typical cartoon hillbilly and Blubber was a big old cowardly bear. Luke often steered with his feet and their car was actually steam powered.
9 Peter Perfect in his Turbo Terrifc. Peter (Daws Butler) was a perfect gentleman, vain, and a bit of a braggart. He was quite fond of Penelope. His car looked more like a drag racer than a cross country racer and fell apart a lot.
10 Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth in their Buzz Wagon. Rufus (Daws Butler) was a very large lumberjack and Sawtooth (Don Messick) was a beaver. Their car was made out of wood and had saw blades for wheels.
“Wacky Races” spawned two spinoffs, both airing the following season. They were “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop” starring Penelope and the Ant Hill Mob, and “Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines” pitting the title characters and their new partners against a wily homing pigeon.
Besides the two main spinoffs, “Wacky Races” characters have popped up in various shows and films over the years. Their popularity in Japan inspired a few different similarly styled shows. In the mid 1970s with Roller Derby being very hot, DePatie-Freleng (with the help of Hanna-Barbera stalwarts Joe Ruby, Ken Spears, Daws Butler, and Don Messick) would create a show called “Bailey’s Comets” which was very similar to “Wacky Races” except that the participants were all on roller skates.
After Star Wars came out Hanna-Barbera recycled the concept with some old but mostly new characters set in outer space called “Yogi’s Space Race”. In the 1990s Hanna-Barbera dusted it off once more, but this time with monster trucks and using all classic characters. That show saw Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy in the Lucky Trucky (#7); Dick Dastardly & Muttley in the Dirty Truckster (#00); Huckleberry Hound & Snagglepuss in the Half Dog, Half Cat, Half Track (#2); Pixie and Dixie in the Cheddar Shredder (#6); Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey in the Texas Twister (#5); Top Cat & Choo-Choo in the Alley Cat (#4); Wally Gator & Magilla Gorilla in the Swamp Stoner (#3); Winsome Witch and her cat Lucky in the Sonic Broom (#13); and Yogi and Boo-Boo Bear in the Jellystone Jammer (#1).
“Wacky Races” and its two spinoffs; “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop” and “Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines” were all made available on Hanna-Barbera’s classic DVD collection. Wacky Races is also popular enough to have toys still being made from their characters. They might make good Christmas presents for fans of this blog.