What is it about automobile racing that I love so much?

I've never owned, built, or raced a real hot rod or a muscle car. I've never watched an entire Indy 500 and I've actually tried to avoid NASCAR.

My race influences are Hot Wheels, banana-seat bicycles, SSP Racers, slot cars, skate boards, Speed Racer, and an album of hot rod music that I've been unable to track down because I don't remember it's name or any of the songs or performers on it, but I remember the cover, and if I ever see it again, it's mine... it had the sounds of revving engines and other car sounds between the songs. Good stuff.

As I mull it over a bit, I'm beginning to realize there's a primal 'something' about racing. Quick and skillful mobility is probably our first greatest cumulative asset as human beings. When it comes to the fight or flight reaction, flight isn't much good if it's not successful, therefore, outrunning or outsmarting a predator is probably the handiest and oldest skill that we have, because such competitions were truly the difference between life and death.

Racing taps that primal instinct, turning it from life-and-death struggle into competitive entertainment and a display of prowess. In today's racing world, that prowess isn't limited to the speed and skill of the individual racers; it takes the skill of engineers, mechanics, pit bosses, and even the people behind the office desks to get into the winner's circle.

As ever, since prehistory up to the closed oval tracks of our present day, there's still the chance that something could go wrong; from an errant piece of timber tripping up the next meal of a sabre-toothed tiger to blown tires and pit delays; no matter how controlled the arrangement becomes, there's still the chance something could go wrong.

I've been looking forward to the upcoming Speed Racer film for some time. I haven't been this excited about a new movie since the original Star Wars first hit theaters.

I grew up playing with all sorts of toy cars but even as a small child I knew there were no better cars than Hot Wheels. Sure, Matchbox cars looked more realistic. But, realism is for replicas not for racing!

Another company once tried to knock Hot Wheels off the top spot with a brand called "Johnny Lightning". Johnny Lightning cars (JL, for short) were fast, and my brother had one that could beat some of my Hot Wheels, but there were a few problems with the line. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty certain that the 'lane' of a JL track was wider than that of a Hot Wheels track. I also remember two-lane track segments which were probably meant to speed up assembly time of dual straightaways for impatient kids, but that's beside the point. The wider lanes of JL track allowed them to make slightly wider cars, though they didn't always design their cars to 'fill' the lanes. If memory serves, most JL cars would not fit on Hot Wheels tracks and many Hot Wheels cars had too much room on a JL track, allowing them to bounce side to side. Naturally, bouncing side-to-side down a track isn't going to give you a good race.

My connection to facsimile racing is as old as I can remember. Even now, as an adult, when playing with tracks on the floor is too hard on my knees to consider doing, I still collect a few Hot Wheels cars. I'm no completist in this endeavor. I don't care about 'Treasure Hunt" cars or classic "Red Line" collector's items. I just want the cool cars.

I'll buy versions of real cars, I'll buy fantasy cars, I'll buy versions of customs and hot rods, even those silly blimps. I don't generally spend time playing with them though. As I said, the tracks and floor based play would be too tough on my knees. But thanks to modern electronics I have a compact and exhilarating alternative. Video games! I have a PS2 and a slew of original Playstation games including "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing" which features digital versions of some of the best Hot Wheels cars ever on digital tracks, performing jumps and loops and crazy stunts the way only Hot Wheels and Speed Racer ever could. Speed Racer and Hot Wheels are the perfect match of all perfect matches if there ever was a perfect match.

I also have a "Speed Racer" game made for the original Playstation, but frankly, that game sucks. Sure, you get all the Mach 5 gadgets and fitting courses on which to use them, but the courses are barely a worthy challenge. "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing" has thus far proven to be the ultimate in Speed Racer-esque craziness.

A close second to "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing" is the physics-defying wonder called "Beetle Adventure Racing" for the Nintendo 64. This game includes only the New Volkswagen Beetle in a variety of racing configurations that must be unlocked through gameplay. The tracks are crazy with jumps and hidden shortcuts and all the great race locales found in the Speed Racer cartoon... There's 'Coventry Cove', a peaceful and quaint village thrown into chaos by turbo VW Beetles roaring through the streets. 'Mount Mayhem' is an Alpine race setting with snow covered bridges and turns and a hidden ice cave containing a frozen UFO... there's an MIB black helicopter flying overhead to prove it! Next up is the exotic jungle island setting, the name of which I can't recall, featuring a hungry T-Rex, a watery beach, a hidden tiki village, and the caves around an erupting volcano waiting to swallow your car whole! 'Sahara Sands' is a desert level reminiscent of Egypt in which you have to avoid falling ruins, wind your way through ancient tombs, and try not to get stuck in the sand. If you've survived all that you get to a track called 'Metro Madness' which is a cityscape with highways, drainage ditches, warehouse districts, parking garages, and glittering skyscrapers to drive... through! But wait, there's more! There is a sort of haunted psychedelic track that I have yet to unlock. There are also at least three versions of the New Beetle I haven't acheived, yet. And still, there's more...

If you have a Nintendo 64 with "Beetle Adventure Racing" and 4 controllers, whip 'em out, hook 'em up, and call your friends over for an outrageous Beetle Battle! The Beetle Battles take place on one of six closed courses, Airport (basic driving with a few tricks, no planes), Parking Garage (speed and control are essential here, no parked cars), Lava Cave (concentration and control to avoid lava traps), Ice Flows (lots of sliding and jumping), Dirt Track Arena (my fave, learn the terrain!), and Medieval Castle (confusing and dark, makes me grumpy). The 4-way split screen view can be difficult to see on screens as large as 26 inches diagonal (4:3 ratio). 2-way battles are easier to see but not nearly as exciting. The goal for each level is to collect a full set of multicolored beetles then race to the finish. Naturally, it's not as easy as that. If you crash or suffer enough damage to make your car blow up you will lose collected beetles. To make matters worse, there are weapons and tricks available to thwart your enemies, and vice versa. If your cars' demise is the direct result of an enemy attack, that enemy steals a beetle away from you. It's not as insane as Super Smash Brothers but it's kinda like that, on wheels. Literally hours of fun, many times over. If you're an N64 owner, find this game. You won't regret it.

Action, competition, insane courses! Project Gotham Racing? Gran Turismo? Who needs 'em? With old-school treasures like "Hot Wheels Turbo Racing", "Beetle Adventure Racing", and "F-Zero"... let's not forget that SNES classic, who needs realism? ;-)

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