The Big Race

The story (or a segment/side plot) is about a race, or races in general. This works as a plot device for several reasons:

  • The concept is readily understandable with little explanation required. Say there's a race in the offing, and you can immediately move on to explain the terms (i.e. the course, the prize, the rules).
  • The concept is flexible, with a variety of ways to make the race a challenge and thereby add interest to the race itself. Such terms often include long distances, tough terrain, or some kind of imposed handicap (adhering to certain vehicle specifications, carrying a fragile/awkward object, or even hopping in a burlap sack).
  • Racing in a variety of forms has a long pedigree; it may be Older Than Dirt. Yet despite its long history, racing never seems to go out of style, regardless of the changes in society and technology. Not only does the concept get applied to new means of transport as they are invented, but spectators still flock to see humans run in track meets, in what must be the most ancient form of transport that humans have used.
  • A race provides a ready-made plot structure, with preparation (rising action), the action of the race itself, and the goal of the prize and the glory of victory (and possibly consequences) for the ending.
  • Lots of useful tropes are associated with competition: plucky underdogs, rivalry, favorites, striving, cheating and so on.
  • Racing is often a group effort, even if only one person is actually a contestant. Trainers, mechanics, financial backers, friends, family members all play their roles in the cast. This point also applies to human partnerships with animals (such as in horse racing) and even mechanized partners.

A common feature is a long race with several "stations" where the racers go to rest. These stations often have a Good Guy Bar. Races like this can go across unusual and difficult terrain and have the advantage of being able to dominate an entire movie.

Super Trope of Chariot Race, Wacky Racing and Epic Race. See also Tournament Arc. Nothing to do with racial stereotypes.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Film 
  • The Great Race (1965) is Blake Edwards' comedy film about a long distance auto race in 1908. Really long distance. New York to Paris, traveling west.
  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) has a dying robber tell several witnesses of his fatal accident about $350,000 he hid after stealing it years earlier. An impromptu race develops and Hilarity Ensues.
  • Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: a race from London to Paris.
    • The sequel Monte Carlo or Bust (aka Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies): an auto race across Europe.
  • The Love Bug films, featuring Herbie, a sentient '63 Volkswagen Beetle that loves to race and helps out its owners with their financial and romantic problems along the way.
  • Winning (1969) stars Paul Newman as a race car driver whose competitive nature threatens his marriage.
  • Chariots of Fire is a biopic about track athletes Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, who competed for Britain in the 1924 Olympics.
  • The Cannonball Run, a 1981 comedy based on the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, an actual cross-country outlaw road race from the Red Ball Garage in New York City (later Darien, CT) to the pier at Redondo Beach, California, just south of Los Angeles.
  • Death Race 2000, a race set in the far off future year of 2000, this race rewards drivers for hitting as many pedestrians as possible.
  • Midnight Madness has five teams race around Los Angeles to one destination after another, picking up hidden clues to arrive at the hidden finish line.
  • Rat Race features six contestants who are selected by a group of compulsive-gambler multi-millionaires to compete in a race from Las Vegas to Silver City, New Mexico for a two million dollar prize... hilarious hijinx ensue.
  • Hidalgo is about a survival race across the desert.
  • Secretariat, the 2010 biopic about the legendary record-smashing thoroughbred that swept the U.S. Triple Crown in 1973.
  • The Peanuts film Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown.
  • In the documentary Truth In 24, the race in question is the 2008 24 Hours of Le Mans.

     Literature 
  • In Ben Hur, Lew Wallace's 1880 novel (adapted for stage and film), Judah Ben Hur and Messala play out their conflict in a famous Chariot Race.
  • National Velvet (1935 novel, 1944 film, and 1960s TV series) centers on a fourteen-year-old girl's effort to train a horse to win an endurance race.
  • Laura Hillenbrand's 2001 book Seabiscuit: An American Legend about the Depression-era underdog thoroughbred, which became a film in 2003.
  • Matthew Reilly's novel Hover Car Racer. Which is about hover car racing, funnily enough.
  • The Railway Series: The plot of "Thomas and Bertie" (Train vs. bus) and "Percy and Harold" (Train vs. helicopter).

    Live Action TV 

     Mythology 
  • The Greek heroine Atalanta long escaped marriage by defeating potential suitors in footraces. Meleager got help from the goddess Aphrodite in the form of three golden apples, which he threw at key points in the course to distract Atalanta so he could win.

    Pinball 
  • A side mode in Monopoly has you controlling Uncle Pennybags (in the car token) racing against the dog token. Shooting any target advances Pennybags, and a "power-up" can be obtained that shoots you ahead a bit.
  • "The Great Camel Race" from Tales of the Arabian Nights. The player must make key shots to help his steed pull ahead of the others.
  • Unsurprisingly, this is the point of Indianapolis 500, NASCAR, and Victory.
  • The "Crash and Burn" table in Epic Pinball.
  • Corvette has several Challenges, where the player and a sexy model race their corresponding Corvettes, as well as the Drag Race Video Mode.
  • The Rally Race and Drag Race modes in Stern Pinball's Mustang
  • In Full Throttle, the player must win a series of motorcycle races to become the World Champion.
  • "Desert Run" from Obsession Pinball is based on the Paris-Dakar cross-country desert rally.
  • Checkpoint has the player compete in a series of rally races around the world.

    Video Games 
  • Pretty much any Driving Game.
  • The Race segment of Mafia, which doubles as That One Level due to the game's car controls not really being suited for controlling racing cars.
  • Choro Q HG 4 has this as an actual plot and goal: Two friends are working from being the bottom to top racers.
  • The F-Zero franchise is all about races run by futuristic anti-gravity machines.

    Western Animation 
  • In Cars, Lightning McQueen is a stock car. The film climax occurs during a race.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has done this twice:
    • In the episode "Fall Weather Friends", Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight Sparkle participate in an annual race called the Running of the Leaves. Rainbow and Applejack are trying to prove who's the more athletic of the two. It turns out that they tie for last place because they focused on their rivalry instead the race. Twilight, on the other hand, ends up in fifth place.
    • In the episode "May the Best Pet Win!", Rainbow Dash holds a race through Ghastly Gorge because she wants a fast pet that can keep up with her, and she claims that the pet that crosses the finish line with her wins. It isn't one of the speedy birds that won the race that becomes her pet - it's the turtle that insisted on participating and saved Rainbow when her wing was trapped beneath a boulder and carries her across the finish line.
  • Wacky Races and expys Yogi's Space Race and The Fender Bender 500.
  • Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole competed in a race against an arrogant rooster, Hot Rodney. The rooster won the race, but Secret and Morocco got the last laugh.
  • Warner Bros. cartoons: Porky's Road Race and the triumvirant of Bugs Bunny-Cecil Turtle cartoons (Tortoise Beats Hare, Tortoise Wins By A Hare, Rabbit Transit).
  • The Recess episode "Kindergarten Derby" focuses on said derby, where the older kids each pick a kindergartener to sponsor for the race.
  • Sofia the First: One episode featured a race where first and second prizes were places at Royal Prep's derby Racing team. Sofia entered the race despite being told that sport was for Princes and not for Princesses.
  • The first episode of Budgie The Little Helicopter centers on a race between Budgie and Pippa.
  • The Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse TV special The Amaze Chase has Barbie and her gang compete in a reality show similar to The Amazing Race, in which they travel to different landmarks to complete various tasks.


Alternative Title(s):

Big Damn Race