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"The pod race in the film suffers from a common trope, in which characters needing to go somewhere really fast head off in their vehicle. At some point they realise they're not going to make it in time, so they open the throttle all the way and go even faster. The question of course being why weren't they going as fast as they possibly could already?"
Darths & Droids Episode 105, Burning Bridges

A character needs to drive somewhere quickly. Maybe they're in a car race, or maybe they're just racing against time. At one point, they realize they're not going to make it in time. So they... go faster. Huh? Why didn't they just drive that fast to begin with?

Odd as it may seem, this unexplained increase in speed can have some basis in reality. It can be simplified as a cost vs. benefit decision. If somebody has 'nothing to lose' and must be somewhere at a certain time then they have to speed up - BUT - if they push their machine too hard it will fail before they get there. If they had backed off slightly, then it could have broken down after they had arrived. In a race a driver will hold back simply because there's a notable difference between "the fastest they can drive" and "the fastest they can continuously drive without wear and tear completely destroying the engine halfway through the race". Smart drivers limit themselves to the latter, and use the engine-wrecking speeds in short bursts—or for those desperate final laps.

Fuel consumption is also a potential problem. Having to find out where to refuel in the middle of some prairie or ocean is not a way to get to destination ASAP. Running out of propellant halfway to the next planet and thus unable to decelerate is not a good idea either. The cost of fuel, oil (or Helium-3, or whatever) and repairs is also a factor. In most cases engines are supposed to work much longer than one or two rides and generally engines aren't so cheap that the cost of damaging one could be disregarded without a really good reason.

Then there are Nitro Boost systems, which are of limited duration by definition, and speed limits. On normal roads, a driver may initially be unwilling to flagrantly violate the speed limit—and risk bringing the ire of the police down on them—until they get really desperate.

Finally, it might be a matter of safety. Crashing and burning is not an effective way to reach a destination, and the driver may initially only be going as fast as they feel comfortable going... until they realize it's not enough, and they just have to risk it.

Of course, in spite of the risks associated with such insane speed, it almost invariably results in victory for our protagonist, rather than catastrophic engine breakdown in the penultimate lap. Ludicrous Speed laughs at your puny physics and mechanical stress limits!

And of course, there are some instances—say, short drag races—where this trope makes absolutely no sense no matter how you slice it.

If the villain does this, don't worry. Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat, every time.

A Sub-Trope of Holding Back the Phlebotinum and Miracle Rally when it's in a race. A Sister Trope of Tim Taylor Technology, and the mechanical equivalent of a Dangerous Forbidden Technique. If it involves the risk of a catastrophic failure, it's Explosive Overclocking.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In The Vision of Escaflowne, when Van, Allen and Hitomi are escaping Zaibach's capital on Escaflowne (which transforms into a dragon for flying) they are pursued by Zaibach's mechas which are much faster. As they're closing in and a panicked Van is urging Escaflowne to fly faster, it suddenly transforms to reveal a jet engine and shoots forward at Ludicrous Speed.
  • During the final race in Initial D, Takumi is forced to over-rev his AE86 to keep up against his opponent. This ultimately causes engine failure and spins the car out of control on the last stretch of the race. He just barely wins by depressing the culch and reversing the car with its own momentum.
    • Notably the series points out some of the real life the limitations of this trope. AE86 doesn't go faster when it's over-reving, rather Takumi uses this to gain more flexibility when he's changing between gears.
  • During the Final Battle of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Fate T. Harlaown, whose fighting style is already based around her Super-Speed, reveals the ultimate mode of her Barrier Jacket (essentially, Magical Girl-themed Powered Armor), the True Sonic Form, which allows her to move faster than even top-of-the-line combat cyborgs can track her. Its activation phrase even starts with an "Overdrive" command. The reason why she doesn't use it all the time, however, becomes apparent soon thereafter: with all of the Jacket's energy pumped into speed, it offers all the physical protection of a wet tissue.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Half Life: Full Life Consequences, John Freeman's reaction to his brother being in mortal danger is to try to reach him by going "fast" on his motorcycle. And then events happen that cause him to go "faster", three times. Even though it was established that he was in a huge hurry and didn't have time to waste. So, basically, he felt his brother wasn't in that much danger at first.
    • But at the end of chapter 2, Gordon does berate him for getting there slow, as he is now a zombie ghost goast.
    • And in that same chapter it's established that John Freeman has another, faster motorcycle, which was unfortunately out of gas in the first chapter. How it was refilled in-between is a mystery.
  • In the Final Fantasy fan fic "Cid Wars", the characters are at one point trying to get somewhere by van, and each time someone said they needed to go faster, the driver upshifted. This happened a total of eight times, complete with one of the characters asking "Just how many gears does this van have?"

  • Star Wars:
    • The Phantom Menace: The podrace. Sometimes Anakin passes other racers with ease, and other times he keeps pace with Sebulba over long straightaways. It also genuinely makes zero sense that he wasn't going as fast as he could to begin with, considering how he started the race in last place due to engine failure and his freedom was on the line. Explained in the spin-off videogame: The engines can't run at full power for very long before they begin to overheat, and once their temperature passes the redline they will very quickly seize up, catch fire or otherwise fail catastrophically.
    • The Empire Strikes Back: As shown in this film, the Millennium Falcon is a noteworthy aversion: The reason her hyperdrive conks out at the worst possible time so often is that it's been hot-rodded six ways from Sunday and is almost permanently in the "overdrive" state, with very little margin of error between "overdrive" and "something important just overloaded and burned out".
  • Cars is a rare subversion of the "more speed always works'' aspect of the trope: Lightning McQueen gains a whole lap on Chick Hicks and The King by skipping several pit stops—then both of his rear tires blow out in the final lap, and the race ends in a three-way tie.
  • In Galaxy Quest, the overdrive blows-out after being held down too long, leaving the ship nearly crippled.
  • The protagonist of My Science Project, a car mechanic by hobby, has a supercharger equipped on his car, which he uses to outrace an energy surge (just go with it) racing down power lines, to cut off the Imported Alien Phlebotinum device before it gets more power to warp time and space even further than it had already done to that point.
  • Done with a horse at the end of True Grit. Rooster Cogburn rides a horse so hard and fast that it eventually dies just short of his destination.
  • In the film Fail Safe (think Dr. Strangelove played for drama), in order to catch up to a bomber with a nuke which is about to destroy Moscow, a group of pursuing US fighter jets are ordered to use their afterburners to increase speed, even though everyone knows that they'll just run out of fuel early and crash in the ocean.
  • Spaceballs has "Ludicrous Speed", an even-faster-than-regular-Faster-Than-Light speed mode for Spaceball One that is used to try to catch up with the heroes. The problem is that it's so fast that it overshoots the heroes and anything not tied or nailed down inside of the ship is violently thrown around with the immense G-forces of the acceleration and instant stop.
  • Pushing one's car too hard is a central point in Ford V Ferrari, and in endurance racing in general. The Ford GT40 was designed with reliability in mind so it could be pushed closer to its redline throughout the long hours of its races. This is emphasized at the 24 Hours of Le Mans (in the film) by Carrol Shelby defying the orders of the Ford executives, which were not to push the cars too hard. Shelby tells driver Ken Miles (via a sign): "7000+ GO LIKE HELL", or in other words, not to be afraid to push the car past 7000 rpm. Later during the race, Miles winds up in a speed battle with one of the Ferraris, both pushing their cars to the redline. The Ferrari eventually blows its engine, and Miles goes on to finish the race.

  • In James Blish's Cities in Flight novels, the cities of the title can fly at faster-than-light speeds, but they're all equipped with a gadget called "Situation N" which can instantly teleport them away from trouble. Only thing is, it can only ever be used once per city.
  • Military warships in Honor Harrington series has a version, though with acceleration rather than top speed. The inertial compensator that allows the crew to survive the hundreds of gravities their drives are capable off is normally only run to 80% of its theoretical maximum capacity to reduce wear and reduce the risk of failure. It can be run higher in emergency situations but is not recommended because if it fails you have precisely zero seconds of warning and then the entire crew is reduced to a red smear. This has happened "on screen," too— though less times than it probably should have, given the stated risk and the number of time's it's been chanced.
    • A similar situation exists with the hyper generators that allow FTL but it is much rarer. The option to take the inertial compensator to full power is built in but to run the hyper generator requires physically disabling the safeties. The effect of trying to go into higher levels hyperspace and failing is described as "bouncing."
    • In the end the situation is like the Space Shuttle, the actual safe speed is higher than listed. Over time Manticore finds they can push their compensators (after upgrades based on Grayson's less refined but fundamentally superior type of compensator) much higher than listed, and that 80% of that is hopelessly cautious. Solarian technology isn't so robust; a Solly Admiral is thought to be bold by Solly Standards to seek 85% in a battle.
    • And all this is before considering that the Manticorans typically limit themselves even further in peacetime so as not to tip potential enemies off about their capabilities before they actually have to fight them.
  • Deconstruction in the Sword of Truth, where it turns out that your horses do have a maximum output. You can push them past that... and you'll run them into the ground. Later in the series they start taking extra horses so that they can switch them out and avoid the negative aspects of this trope.
  • In the Robert A. Heinlein short story "Sky Lift", the pilots of a continuous-boost "torch ship" are forced to maintain multiple-G acceleration, right at the edge of their physical tolerance, for days while rushing to deliver medical supplies to a colony facing an epidemic. They succeed, but one dies and the other is prematurely aged by the experience, leaving him permanently physically impaired and with cognitive problems very similar to senility.
  • In The Last Continent, when Mad is being chased by the road gang in his armoured cart, he feeds the horses a mixture of oats and lizard glands, which he calls the "supercharger". At least one reason he doesn't use it regularly is because the horses become almost impossible to stop, or indeed steer. It's probably also not healthy for the horses to take it too often.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek was a frequent offender. The Original Series played this completely straight. The Next Generation explained that speeds beyond Warp 5 damage the fabric of space-time. ...Then a new warp engine was invented that didn't damage space-time, completely erasing the prior justification.
    • At least in TNG and later the energy requirement grew exponentially with the speed, thus if the matter wasn't urgent, they went slower to conserve fuel.
    • In The Wounded, the matter is very urgent, yet they decide to go Warp 4 so that the writers can have them step on the gas later when things go really bad.
  • Super Pursuit Mode in Knight Rider. This is explained by a simple application of physics: aerodynamic downforce reduces the vehicle's speed, since the air resistance of the vehicle is increased (there's more surface area for the wind to hit). What Super Pursuit Mode accomplishes is increasing K.I.T.T.'s maneuverability at high speeds, thus preventing Michael from wrapping K.I.T.T. around a power polenote . The game makes this point, too. Your maximum speed is decreased a bit, but it's much easier to steer.
  • Hyperthrust in Street Hawk allowed the bike to run at 300 mph, but since no human could safely drive through the city at such speed, it required Mission Control to program the route on a computer. Wherever traffic was too dense, there was no safe route and therefore no hyperthrust.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech's BattleMechs can be equipped with myomer acceleration signal circuitry (MASC for short), which when active provides about a 33% boost to maximum speed by making the 'Mech's artificial leg muscles contract that much faster. There is, however, always a chance that the added strain will result in internal leg damage, and this chance increases rapidly if the system is used over multiple turns in a row, wherefore it's useful primarily to provide short emergency bursts of speed. An alternative — and incompatible — approach involves using special extra-strong myomer fibers in the first place; unfortunately, those require the 'Mech to run hot enough for its weapons to start to incur to-hit penalties before their performance exceeds that of the normal version. (To make the most of these 'triple-strength myomers', a 'Mech's heat level should ideally stay at exactly 9 — no lower, no higher, on a scale from 0 to 30 — for extended periods.)
    • Aerospace Fighters from the same game have Overthrust, which gives similar advantages and disadvantages to Real Life Afterburners. You can increase your speed 4-5 times over normal, but burn twice as much fuel and start rapidly heating up.

    Video Games 
  • Boost in the Motorstorm series works this way. You have an unlimited supply of Boost, but using it heats up your engine. if you don't lay off the boost, or drive through water to cool your engine down, it will blow out your engine, respawning you near last place.
  • Romancing SaGa: Minstrel Song has Hasten Time and Overdrive, the ultimate Hydrology spells. Casting one of these babies lets the user instantly end the enemy's turn and either give themselves and all their allies a free turn to act — or act five times in a row themselves, without any fear of interruption. However, the spell's big drawback is that it's a major drain on your MP, especially in Overdrive... is it worth having your caster attack five times uninterrupted when it will then take them several turns to recover?
  • Star Wars Episode I: Racer makes the engines overheat and burst into flames if Boost Mode is not turned off before too long, which can result in your engines deteriorating (which nicely explains why Anakin wasn't boosting the whole time in the film). And unless you pay for the rather expensive repairs, you'll start the next race with a half-broken engine. In the sequel, Revenge, your engines won't catch fire anymore, but boosting while overheated will constantly damage your engines, leaving you vulnerable to being knocked out if you hit a wall or get attacked by another racer until you take time to repair the damage, which often will cost you more speed than the prolonged boost gave you in the first place.
  • Similarly, in F-Zero (from F-Zero X onwards), you can boost whenever you want after the first lap, but doing so drains your health. Boosting in a pit area is essentially free, but cuts down on the amount of time you can spend there to repair any other damage.
  • An armor attachment in Dogyuun allows the player to move very quickly as long as they hold down button 2, with no drawbacks whatsoever. However, moving around too quickly will make it more likely for you to crash into enemies or bullets.
  • Driving at max speed in Baja: Edge of Control is not recommended, as it will cause the truck's radiator to begin to fail (along with your suspension being repeatedly crushed going over jumps at 100mph); The AI can be seen driving at less than max power most of the time to protect their engines, which is critical in the long point-to-point rally tracks.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • When Metal Sonic falls too far behind in the race with him in Sonic the Hedgehog CD, he'll overclock his systems to trigger a move called the "V. Maximum Overdrive Attack", which greatly increases his speed and surrounds him in a destructive energy field. Supplementary materials explain that this technique places enough of a strain on Metal's body that prolonged use could cause him to self-destruct.
    • The battle with Metal Sonic in the console version of Sonic Generations is a prime example of the overclocking putting a strain on Metal's systems; after using the Overdrive to either attempt to ram Sonic or call down lightning, Metal will be seen smoking and trying to recover, giving Sonic the opportunity to attack. On his last hit, Metal charges up a much longer Overdrive that Sonic has to slow down by making Metal ram through a floating platform, and then deliver the final blow with one well-timed spin jump as Metal's energy field flickers out.
  • The Mario Party and Mario Party 2 mini-game "Slot Car Derby" punishes players who maintain the maximum speed for too long on tight turns by making the car spin around for a second and have to accelerate from zero again. A common strategy is to ease off on the analog stick just before this happens, watching for the puffs of smoke that serve as a warning, then pump it back to maximum the very next second. "Slot Car Derby" returns in the second game, which also has "Filet Relay", where players dressed as penguins can mash the A button to move faster, but will wobble and fall over if they go too fast.
  • The Armored Core series has Over Boost, which allows an Armored Core to move much faster than normal by consuming enormous amounts of energy. Depending on the title, it may also overheat the AC or consume Primal Armor, leaving you with paper-thin defenses once you arrive at your destination.
  • MechWarrior Living Legends's various Nitro Boost systems - MASC on battlemechs, afterburners on aerospace fighters, and turbo on treaded/wheeled tanks - all generate excess heat when used. Aerospace fighters have the most extreme heat generation, to the point where it's easy for them to melt their own fusion reactor while trying to flee danger, whereas most tanks can boost almost indefinitely. On community-made race maps, players have to handle both their heat (doubly so if it's weapons-live racing) and stay on the track; not too difficult on most tanks, very difficult on the Hover Tanks which have heat-free boost, but are highly unstable and prone to flipping and sliding off the track.


    Western Animation 
  • Used in the pilot episode of TaleSpin. Up until then, the overdrive existed, and it was clearly stated that you could only use it for so long before the engine overheated and blew up the Sea Duck. Baloo burned it out forever and ever during the episode; it's just as well, so we couldn't complain about him not using it in future episodes.
  • Played for Laughs in Spongebob Squarepants, where in one of his attempts to steal a Krabby Patty, Plankton shouts "You'll never catch me Krabs! Not after I shift into MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE!". Since his machine is about a foot tall, this doesn't even take him out of Krabs' arm range.
    Plankton: ...I knew I should've gotten the turbo.

    Real Life 
  • The term "Overdrive" in Real Life simply means the output spins faster than the input. Nothing more, nothing less. In a car, this reduces engine speed for a given road speed, reducing fuel consumption. Every car will, in fact, be slower in an overdrive gear than in direct drive or underdrive as the engine will be at a mechanical disadvantage and have to work harder to achieve the same acceleration. Yes, the wheels can spin faster, giving a theoretical high top speed, but in Overdrive, the engine may not have the torque to accelerate to those speeds. This is exactly why your car's transmission, automatic or manual, has low gears in the first place.
  • Many World War II-era fighter aircraft featured an engine setting called "War Emergency Power". It was intended for emergency use in combat and normally had a time limit imposed on its use, as it would wear out the engine in a very short time. WEP appeared in many forms; some aircraft engines simply had the capacity to run at power levels that would overstress their own components. In these cases, a piece of tape was inserted to stop the throttle at the maximum safe setting; if the tape was broken, the engine would need to be inspected after the flight. Other aircraft implemented WEP through the use of consumable additives. Nitrous oxide injection would cool the fuel/air charge (allowing more fuel and air to enter the cylinder on each cycle) as well as providing additional oxygen at high altitude. A few aircraft were designed for the stress of nitro injection, and were limited only by the onboard supply of nitrous. Water or water/methanol injection provided a lesser version of the same effect, but also cooled the engine and allowed it to operate beyond its radiator's normal capacity.
    • A handful of civilian aircraft — often those intended for "bush aviation" — also possess an "Emergency Power" setting. It's facetiously said to provide "just enough power to get you to the scene of the crash."
  • The Space Shuttle's main engines were designed for a certain maximum normal output, rated as 100%, but can run at up to 110% thrust in emergency abort situations. After a few flights it was determined that 104% was safe for continuous operation, and it was easier to routinely go to 104% than to rewrite all the documentation to make that the new 100%.
  • Most modern fighter aircraft are equipped with equipment variously known as afterburners (US), reheat (Brit), or forsazh (Rus). This system dumps additional fuel into the exhaust manifold in order to burn any oxygen that was not consumed in the main stage of the engine. This can greatly (~160%) boost the thrust at the cost of extreme fuel consumption; afterburners can empty the multi-ton fuel tanks of a jet fighter in less than 5 minutes. Go really fast if you have to, but do it too long and you'd better be ready to walk home.
    • Averted in some planes (like the SR-71 Blackbird) that are designed for high efficiency during afterburn; you can have your engines spittin' flame for as long as there's fuel available, and everything will be ok. The downside is that they are horribly inefficient when not afterburning. The Blackbird also burned a special fuel, which meant its operating costs followed the plane itself into the stratosphere.
    • Afterburners also come with a side effect of a massive thermal signature. This negates a stealth aircraft's stealth by making it visible to thermal sensors, and in general makes it much easier for heat seeking munitions to find their mark even with countermeasures. Modern stealth planes, such as the F-22, utilize a technology known as "supercruise" to travel at supersonic speeds without resorting to their fuel-guzzling afterburners.
  • The US destroyer USS Samuel B. Roberts managed to do this during the Battle of Samar, by ordering the engine crew to push the twin boilers as hard as they would go. This managed to add 5 knots to the speed of the ship while it was under fire, going from the rated 23-24 knots (that the engines were said to max out at) to 28.7 knots. The ship was sunk by gunfire from a Japanese battleship during the battle, and managed to earn itself the title "the destroyer escort that fought like a battleship."
    • Considering the captain had already made an announcement to the crew of "We're making a torpedo run. The outcome is doubtful, but we will do our duty.", they knew the ship's remaining lifespan was measured in dozens of minutes, and didn't care one bit about doing something which would destroy the turbines in a few hours.
    • US Navy slang for the above action is "All ahead Bendix." The ship's speed is controlled by a device which was often made by the Bendix company and their logo was just beyond the maximum setting, so it appeared that "Bendix" was an option for higher speed.
  • Many other vehicles, both civilian and military, have a "red line" power setting which represents the maximum power available without immediately damaging the engine, and a lower "yellow line" setting which is the maximum safe cruise setting. For example, the manual for the Turbomeca Arrius 1A (a turbine engine used in helicopters) lists a maximum continuous power of 296 kW, an intermediate contingency rating of 357 kW (120% normal) usable for up to 30 minutes, and an emergency maximum for 2.5 minutes of 388 kW (131% normal). Most aircraft have a "never-exceed speed" listed in their specifications that's some way below their theoretical maximum, to provide a safety margin against excessive airframe stress.
    • The original VW Beetle is an exception in that it could safely operate all the way to the red line; in The '50s, when it was normal for a small car to have a top speed in the range of 70 MPH, the company used this as a selling point.
    • Many cars have an aerodynamically-limited top speed, creating a situation where the engine looks like it ought to be able to take you faster, but it doesn't have enough torque to accelerate you.
  • For many steam engines, going over a certain amount of power required locking down the automatic valves that were designed to keep the engine from producing more pressure than it could handle. Lock them down for a short while, and your ship gets a bit more power and speed. Do it too long, and you might cause the engine to explode, or overstress some other component connected to the engine and cause it to break.
  • The RMS Carpathia was a transatlantic passenger steam ship that responded to the Titanic's distress call shortly after midnight on April 15th, 1912. Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, who had been awakened by the ship's wireless operator with news of the distress call, ordered all engineers and engine stokers out of bed and on duty in order to "make all possible speed to the Titanic" before he had the chance to get dressed. He then cut power to most of the Carpathia's heating and hot water facilities, diverting nearly all of the ship's steam output into the engines. While technically rated at 15.5 knots, Carpathia had not once exceeded a top speed of 14 knots since her shakedown cruise a decade before that fateful night. Dashing through the frigid Atlantic night towards the Titanic 58 nautical miles away, dodging ice and navigating freak weather conditions that made the sea even more treacherous, the Carpathia reached a speed of 17.5 knots. She arrived at the last known location of the Titanic at 3:30 am on April 15th. Half an hour later, she found the first of the lifeboats. 705 of the Titanic's original 2,208 passengers were brought aboard the Carpathia. No other ship would arrive in time to find survivors.
  • When done to computers, it is called Overclocking. This makes the computer faster, but also generates more heat and can cause hardware errors or even ruin the CPU if performed incorrectly.
  • Humans (and many other animals) can do something like this. Between adrenaline increasing blood pressure to move more oxygen and fuel to muscle cells, and muscle cells over-performing at the potential cost of both tearing themselves apart and overheating to death, normal humans can manage to lift cars and outrun sprinters under duress. The reason your average person doesn't perform like an Olympian all the time? They would die very quickly if they kept that over-performance up for longer than a few hours, at best.
  • Direct Current electric motors have a natural "balancing speed" where the applied voltage equals the counter-Voltage produced by the rotor itself turning in a magnetic field. A mode of operation known as "shunt" activates additional diverter resistances in parallel with the field winding, reducing the strength of the counter-Voltage and allowing the motor to turn even faster.