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The Big Race

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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.
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  • 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 and Big Game. Nothing to do with racial stereotypes.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Speed Racer and its various adaptations, including the film.
  • Future GPX Cyber Formula. Taken to ridiculous levels in the TV series, where it features crazy courses like ice grounds, and one race even takes place on the Grand Canyon.
  • Part 7 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run, features the eponymous Steel Ball Run. The race is a horserace across America from California to New York, with a prize in the millions of dollars and the most gifted jockeys and horseriders of the world gathering to claim the prize. Being Jojo, the race is revealed to be a setup for a grander and weirder plot. Featuring Stands and the corpse of Jesus.
  • Scramble Wars transplants characters from series including Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force into a world of Wacky Racing.
  • IGPX: Immortal Grand Prix
  • Dash! Yonkuro
  • Bakusou Kyoudai Let's And Go!
  • Arrow Emblem: Grand Prix no Taka.
  • Transformers Cybertron: The big race tournament on Velocitron for the Planet Cup trophy (Which is held to determine who is the planet's ruler), which is in fact one of the four Cyber Planet Keys. Given how many Transformers turn into cars, such a plot had to happen at some point.
  • There are a number on instances of these in Dr. Slump.
  • One of these happens in +Anima where the eponymous +Anima race through a canyon. Said race reveals that +Anima will eventually lose their Anima.
  • The very first episode of the Tamagotchi anime series is about Mametchi participating in a race where there are several events placed along the way that the racers have to complete to move on.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: The Season 2 finale, "Race of Champions", is about the heroes participating in a car race. Big M., the show's villain, naturally tries to screw them over during the race.
  • Episode 241 of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf has the goats participating in a dragon boat race. The wolves go into the giant Chinese tamale serving as the prize for winning the race, hoping that the goats will win so that they can pop out of the tamale when the goats take it home with them.
  • Simple Samosa:
    • "Buntantra Divas" is about the gang preparing for the "Bun Pratigotiya", an annual race where the participants ride buns down a trail of butter.
    • "Dhakkad Race" has Jalebi and the rest of the gang racing in the Dakkad Rally monster truck race.

    Comic Books 
  • The Archie's RC Racers plotline was a cross-country RC car race between Archie and Reggie's teams, with Mr. Weatherbee, Ms. Grundy and Svenson as chaperones. Technically, the race ended in a tie, but since the pets of both teams were unwittingly riding the cars, the prizes were donated to an animal support foundation. A subplot was dealing with Beach Blanket Babbette, who owned a rival electronics company and wanted to stop the race so she could Start My Own.
  • Asterix and the Chariot Race is about a chariot race through Italy, which Asterix and Obelix participate in.
  • The first Clem Hetherington book has the titular Ironwood race, in which, for four days, teams of archaeologists gather in the desert to race in cars and dig up four artifacts hidden by Brecht Ironwood.
  • Teen Titans Go!: Kid Flash versus Más y Menos in Issue #34.
  • There have been many comics over the years in which Superman races The Flash. Mostly it's a tie, but sometimes they figure that since Flash's only power is being "the fastest man alive", he should probably actually be that.
  • An issue of Quasar had a cosmic race between all Marvel's speedster characters ... which was won by a man from another universe, in the remnants of a red and yellow costume, who thought his name might be something like "Buried Alien".
  • Varmints has the Crooked Butte Dirtbag Derby. The prize is a meeting with the local crime king, Pa.

    Films — Animation 
  • Cars:
    • In the original movie, Lightning McQueen is a stock car. The film's climax occurs during a race.
    • Cars 2 uses an international race as a backdrop for a James Bond-inspired Mistaken for Spies plot.
    • Cars 3 uses the Florida 500 as the major final battle during the climax. Lightning has to win this race or he’ll have to retire from racing forever.
    • The spin-off film, Planes has the Wings Around the Globe Rally that Dusty participates in.
  • The Peanuts film Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown has the boys and the girls participate against a trio of bullies in a raft race down the river at Camp Remote.
  • The Random Roster Race from the Sugar Rush game in Wreck-It Ralph. This is a crucial plot in the movie, as Vanellope has to win not only for Ralph to retrieve his medal from the Hero's Duty game (which she had mistaken for a coin to pay the entry fee), but Turbo, under the alias of King Candy, had reprogrammed the game to make Vanellope a glitch so he could rule. If Vanellope passes the finish line, the game will reset and everything will be back to normal.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • In the documentary Truth in 24, the race in question is the 2008 24 Hours of Le Mans.
  • Bite The Bullet is about a 700 mile horse race in the latter years of The Wild West.
  • In Just the Way You Are, Susan participates in a race for skiers with broken legs. All the other racers wipe out, usually within a few dozen feet of the starting line. Susan wins the race by moving as slowly as possible and being the only person to make it to the finish line.

  • 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.
  • Master of the World, a thriller by Jules Verne, features a big automobile race in Wisconsin.
  • 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.
  • Pugs of the Frozen North has The Race To The Top Of The World, which spans the distance between Sika's village and the Snowfather's palace. Whoever wins the race will have their wish granted.
  • 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).
  • The Great Balloon Race, a 1976 children's book by Belgian author/illustrator Gommaar Timmermans.
  • Run with the Wind is a Japanese novel (adapted into a manga, movie, stage play and anime) that follows an inexperienced university track team's efforts to try compete at Hakone Ekiden, a prestigious university relay marathon event held every year in Japan.
  • The Race is about a coast-to-coast airplane race taking place when fixed-wing aviation is in its infancy (1909). One of the entrants has just left her husband and the protagonist must protect her from him during the race.
  • The plot of "The Hare and the Pineapple" is that the pineapple challenges the hare to a major race, twenty-six miles, which takes even the fast-moving hare two hours to complete.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In one episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Tom and B'Elanna participate in a race with the Delta Flyer.
  • Stargate SG-1 had the season 7 episode "Space Race", with Colonel Carter as guest engineer on another planet's ship.
  • One episode of M*A*S*H focuses on a betting-heavy footrace between Father Mulcahy and a sprinter from another unit.
    • The episode with the MASH Olympics had several different kinds of races, including a race on crutches, a nurse-carrying race and an obstacle course as the final race.
  • Married... with Children: Al enters the Senior Olympics (while not old enough to qualify), and the final event is a footrace.
  • The Dukes of Hazzard had more than a few of them over the course of the series.
  • The Amazing Race is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • The How I Met Your Mother episode "Subway Wars" has the gang discover that Woody Allen has been spotted at a restaurant downtown and decide to go there to see him. They then get into a discussion about the fastest way to cross the city note  and hold a race to see whose method works best. Robin wins, but "Woody Allen" turns out to be Maury Povich.
  • In the Barney & Friends episode "Movement", the children invite the title character to join them for the potato sack race so BJ and Baby Bop decide he'll need their help. They show him several ways to get ready for the big race by warming up and stretching. By the end of the day, everyone finds out that there are many fun ways to exercise.
  • The episode “Jag-athon” in JAG is about a 10k charity run in which old rivalries resurface and wagers are made.
  • Curfew featured one that lasted most of the first season. The race is run all night from London to Scotland with first prize being a one-way trip to the organizer's private island and sanctuary from the oppressive government and monsters that plague the country.

     Myths & Religion 
  • 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.

  • In The Adventure Zone: Balance, this is the plot of the third arc, Petals to the Metal.
  • The third segment of the Twilight Histories episode “The Moon” is set in a world where the Space Race ended in a tie when America and the Soviet Union landed on the Moon at the same time in 1955. Since then, the two nations compete in a literal space race each year. The winner gets to determine lunar policy for the next lunar year.

  • 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.
  • Pro Pinball: Big Race USA. Exactly what this game is.

    Video Games 
  • Virtually any Racing Game with a plot, as well as most Driving Games in general.
  • 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. The original F-Zero and X have minimal plot so they barely count, but GX does have a story mode where races are important, particularly the one pictured as the page image.
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: Homestar Ruiner is all about Strong Bad facing off against Homestar in the Race to the End of the Race, a weird obstacle course race. Playing as Strong Bad, you have to sabotage the race to ensure first that Homestar doesn't win, and then that he does.
  • The Saboteur has two:
    • The first is an early mission where Sean must enter and win a Grand Prix race in Germany. The race ends when the German champion shoots out Sean's tire and makes him crash.
    • The second has Sean enter another Grand Prix race in Paris. This time, his car is laden with explosives so he can take out the Nazi high command.

    Web Original 
  • The The Crew of the Copper-Colored Cupids short story The Multi-Dimensional Race obviously features such a race as its main showpiece; it is, in this case, organized by the respective Sole Survivors of two races of aliens who have been at war for generations, as a way to finally, finally have a winner and call it a day. The protagonist is drafted in by the two as the judge.

    Western Animation 
  • 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 Wild Chase is the inevitable Road Runner/Speedy Gonzales matchup.
  • 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.
  • Tom and Jerry: The Fast and the Furry has Tom and Jerry racing around the world, with the prize for winning the race being a mansion.
  • Stunt Dawgs: One episode features a relay race between the Stunt Dawgs and the Stunt Scabs where five members from each team use their vehicles and the winning team gets ten million dollars. The Dawgs intend to donate the prize to a charity that helps homeless kids.
  • Ready Jet Go!:
    • In the episode "Kid-Kart Derby", Jet races against Mitchell in the annual Boxwood Terrace Kids' Soapbox Derby.
    • The episode "Space Race" has Celery racing against her brother Zucchini.
  • The first episode of Ni Hao, Kai-Lan, "Dragonboat Festival", is about the gang participating in a race where they row dragon boats to Dragon Lagoon, where they get to meet Mr. Dragon.
  • Care Bears (1980s) has an episode called "The Great Race" about the Care Bears and cousins participating in a race, and Beastly participating in it and trying to win himself.
  • PAW Patrol has a Movie "READY, RACE, RESCUE" where Marshall is competing against the Cheetah in the Adventure Bay 500 & Around the World Road Rally.
    • Has the episode "Pups Great Race" where the Paw Patrol and Alex Porter race around Adventure Bay.
  • In the Little Bear episode "Little Bear's Sweet Tooth", the sack race is the first game of the Harvest Day picnic. Mitzi cheats by swinging on the trees and is disqualified so Owl and Emily's Granny teach her a lesson. After this, the winners are Cat and Emily.
  • In the Jelly Jamm episode "A Day at the Races", Bello, Goomo, Mina, Rita, and the King all compete in a simple race where they have to reach the finish line in their vehicles. The King cheats by distracting the other racers so that he can get ahead of them, and he also makes fun of them in the process.
  • The Owl House episode "Eda's Requiem" has Luz and King training for the Gland Prix (basically a Flying Broomstick race between the three Wizarding Schools) as the b-plot, with them hoping to use the first prize reward of a TV interview to get a message out to King's Disappeared Dad.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Big Damn Race


Ready Jet Go!

Sean, Mindy and Mitchell compete in the annual Boxwood Terrace Kids' Soapbox Derby.

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Example of:

Main / TheBigRace

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Main / TheBigRace