Remember that one day when you could wake up without an alarm? When you would get your favorite bowl of cereal and sit between the hours of 8 and 12? This is a blog dedicated to the greatest time of our childhood: Saturday mornings. The television programs you watched, the memories attached to them, and maybe introducing you to something you didn't realize existed. Updated every weekend.
Racers, start your
engines! CBS executive Fred Silverman sought to add comedy back into the
superhero-dominated Saturday morning line-up and commissioned Hanna-Barbera to
produce what would be the first of several race programs. Wacky Races featured a completely original cast of wacky characters
in equally wacky vehicles competing for the title of World’s Wackiest Racer
(think we have enough “wacky” in that one sentence?). Originally, the races
were to be part of a proposed live-action quiz show by Heatter-Quigley Productions in which contestants would bet on which Wacky Racer would win. The
quiz show was eventually scrapped, and the races developed to follow the
characters to various areas as they competed in impossible races fraught with
perils, both natural and by design.
Let’s meet the
In car #9 was Peter
Perfect (Daws Butler) in the Turbo Terrific. Peter was a good-looking gentleman
with an obvious crush on fellow racer Penelope Pitstop (Janet Waldo). He drove
a dragster that is anything but terrific as it was prone to falling apart in
the middle of a race.
In car #10 was Rufus
Ruffcut (Butler) and his pet beaver Sawtooth (Don Messick) in the Buzzwagon.
Rufus was a lumberjack whose theme carried over into his car, which was
basically a wooden contraption with buzz saw wheels that allowed him to cut
through most obstacles.
In car #6 was the
loud Sergeant Blast (Butler) and the meek Private Meekly (Paul Winchell) in the
Army Surplus Special. Two soldiers driving a tank/jeep/steamroller hybrid who
often used their cannon to give them an extra burst of power. Of course, the
cannon could fire more than just explosive shells.
In car #7 was the Ant
Hill Mob and their Bulletproof Bomb. The Mob consisted of seven pint-size (and
harmless) gangsters driving a 1920s limousine sedan. Often during races, they found
a need to evade the police who chase them for their various crimes.
In car #3 was Professor
Pat Pending (Messick) and his Convert-A-Car. This scientist’s car, which
resembled a boat-shaped airplane with car wheels, could transform into any kind
of vehicle or object and featured many defensive devices which were often used
to help other racers out of jams.
In car #5 was
Penelope Pitstop and the Compact Pussycat. This Southern Belle, clad in 1930s
racing gear, drove what was essentially a beauty parlor on wheels (whose
gadgets often malfunctioned). As the lone female in the race, the male racers were
often chivalrous to her, especially the aforementioned Peter Perfect. Penelope
was a last-minute addition to the show when producer Joseph Barbera realized that
there were no women in the cast and thought it would be beneficial to have one.
She was created within two hours by production designers Jerry Eisenberg and
In car #1, fresh from
the Stone Age, were the Slag Brothers in the Bouldermobile. Rock (Butler) and
Gravel (Messick) Slag were hairy cavemen who hit their stone car, or each
other, with their clubs in order to power it. Originally, there was meat to
only be one caveman but it was decided by Joe Barbera to have two of them
In car # 2 were the
Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe. The large Big (Butler) and diminutive vampire
Little (Messick) Gruesome were a horror-themed pair who drove an equally
horrific car. The Creepy Coupe was modeled after a 1920s hearse with a belfry,
in which all manner of creatures dwelled and could be summoned to aid in the
In car #4 was the Red
Max (Butler) in the Crimson Haybailer. A combination of the Red Baron and the
Blue Max, he drove a car/bi-plane hybrid capable of extremely limited flight
with a mounted machine gun that fired more than conventional bullets.
In car #8 were Luke
and his pet, Blubbler Bear (both John Stephenson), in the Arkansas Chugabug. A
hillbilly, Luke drove a “car” built from wood and powered by a pot-bellied
stove. Luke often drove half-asleep with his feet on the wheel while the
cowardly Blubber often lived up to his name.
And bringing up the
rear in #00, the Mean Machine, was Dick Dastardly (Winchell) and his dog
Muttley (Messick). The villainous pair stopped at nothing to ensure they would
finish first by using dirty tricks and schemes to either divert or stop the
other racers. However, these schemes often backfired and resulted in Dastardly
falling into last place. The irony was that if Dastardly had just raced the
races, he actually could have won as he was always head of the others to set
his diabolical traps.
Never accuse Dick Dastardly of being tack-less.
Last but not least
was the unseen character omnipresent in every episode: the narrator (Dave
Willock). The narrator was utilized to help move the plot along and save on
character exposition since the show dealt with so many. The narrator also
interacted with the characters often as each would break the fourth wall to
talk to him.
Concept sketch for the Creepy Coupe and the Gruesome Twosome.
The cars were all
designed by Eisenberg, utilizing both his imagination and recall about
something he might have seen before and putting them all together. Joe Barbera
would then look over the designs and either picked his favorite or combined
elements he liked from each design into one final one. Each car possessed
several special “modes” that allowed the racers to gain an edge on each other
in a comedic fashion. For instance, the Ant Hill Mob could shift into “getaway
mode” which included their lowering their feet to the ground and running to
give the car more speed.
Although no further episodes were produced, the show
became a springboard for future Hanna-Barbera projects. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop featuring Penelope and the Ant Hill
Mob and Dastardly and Muttley in Their
Flying Machines were both spun off from the show. Dastardly and Muttley
would later appear in 1985 on Yogi’s
Treasure Hunt. Muttley’s appearance and speech pattern were recycled for a
dog private-eye named Mumbly, who starred in the 1976 show The Mumbly Cartoon Show before going on to become a villain in Laff-A-Lympics. In 1977, the Slag
Brothers’ design was recycled and refined into Captain Caveman for Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels.
Blubber Bear would go on to appear in The
New Yogi Bear Show in 1988. Even the concept itself was reused in 1978’s Yogi’s Space Race, right down to having
a villain with a dog sidekick.
In 2006,Cartoon Network commissioned
a pilot calledWacky Races Foreverwhich
would feature updated versions of the Slag Brothers, Pat Pending, a teenaged
Gruesome Twosome, and the children of Penelope (Kath Soucie) and Peter (Jeff Bennett) racing against Dastardly (Jim Cummings) and Muttley as they aided a new villain, Mr. Viceroy
(Bennett), in trying to take over race sponsor Perfect Industries. The series,
however, was not picked up. Wacky Races would return in the 2016 comic mini-series Wacky Racelandby DC Comics. The series was part of a
reimagining of Hanna-Barbera properties and followed the racers through a
post-apocalyptic world as they raced for their lives under the control of the