Second only to the “Mammoth Car” episodes, my favorite Speed Racer storyline was “The Fire Race.” This was the one in which the writers decided that driving near active volcanoes was for pansies; why not drive through one?
It began, as so many professional races do, with an international border dispute. The League of Countries demanded that the tiny nation of Kapetepek open itself to visitors, but Chief Zuma was concerned (correctly, as it turned out) that doing so would invite thieves to steal its national treasures.
The argument was settled when it was decided that an auto race would be held. If the winner was an outsider, Zuma would open the borders, but if a Kapetepekan racer won, the country would remain isolated forever. Kapetepek was to be represented by the infamous Kabala, a driver so badass that his home was full of portraits of the racers he’d killed.
When the racers arrived, it was only then that they learned that the course would take them through an erupting volcano. The mountain blew its stack every 100 years like a lava-riffic Old Faithful, and by sheer coincidence, it was about to go off. Furthermore, the entrances would only remain open during the brief period of eruption, after which they would seal shut for another century. (How anyone was certain that there was a traversable passage through to the other side was left unexplained.)
As a bonus, the winning racer was to be given Chief Zuma’s smoking hot granddaughter Silvana in marriage. Neither Silvana nor Trixie was happy with this arrangement. Speed was noncommittal.
As the race began, Speed noticed that Racer X was nowhere to be seen. However, there was no time to ponder this, as he would have to maintain an average speed of 160 mph to escape the underground tunnel in time.
It turned out that the track wound its way through petrified forests and other strange sights. Stopped by an underground lake, the drivers were startled to see a sea monster emerging as the waters were sucked down in a whirlpool. However, the dinosaur was only a statue, which didn’t stop it from killing one of the racers when its head unexpectedly plopped off. Kabala shot through the legs of the collapsing sculpture, followed closely by the rest of the pack.
Things were further complicated, as usual, by the presence of a team of evil racers: treasure hunters led by Kadar. After whittling down the other competitors, most of them met their end thanks to an unexpectedly frisky vine plant. Kadar himself was done in when his car, overloaded with gold and jewels, failed to jump a pool of lava.
||Kadar gave one hell of a shoulder rub.
Prior to his demise, Kadar confronted Speed and Kabala in the ruins of an ancient palace. In the fracas, Kabala’s goggles fell off, and…
…was revealed to be Racer X. Wearing a mask. Over his regular mask. Racer X (who, as we recall, was secretly Speed’s older brother Rex, who ran away from home years ago) had pretended to be his old racing mentor, who had died some time earlier. The Masked Masked Racer wanted to preserve Kapetepek’s borders.
Speed, however, thought the whole thing was silly; he only cared about winning. And so, the race furiously continued with the two driving underneath the skeleton of the biggest fucking dinosaur ever.
As Trixie, Zuma and Silvana waited at the end of the course, the volcano erupted a second time. The only two survivors (out of an initial 96) drove for the closing exit…
In case you were wondering, Speed Racer did not end with Speed being buried underground for a hundred years, eventually dying in starvation and madness.
The race resulted in a tie, though Zuma was adamant that Kabala was the winner. In return, Speed revealed that Kabala was not Kabala. Racer X unmasked (well, one mask anyway) and said “I’ve risked my life to save your treasure. Now, you gentlemen must come to some agreement. Compromise. Open your borders to the world some of the time.”
And so, in the years to come, international jewel thieves poured into Kapetepek, but only some of the time.