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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.
  • 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, 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.

Examples of The Big Race include:

Anime and Manga


  • 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.
  • 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 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.

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 MASH focuses on a betting-heavy footrace between Father Mulcahy and a sprinter from another unit.


  • 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.

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.

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 so much on their rivalry rather than 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.
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