After years of Ferrari-dominated tedium, the period from 2008-2011 saw significant rule changes for Formula 1 leading to some of the most interesting seasons ever. Formula 1 boss, Bernie "Bilbo" Ecclestone quickly realised the commercial possibilities of removing all rules. He proposed taking Formula 1 from its traditional race-circuit home and back onto the streets of the world. He also proposed extending the races from three hours to several days with each Grand Prix being a two stage, cross-country rally of a whole continent, thereby increasing the likelihood of overtaking and, coincidentally, potential advertising revenue.
Pit bosses across Formula 1 were outraged and within days the chief engineers of both Honda and Toyota had committed ritual suicide on Japanese Children's television, while Renault bosses had shrugged dismissively and Ferrari boss, Stefano Domenicali, complained that the changes were aimed at them.
The Australian Grand Prix
By the beginning of March all the remaining teams had withdrawn from Formula 1, claiming that Ecclestone's plans were "deranged and dangerous". Ecclestone insisted that deranged and dangerous was just how race-fans liked it, but with only weeks remaining he found himself with no contestants and it seemed like he would have to give in.Just days before the restructured Australian Grand Prix, Ecclestone made perhaps the most daring move of his entire career, signing up 11 new teams last seen by the public in the mid 1970s. With little time for testing and qualifying, F1 bosses insisted that the teams line up on the grid in order of their original car numbers. And the world was treated to a front row last seen in September 1968
Owner Driver of Car No. 00, Dick Dastardly insisted that mathematically zero was the lowest number amongst the eleven cars and consequently he should start from pole position. The Slag Brothers countered that they were prepared to take Dastardly's point on board and that, if he'd care to be introduced to their friends Mr Club, Mr Cosh and Mr Assault-with-a-Blunt-Instrument, they would debate it further. Before the argument could escalate, the cooling system of the Mean Machine malfunctioned, the motor overheated and burst into flames.
As the other teams roared out of Dog Swamp, Perth, Dastardly and co-driver Muttley were still struggling to fit a new Saturn V engine, eventually roaring through the green light three hours behind the rest of the field. Nevertheless, Dastardly remained confident that the rocket engine would be ideally suited to the long straight roads of Western Australia. Within fifteen minutes he had passed the Slag Brothers, the limitations of the Bouldermobile's primitive propulsion system being cruelly exposed.
Ahead Peter Perfect's Turbo-Terrific was making good progress but it was the cars with the advantage of flight which took the early lead. As the field raced along National Highway 94 towards Goonwangburree however, the failure of Red Max to update the Crimson Haybailer in the intervening years took its toll. Its short wingspan and First World War aeromotor forced it to land when 5 mile an hour head winds developed; the inefficiency of its taxiing motion suggested that a place on the podium was unlikely.
As they neared the town of Desolation, the first scheduled refuelling stop, Dastardly had caught and passed the cumbersome Army Surplus Special. Turning onto Highway 1 there was nothing between him and South Australia but eight cars and the 20,000 square kilometres of limestone that make up the Nullarbor plain.
The Nullarbor Plain
Academics dispute the very meaning of the name "Nullarbor" with Eurocentric Toponymers pointing out that its Latin roots "Null" and "Arbor" accurately describe the tree-lessness of the region. Their more Australocentric colleagues dispute this and argue that in the indigenous Gupapuyŋu language Noolla Laborara means"Sand, snakes. No tinnies." Either way, the Nullarbor was certain to produce the greatest challenge of the race.
Each team approached the region with trepidation and, despite entering last, it was the Slag Brothers who were its first victims. It has been estimated that to maintain a modest speed of 50 mph at least one club-blow to the back of the Bouldermobile would be required every 0.16 seconds. This, together with the searing 45 degree heat and the Slag Brothers dense layer of insulating hair, led to inevitable problems. Within an hour of descending to the Nullarbor Plain both Rock and Gravel succumbed to the effects of hyperthermia.
Even as the race progressed, Ecclestone read the eulogy at a hastily arranged service of remembrance attended by the world's press and the brothers' only living relatives: Captain Caveman and Cousin Itt. Following the strict instructions laid out in their respective wills (Rock - "Ragga-bagga leave my body to Science"; Gravel - "Bleugh, wagh gabba. Me too") both corpses were donated to the Australian Institute. Initial investigations (cutting Gravel in half and counting the rings) finally established the brothers' age to be 23,456 years, a discovery they celebrated by throwing Rock onto the barbeque at the subsequent party.
The Anthill Mob Disappear
At the same time that Rock and Gravel breathed their last, speculation was gathering about the wherabouts of car No 7. Crewed by the biggest team in that year's Formula 1 circus, nothing had been seen of the Bulletproof Bomb since the previous day when it had steamed towards the Nullarbor leaving the "Welcome to Wombat, W.A." sign riddled with bullet holes.
With the death of two competitors already on his conscience, Ecclestone looked tense at the daily press conference. He refuted suggestions that the Anthill Mob had revived their age-old feud with rivals the Termite Mound Crew with fatal consequences. Perhaps only he was relieved when the mystery was at least partially cleared by reports of a break-in at the near-by Wombat Super-Mine.
According to Channel 9 news, 7 small men dressed as Santa's elves had forced their way into the Gold-store. CCTV pictures showed them threaten staff with Tommy guns before gaining entrance to the vault. Eye-witness Noreen Yabbie indicated that the leader of the gang spoke with a pronounced American accent and had demanded that she and her colleagues provide the combination to the vault by yelling:
"Youse guys better get me the loot, see? Yeah, that's right, we's robbin' you, see!"
The gang seemed unpeturbed by their height disadvantage. And the mainly female staff felt that only Clyde's authority had prevented matters degenerating.
"I was terrified the one they called Dum-Dum wanted to rape me," Noreen admitted. "He kept looking up my skirt, the little perv."
When police sirens could be heard in the distance the leader of the group, Clyde, had ordered his crew to:
"Get a move on, youse guys, I ain't gonna fry in no chair".
The gang swiftly loaded up the remaining Gold into their antique getaway car and pedalled away in a cloud of dust, shouting:
Back on the Nullarbor
On the arid, windswept desert other teams were begining to suffer. The Buzzwagon had made good progress through the scrubby outback around Perth but had slowed markedly around Ylang Ylang and there was an unusual listnessness about Rufus Ruffcut's driving. The desert roads offered few tight cornering opportunities but it was obvious that, for the first time in his career, Ruffcut was ignoring his favoured tactic of anchoring himself to the apex of a hairpin with a logging axe and hauling the vehicle round by brute force. Instead, he seemed content to take each bend slowly and steadily, and he barely raised the energy to shake his fist at Dick Dastardly and threaten to saw him in half as Car No. 00 overtook in a cloud of fumes. As the cameramen zoomed in to capture Rufus' apathetic reaction, it was clear that something was even more awry with co-driver Sawtooth.
Together for more than 40 years, Rufus and Sawtooth made a formidable team but as Rufus succumbed to despondency in the unfamilar environment, Sawtooth's struggle to cope with the lack of trees was even more disturbing. Seemingly unable to cope with the unfamiliar surroundings, Sawtooth's long-standing bi-polar disorder quickly veered into the depressive state. Hunger took hold of the helpless animal and he began to gnaw uncontrollably on the the bodywork of The Buzzwagon.
Within hours the wings, hood and trunk lid had gone and it was clear that Sawtooth was not yet satisfied. Meanwhile Rufus seemed uninterested in or unaware of the fate of his vehicle. Just 100 miles short of Euclid, Sawtooth began to chew on the chassis, severing first the front and later the rear axles only twenty five miles short of the town. Rufus sat in the remains of his once proud race-car as Sawtooth enjoyed a dessert course of the transmission and exhaust. Eventually, with no hope left and the unrelenting sun addling his mind, the ageing lumberjack set up one of the Buzzwagon's razor-edged wheels between two rocks and ran repeatedly into it headfirst.
After three such rushes blood-loss left Rufus unconscious, his lifeblood soaking into the bleached sand. Overcome with remorse, Sawtooth gathered the remaining few splinters of undigested wood and constructed a lodge in the lower intestines of his erstwhile friend. Overhead, Rupert Murdoch's Fox Network reporters turned their helicopter away in disappointment, let down by the prosaic truth behind the reports of rampant beaver in the desert.
The end of the 1969 Wacky Racing season saw the collapse of the formula and the break up of team No. 8. Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear returned together to Arkansas, but all was not well. They dissolved their partnership; owner-driver Luke taking the majority of the winnings which he invested in two trailerparks on the outskirts of Little Rock and a downtown burlesque parlour - Luke's Luscious Ladies. Two years later he married both his 14 year old niece and his horse, Pearl, in the Jonesboro Mormon Cathedral.
Luke and his wives lived comfortably but quietly until tragedy struck in 1996. In an explosive episode of the Jerry Springer Show, Luke's custodianship of the Shady Grove Klan was exposed. As it became clear that he had been too idle to organise a single lynching in his 25 year reign as Arkansas Imperial Grand Dragon, wife Loretta eloped with her brother and successfully sued for divorce, taking both trailer parks and a sizeable stake in the strip club.
By contrast Blubber Bear's post Wacky Races life had been difficult from the start. As a mere employee of the team he had been left with only $8000 in 1969 and had spent most of this seeking pioneering psychiatric treatment for his fear of cars at the Arkansas Asylum for the Mildly Insane. Penniless and still fearful of all engined-vehilces, he discharged himself after six months and began an aimless migration around the southern states, living a hand-to-mouth existence in the Summer months and sleeping up in caves and cheap motels over the brief Winter. After several years of drifting, Blubber joined the Chippendale-style entertainment troupe, "The Bear Necessities" and toured the hotspots of Dixie's gay night scene, dancing for money, food and drugs.
When Eccelstone's emissaries had approached the former Chug-a-Bug team neither Luke nor Blubber had expressed any interest in seeing each other again. Nevertheless, a cheque for $250,000 was too good to turn down. Blubber's speed-phobia reasserted itself almost before they left Dog Swamp, and F1 fans watched in amazement as he chewed his claws to the knuckles while Luke blythely steered across Western Australia using nothing but prehensile toes.Car No 8 nevertheless made good time until the Nullarbor claimed yet another victim. Luke and Blubber had been following their traditional tactic (following the Buzzwagon and using the off-cut trees as fuel for their primitive wood-burning engine) but the desolation of the Nullarbor made this impractical. Bible-belt favourite and burning Blubber's small book collection. When this was exhausted they continued for some time on auxiliary squirrel-power but, like the Slag Brothers before them, Luke's five trained squirrels couldn't keep the hamster-wheel spinning in the heat for long. BBC sport landed near the stranded Chug-a-Bug to do a live interview in time to hear Luke demanding more effort from Blubber.
"Barr! What in tarnartion you waitin' tharr for? Git out and chop me some cacti!"
The Bear's roar drowned out the remainder of Luke's words but it is thought that something the hill-billy had said triggered half-forgotten memories of Blubber's primal scream therapy. For the first time, Blubber stood up to his boss and BBC viewers across the globe saw him eviscerate and partly consume Lazy Luke while still weeping. Bernie Ecclestone was said to be heartened by the spike in viewing figures.
End of Stage One
With the horror of the Nullarbor slowly fading behind them each team's dreams of glory had been replaced by one thought; to reach the end of the first stage and grab some much needed rest while pit-crews repaired and refuelled their struggling vehicles. With a population 8, Euclid was a one donkey town otherwise known only for being the exact geographical centre of nowhere, home to the Nullarbor Nymph (a blond girl discovered being raised by kangaroos in 1972) and the birthplace of classical geometry. Nevertheless it was here, on the border between Western and South Australia, the Ecclestone had decreed the first and only compulsory stop.
Professor Pat Pending arrived first. A Helium leak had forced his blimp to earth, the violence of the impact left the Convert-a-Car stuck halfway between unicycle and speedboat, the escaped gas making the Professor's press conference sound like a Chipmunks audition tape. Three hours later the Creepy Coupe pulled in, their flight long since halted by a build-up of Lactic Acid in the muscles of Dragon-Power, testament to the inefficiency of reptilian muscles. Moments later Peter Perfect arrived, closely followed by the resurgent Dick Dastardly. Red Max limped over the line in fifth, followed by Penelope Pitstop who had been using the shade of the Crimson Haybailer's wings to protect her delicate complexion from the searing heat.
The press crowded around the Compact Pussycat hoping for a glamorous shot for the back pages or, better still, a Lynsey Lohan moment as Penelope slid out of the driver's seat. Race fans meanwhile awaited the final team. Little could anyone know that The Army Surplus Special had run its last race. The exposed turret position and the heat reflecting off the tank's sides combined to give Sergeant Blast severe sun-stroke. Only 40 miles short of Euclid he had given his final orders to the long-suffering Private Meekley - to open fire on a herd of wallaby he insisted were concealing weapons of mass destruction in their pouches.
The Royal Australian Air Force responded to the unauthorised military action with a wing of A10 Tankbusters, their 2000 lb bombs destroying the venerable armour without difficulty. Sergeant Blast's body was never found but Private Meekley appears to have survived the initial onslaught as his remains were found a quarter mile from the debris, having been cut into several pieces by the 4000 round per minute Gatling gun. The wallabys were later found to be unarmed.
A spokeman for the RAAF described the incident as an "unfortunate and unavoidable episode of friendly fire". Pressed by television reporters for a fuller account he claimed that the USAF's long tradition of bombing and strafing Commonwealth troops from 1942, through Korea and onto Iraq and Afghanistan had led to his men "Assuming that yanks like that sort of thing".
The Perils of Penelope Pitstop
Stage two was scheduled to begin at 10 am next day but every team was up early making last minute repairs to their machines. Every team except one. Where was Penelope Pitstop?
Police investigations showed that the Compact Pussycat was intact and fully refueled, its dashboard restocked with face powder and fresh lipstick, the hair-straighteners fully recharged. No one had seen its driver since the previous evening, however. State troopers sealed off the town while the Anthill Mob reappeared to begin a building by building search for her, starting with the bank. Peter Perfect made a rousing speech to the assembled search party claiming that he would "leave no stone un-turned, no sheep un-bothered" in his search for his long-term fiance. He set off into the bush, hoping to use the Turbo-Terrific's speed to mount surprise raids on distant cattle ranches and sheep stations.
He had hardly left the town bounds when all four wheels accelerated down the road ahead of his car which fell to the surface of the road and gently disintegrated. Fortunately the television cameras were still focused elsewhere and so missed Peter's bitter tears. But Peter was not alone in his moment of despair. A visiting theatre company touring "Priscila Queen of the Desert" through the outback took him in and the loss of both Pitstop and the Turbo-Terrific was forgotten as Perfect enthusiastically embraced his feminine side and the excitement of cross-dressing.
Eventually, it was Pat Pending who discovered Pitstop with the use of his "Distressed Damsel Detector" which was tuned to the frequency of Penelope's voice and quickly made out the muffled cries of "Hay-Ulp!" The Glamour Girl of the Gas-pedal was being held captive in Euclid's only hotel by none other than the Hooded Claw.
Police soon unmasked the super-villain as Pitstop's own guardian, Sylvester Sneekly. Bernie Ecclestone, however, was not convinced. Something about Sneekly caught his eye and he pulled the arrested scoundrel's nose, removing a latex mask. Beneath, and clear for all to see, was the face of FIA president Max Mosely who claimed that Penelope Pitstop had long been a willing participant in his sado-masochist fantasy life and that he had no case to answer. Penelope admitted that she had been "champion knot-tier in Girl Scouts" and was "a dab with a whip".
Such was the commotion that no one noticed when, at the stroke of 10 o'clock, Dastardly had roared from the town. With a triumphant "See you later, slowpokes" he set-off for race-end at Cock-Wash, South Australia.
With Pat Pending detained at Her Majesty's pleasure, Penelope Pitstop and Peter Perfect otherwise engaged, the Anthill Mob busily counting loot and Red Max unable to take to the air for fear of more attacks from the RAAF, the race was as good as over. Bernie Ecclestone considered calling off the entire second stage to respect the sad deaths of so many other competitors but, having pre-sold millions of dollars' worth of advertising, announced that "The show must go on - it's what they would have wanted."
Television audiences were expected to dwindle as, with only Dastardly left in the race, there was no drama left to unfold. The Mean Machine zoomed through Woolloomolloomarongarooo and on towards Pancreas, its rocket engine making easy headway. Having never finished a race before, Dick Dastardly seemed destined to revive his career with a win in the opening (and surely only) round of the year's F1 championship. Destiny, having denied him so often, was about to anoint him World Champion in one race.
But inside the cockpit Dastardly was beginning to feel an unexpected itch. Having started so far behind his fellow competitors he had concentrated on catching up and had yet to try any of the despicable tricks he had planned. With no further use for it, he emptied the extra oil container to create a slick for the competitors he knew would not skid through it, and fired the 1000 lb boulder that he'd hauled from Dog Wash from the roof via the tightly coiled giant spring in the trunk. It landed on a small herd of sheep. But even this wasn't enough. Dastardly felt cheated of cheating his way to victory.
Just outside Placenta, with only a few hours driving left he spotted a red sandstone cliff face on a hairpin. Realising that there was unlikely to ever be another Wacky Race he stopped to pull up some fence posts, picked up a brush and his carefully packed black emulsion, and painted a new road directly into the cliff face. With a half-hearted evil laugh he painted what he realised would be his final fake tunnel into the vertical rock-face.
In the car he shared a listless snicker with Muttley and pressed the ignition. Before he could set off a speeding Emu raced passed with a cheery "Meep, Meep" and sped through the tunnel. But Dastardly had been here before. No one had a greater understanding of Cartoon Physics. He knew that if he drove through the tunnel he would concertina his vehicle against the sandstone cliff-face. He shrugged at his co-driver and turned to follow the original road to Cock Wash, thereby failing to see the express train that emerged from the tunnel seconds later to demolish the Mean Machine and its crew.