Hot Wheels World Race was animated TV series that ran on The Cartoon Network between 2002-2003, that was conceived perhaps as an intermittent commercial and a means to sell Hot Wheels’ toys to children. Nevertheless, the mini-series managed to gallantly portray the manly virtues and their necessity in life. In particular it demonstrated the merits of responsibility, magnanimity, and self-sacrifice.

The hero of the story, Josef “Vert” Wheeler, is a sixteen-year-old who enjoys surfing, skateboarding, and cars. Rebellious and cocky, Vert is recruited into the fantastic “World Race” alongside professional drivers and other rookies to compete in an extra-dimensional competition for a chance to win five million dollars and the title of greatest racer in the world. The secondary prize is an alien artifact known as the “Wheel of Power,” which may be more than it seems. But to earn these things, Vert has to be more than just a good driver. He has to be a man.


Responsibility is the core theme of World Race series, something made clear from the first episode. Vert begins the series as an egocentric boy intent on acquiring his driver’s license, so he is less than pleased to find out that his military father has to ship out and thus cannot stay to observe the driving test, or even to let his son drive their car home as he had previously promised.

Vert childishly insists that his father promised that “as soon as [he] was sixteen [he] could drive the car!” The senior Wheeler replies that his responsibility outweighs their prior arrangement. When his son continues to protest he states, “Someday you’re going to find out what’s really important in life.”

“You mean more important than what I want,” Vert retorts.

Their argument frames the rest of the episode and ultimately the series when Vert is recruited into the World Race while his father is away. On arriving at the track, the teen soon finds himself surrounded by skilled drivers who are not impressed by him. Professional thrill-seeker Taro Kitano in particular takes the time to put the young “surf rat” in his place.

Later, when a saboteur damages the track where it passes over a river of lava during the first race, Taro and Vert both avoid the obstacle safely. But one of the female drivers, Lani Tam, makes a poor decision and becomes trapped in the magma. Taro immediately reverses course to answer her call for help while Vert continues the race, leaving the rescue to the more experienced driver. However, when he considers that Taro may not be able to save the girl alone he turns around and joins the older man’s efforts. Together, the two save Lani just before she is swept over the lava falls.

Vert’s decision results in his appointment as leader of the Wave Rippers, drivers whose cars have a surfing theme. Although he does not want the responsibility, he agrees to lead the Wave Rippers in order to remain in the race. His leadership is tested in the next episode, when his subordinates chase another team down a shortcut against his orders, prompting him to follow them in case they “need [his] help.”

Later episodes see Vert contending with the youngest and most hotheaded member of the Wave Rippers: Mark “Markie” Wylde. Markie has all of Vert’s negative personality traits magnified by the fact that he feels that he stands in the shadow of his older brother, Kurt Wylde, leader of the Street Breed team. As Mark’s attempts to prove himself often end disastrously, Vert chooses to keep a weather eye on him in order to prevent him from being hurt. Thus Vert must grow into a more capable man and leader in the process.


Despite his initial arrogance, Vert’s odyssey reveals an innate nobility of spirit, a trait which becomes more pronounced as the series progresses. After Lani and Markie follow their competitors, the Road Beasts, down an unsuccessful short cut, the two teams end up in last place. Markie makes a snide comment about this fact to the leader of the Road Beasts, Banjy Castillo, only for Vert to genially shut him down. “No one made us follow the Road Beasts,” he points out, adding that Banjy owes his own team an apology more than he does the Wave Rippers. Banjy replies in the affirmative with similar good humor, promising to “kick [the Wave Rippers’] bumper” on the main track during the next leg of the race.

When Markie’s older brother Kurt Wylde is outed as the saboteur in the third episode, Vert goes to visit the driver who unmasked him in order to offer some comfort. His attempt to soothe Brian Kadeem, leader of the Dune Ratz and the man who accidentally unhelmed a disguised Kurt, leads the other man to explain his motive for being in the competition. From an African city torn by strife, Kadeem races to win money to pay for water to bring peace to his home. “Huh,” Vert says in response. “Funny. I never thought about what winning meant to other people.”

By the end of the series, though, Vert has given the matter a great deal of thought. Following his victory in the race, he offers the African driver the five million dollars he won so that the man can help his people. A stunned Kadeem protests that it is Vert’s money, not his, but the young man refuses to keep it for himself. The leader of the Dune Ratz finally accepts the gift, promising: “My people will not forget this. I will not forget this.”


Carrying the responsibilities of leadership pushes Vert to mature at a much faster rate than he would have normally. He learns to put the needs of others ahead of his own desires when he goes back to help Taro save Lani, and when he follows his teammates as they pursue the Road Beasts. This development comes to full fruition in the battles portrayed in the series’ finale.

In the final racing dimension, Kurt Wylde challenges Vert for the Wheel of Power, the secondary prize for the racers in the competition. When the teen defeats him Kurt drives away in disgrace, only to be confronted by his employer, a woman called Gallorum. Gallorum reveals that she and her minions are robotic racing drones built by the beings who designed the extradimensional race tracks and the Wheel of Power. Since the Wheel has been removed from its home dimension by Vert, anyone – including a drone – may take its power for himself/herself.

Just as Kurt is realizing what he has done, Gallorum and her drones surround the racers’ compound as they prepare to depart for home. She demands that the drivers hand over the Wheel. Knowing the artifact must not fall into her hands, the former competitors agree to return it to its own dimension as one large team. Vert demonstrates his maturation by declaring that he will be the one to take charge of the Wheel and replace it where he found it: “I brought it here. It’s my responsibility.”

As the other racers run interference for him against the drones, Vert risks his life to reach the finish line. With some last-minute help from a repentant Kurt, he manages to put the Wheel back in place, forcing the drones to retreat. By being willing to sacrifice his life for the greater good he truly becomes a man – as well as the greatest racer on Earth.

A Series that is More than its Original Intent

For a mini-series meant to sell toys, Hot Wheels World Race does a good job of shining a light on implicitly manly virtues. By uniting magnanimity and self-sacrifice to the central theme of responsibility, it provides young men with a good start on what it really means to “be a man.” And it does so in an entertaining, engaging manner.

In an age where true masculinity is derided as toxic and mocked, Hot Wheels World Race has more to offer than mere nostalgia and “retro graphics.” It provides a model for young boys to follow as they grow into men in this twisted, tortured world of ours; one that will give their parents hope for their sons’ future as they watch them vicariously experience the thrill of the race and the joy of honest competition.

Photo Credit- IMDB