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Catching Up With Speed Racer

3 May, 2008 By: Chris Tribbey

It's a great time to be a “Speed Racer” fan. Lionsgate May 6 releases Speed Racer: The Next Generation — The Beginning, a Nickelodeon update of the classic Japanese anime series, in advance of a live-action film version hitting theaters May 9.

Peter Fernandez, the American voice of Speed Racer in the original 1960s version, couldn't be more excited.

“America's still in love with cars,” Fernandez said. “‘Speed Racer' is one of those things that stands the test of time.”

Fernandez has voiced English tracks for hundreds of foreign films, including Fistful of Dollars and several “Godzilla” flicks. His voice also graces “Kenny the Shark” and “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” plus other Japanese classics such as “Ultraman” and “Astroboy.”

But Fernandez will always be best known for helping drive the Mach 5 into living rooms, and he doesn't seem to mind. When summoned from his New York home to help revisit “Speed Racer” twice recently, he needed no further motivation.

“In our business, you don't retire. You die,” said the 81-year-old actor, author and director. “Call an old actor. We'll work.”

New stints included voicing Speed's sidekick Spritle in “Speed Racer: The Next Generation,” and a guest appearance in Warner's big-screen version as a race announcer.

While the latest animation work was fun, Fernandez said his work on the live-action film was even better. He's not sure whether his brief scene will survive the editing room.

“They flew me to Berlin, first class both ways!” he said. “It was a marvelous trip. I met the Wachowski brothers (directors Andy and Larry), and they said that when they were kids, they would run home to watch ‘Speed.’

Fernandez said the original show (on DVD from Lionsgate) still appeals to youngsters.

“My wife's grandson is now 9 years old, and he's a ‘Speed Racer' freak,” Fernandez said. “When he comes by, he watches the video, and I sometimes cringe when I hear my voice, even though I'm so used to it.”

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