Top 10 Best Arcade Racing Games of All Time

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting

The sit-down racing game. Is there any more of an immersive arcade experience? With the wheel in one hand, the shifter in another, and pedals sitting under your feet, you can almost forget that the Recaro you’re sitting in is formed out of hard, durable, vomit-proof plastic as you carom around a virtual track at triple-digit speeds.

Of course, not all arcade racers are created equal. Check out — in no particular order — our picks for the 10 best sit-down (or, in some cases, stand-up) racing video games of all time, and see if you agree with where we’ve chosen to drop our quarters.

Daytona USA

We’re getting this monster out of the way, because not only did it have an out-sized impact on the arcade world when it first appeared in 1993, but the technology behind it would go on to power a host of other, also-addictive racing games. Ostensibly a NASCAR simulator, Daytona USA drew fans through its fun driving dynamics, its competitive multi-player link, multiple perspectives and music selections, and the willingness to take stock cars out of the oval and throw them, well, pretty much anywhere that had a road.

And who could forget ‘DAYTOOOOOOONAAAAA – LET’S GO AWAY!’

No one.

Ridge Racer

Produced by Namco, this is the game that set the standard Sega was trying to beat with Daytona USA. Similar in that players start last and have to climb their way through the pack to claim victory, Ridge Racer was revolutionary for its incredible soundtrack, which still influences genres like darkwave and synthwave today, 25 years later.

Four sequels would eventually be released, but the most bonkers version was a special edition of the original that had players seated inside a full-size Mazda Miata while they played — one that actually blew wind in their hair as they drove.

Sega Rally Championship

Sega Rally Championship was the first arcade game to truly capture the slide-sliding action of dirt racing action. Featuring three unique courses (Desert / Forest / Mountain) and one ‘secret’ course (Lakeside), you were given the chance to pilot a Toyota Celica GT-Four or a Lancia Delta HF Integrale in the battle for rally supremacy. Head-to-head rally fun was so infectious that Sega Rally 2 and Sega Rally 3 would join the 1994 original in the ensuing decades.

Fun fact: Kenji Sasaki, who directed SRC, had a hand in bringing Ridge Racer into the world, too. To give you a glimpse at how old-school game development was at the time, the texture maps in Sega Rally Championship are based on a series of photos taken by Sasaki’s team during a three-week road trip through the western United States.

Cruis’n USA

Unusual grammar aside, Cruis’n USA was a huge hit for Midway, blowing past the similarly titled Daytona USA in terms of popularity with its simpler driving and a more open-ended world to explore. Players could choose from a variety of cars, do flamed-out wheel-stands, and bump each other off the road until the clock ran out. USA would be followed by Cruis’n World and Cruis’n Exotica, which added more ‘tracks’ and vehicles to the mix. Like many of the other titles on this list, Cruis’n USA appeared in the mid-’90s, which heralded a golden era for sit-down racing arcade games.

San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing

Midway had another hit on its hands a couple of years after Cruis’n USA with 1996’s San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing. Ostensibly set in the hilliest of Californian cities, the ‘Extreme’ part of the Rush package was the ability to leave the course and drive through buildings, under bridges, use secret tunnels, and launch your car off of ramps onto secret parts of the course that may or may not offer a shortcut to victory. It was a radical concept at the time that inspired legions of followers (and more than a few sequels) — and it was a ton of fun.


Another classic known for its outstanding music, OutRun took the most basic concept in racing — one driver against the clock — and set it against mid-’80s natural beauty, as depicted by the finest sprite technology of the time. Piloting a Ferrari Testarossa Spider, avoiding oncoming traffic, and generally drifting like a boss, OutRun was light years ahead of other games when it was revealed in 1986, and remains a surprisingly playable classic to this day.

Sega Super GT

Also known as Sports Car Ultimate Drive or SCUD Race, Sega Super GT used much of the same hardware and software underpinning Daytona USA, and was in fact seen by many inside the company as a sequel. Major differences included a cast of sports cars racers rather than stockers — including a Dodge Viper GTS-R and a McLaren F1 GTR — and a much more elaborate set of tracks and worlds to compete in against as many as four friends linked together. Visually, it was also stunning running at 60 frames per second, and it was one of the first sit-down games to make drifting on asphalt a key aspect of the driving experience.

Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road

In 1989, the most fun a trio could have in an arcade was Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off-Road. With three steering wheels, a top-down view of a bumpy, jump-laden trophy truck course, and as many nitro boosts as you could scoop up, Super Off-Road provided a unique perspective on video game racing – even if you did have to stand up to play.

Strangely, Ironman himself wasn’t involved in the dirt-based action. Due to licensing concerns, his name was on the arcade cabinet, but the computer-controlled competitors were given made-up personalities rather than risk the wrath of Baja’s endurance legend.

ALSO SEE: Top 10 Best Racing Games of All Time


Are we cheating a little bit with SpyHunter? Not exactly a racing game, it was still one of the top arcade driving experiences of 1983. So what if instead of putting up lap times you were dropping oil slicks and smoke screens to spin other cars off the road, or firing bullets at unspecified bad guys? You got to listen to the unmistakably badass notes of ‘Peter Gunn’ while doing it, and at one point, you even transformed into a boat. Pretty awesome.

Pole Position

As fun as SpyHunter was, it — and almost every game on this list — owes a major debt to a title that came out one year prior. Namco’s Pole Position might not look like much today, but it was by far the most groundbreaking, and popular stand-up arcade driving machine of its time. Sending you around Fuji Speedway in an open-wheel racer, the game popularized the moving track/scrolling background design concept while presenting genuinely challenging gameplay in the process. Mount Fuji in the background was just a bonus.

Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting

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