In 1980, arcade owners were certain race car game Rally X would be the one to beat. Instead, a different Namco game, Pac-Man, became 1980's top money maker. Perhaps this is the reason why, when Namco later approached North American partner Midway with two new games, Midway decided not to distribute the new race car game, and went with Mappy instead. Namco gave the race car game to their other American distributor, Atari. That game was Pole Position, and it went on to be 1983's top money maker.
Pole Position puts players in the driver's seat of an Indy car, and challenges them to drive the real-life Fuji Speedway in the shortest possible time. Drivers who prove fast enough can qualify for the official race, where the object is to survive four laps without letting the clock run down. Skidding around corners, avoiding billboards and other racers, and knowing when to hit the brakes are some of the many opportunities that await.
Pole Position obviously was not the first racing video game, and actually wasn't the first racing video game to offer a perspective close to first person; that honor goes to Night Driver. Pole Position was, however, the most successful and influential racing video game of the 1980s. The programming tricks created to present a convincingly three-dimensional race track would be reused in just about every racing video game that came afterward, at least until true 3-D graphics became possible in games like Hard Drivin' and Virtua Racing.
After its success in the arcade, Atari created home versions of Pole Position for the Atari 2600 and the Atari 5200, as well as several home computers. Namco also created a sequel, Pole Position II, before moving onto other racing games. A later Namco title, Final Lap, is considered by many to be the spiritual successor to Pole Position. Namco has since highlighted Pole Position in many of their arcade game repackagings, particularly the NamcoMuseum series for the Sony PlayStation and newer consoles.