Pole Position was an old arcade game released by Namco way back in 1982 (it was distributed in the United States by Atari Games, but the rest of the world got the Namco version, they were identical except for a few in game text snippets, and a small sticker on the cabinet dashboard). This title was also sold under the name Top Racer, but distribution was limited with that name.
Back in 1982 Namco was presenting games to Atari and Midway for possible licensing. They had Mappy and Pole Position up for grabs. Midway got first choice, they picked Mappy, and left Atari with Pole Position. But the joke was on them when Pole Position went on to be one of the biggest selling driving games of all time, and was the top selling game for the year of 1983). While Mappy was not nearly as successful.
This was one of the first really good driving games, that also had attractive graphics. Although fun, it did not break a lot of ground in gameplay (it actually plays a lot like Turbo, an earlier Sega title, and industry magazines favorably compared the two titles when Pole Position was released), but it sure was a pretty looking game. Good gameplay, combined with advanced graphics made this title a hit, that many people still play even today.
Pole Position was followed up by three official sequels (and hundreds of rip offs), they were Pole Position II, TX-1, and TX-1 V8.
This game may seem a bit familiar to you (even if you have never played it before), this is because almost every driving game made in the last 20 years has copied the gameplay of Pole Position (which actually took the concepts from Turbo and cleaned them up a bit).
You begin your race by selecting one of four courses (I am a wuss, so I always pick the plain oval one), and then doing a qualifiying run (you will succeed at this unless you are a small child, or you have never held a steering wheel before). You then get to race the real race against other cars. You view the action from the pseudo 3-D behind the car viewpoint that has become industry standard ever since the first Turbo machine came out. The only advice I can give you is to drive fast, and not hit anything (don't forget to shift into high gear after a few seconds).
The upright version of Pole Position came in a standard Atari cabinet (similar to the Asteroids/Lunar Lander cabinet), with an altered control panel area. The sideart consisted of red, white, blue, and grey striped paint job, with an Atari logo, and a square sticker showing a race scene.While the marquee had a Pole Position logo superimposed over a view of several race cars coming directly for you.
The control panel was done up in the same colors as the side, and featured an analog steering wheel, and a two position shifter.
There was also a cockpit version of this game. It (thankfully), shipped in two pieces that were screwed together on location. It had little in the way of decoration inside, but the white exterior was covered in detailed race car scenes that were much more attractive than those on the upright.
The cockpit Pole Position cabinet had both a gas pedal and a brake pedal, while the upright cabinets had only a gas pedal. Both versions ran on three processors (2 Z8002s, and a single Z80), and used a Namco six channel PSG for audio.
Where to play
This popular title has been ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Sinclair Spectrum, Apple II,Commodore 64, and several times for standard PCs (I was unable to locate a Macintosh port though). You can also play this title using the MAME emulator, although chances are slim that you will have the proper controls to correctly play the MAME version (you will need a spinner or arcade steering wheel, a PC steering wheel will not do).
This is probably one of the titles you are going to want to add to your arcade game collection. But you should be aware of some definite issues with this title. First off, it is expensive (most classic games are). Secondly this title tends to destroy its own circuit board over time, due to a bad design that places excess heat on the PCB edge connector. But, Pole Position is so fun, that it may be worth that $500-$1000 price tag (I turned one down at $500, but only because I never have that kind of money). 2004 Update: Prices have continually dropped on this title, no one wants to deal with them, they just break too much, so you might be able to get one cheap, just don't expect it to last.
If you do purchase a Pole Position machine, then you may want to search Google's usenet archive for posts by "Clay Cowgill" detailing upgrades you can do to your Pole Position boardset to keep it from malfunctioning.