You have F-Zero to thank.
Last year during E3 2013, some people compared Mario Kart 8's anti-gravity addition to F-Zero. What most people might not have been aware of is that the Mario Kart series owes F-Zero a lot more than you'd expect. The 1992 Super Nintendo debut of Super Mario Kart actually originated as a two-player version of F-Zero.
A Super Nintendo launch title, F-Zero was a wonderful proof of concept for racing in sweet Mode 7 graphics. For its time, F-Zero was a graphical achievement, and even today it still holds up to a degree (you can see for yourself on the Wii U Virtual Console). The one thing that held back F-Zero's debut was that it was just a single-player game. The team behind F-Zero couldn't work in any multiplayer before the game's debut.
Following F-Zero's launch, part of that same team, now led by Tadashi Sugiyama and Hideki Konno, went back to work with a new goal in mind: create a two-player mode. Sugiyama was fresh off of directing Pilotwings, bringing his own unique experience with Mode 7 to the table, while Konno just led development on SimCity, another SNES launch game.
With the framework of F-Zero available to build on, the team created a kart racer that used a split-screen view to display two racers at once. This new game was meant to focus on brand new characters, but a few months into development, the team inserted Mario into the kart on a lark, and determined it looked better with previously defined characters behind the wheel. Thus, Mario Kart was born.
This wasn't Mario's first foray into racing, though. Mario and Luigi appeared in a pair of Japan-only Famicom Grand Prix games, both made for the Famicom Disk System. Naturally, those two games were directed by the same man who led development of the first F-Zero, Kazunobu Shimizu. He didn’t work on Super Mario Kart, oddly enough, and while he continued to work on other Nintendo racing games, he never touched the Mario Kart series.
Mario characters and items were inserted into this new Mario-themed racing game over the next few months of development, turning the previously nameless kart racer into the Mario series-celebrating Super Mario Kart. Around that same time in development, Battle Mode was added. The goal in Battle Mode was to add something that would create a stronger one-on-one experience with more player interaction.
From there, the rest is history. Super Mario Kart was released in 1992, becoming a beloved series. The games continued to appear on Nintendo platforms and now, we're mere days away from the latest entry: Mario Kart 8 on Wii U.