I played a bunch of LEGO Racers and Crash Team Racing as a kid, and those were the racing games I really had since I didn't actually own Mario Kart. I really enjoyed the kart building aspects of LEGO Racers and it was actually really cool to me as a kid to have some sort of 3D LEGO building tool in the first place, even if it was extremely simple. Being able to use the creation I built in the actual game was a bonus. The game lost a lot of magic for me when I noticed the opponents just moved in the same path every time, but maybe there's fun to be had from trying to figure out the best route in something consistent like this. I was excited for LEGO 2K Drive (because it seemed like I was going to finally get something like LEGO Racers that had the kart building stuff I liked, but modern) until I found out it was full of microtransactions.
I liked how Crash Team Racing did a whole bunch of its own stuff even though it was clearly trying to be Mario Kart, like the story mode, its own distinct mechanics (I loved intentionally getting air time to get boosts!) and just some cool creativity in the powerups. I especially how the TNT works, where it gets stuck on you and starts to explode when you run over it, but if you jump enough it flies off and can explode on someone else. It did feel weird to have unlockable characters that are just better than the ones you start out with, without really putting any notice of that that on the character select screen.