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Mud? Snow? Press on, regardlessly
Brock Yates
November 19, 1973
Night grips the northern Michigan forest in a frozen shroud and low squadrons of nimbus clouds, bellies bloated with snow, scud over the stands of pine and birch. A knot of people, all puffed with winter clothing, shivers in the darkness watching the corner of a rutted, one-lane logging trail carved through the woods. Muted somewhere far away in the wilderness, a moaning sound is on the rise. "Car coming!" someone shouts, and the small crowd shies back.
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November 19, 1973

Mud? Snow? Press On, Regardlessly

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"The Fiat team from Italy was supposed to come, too," says Bill Stephenson, biting his pipe and twisting away from the sharp winds. "We had people at the airport to meet their flight, but they just never showed up. You know, we're just a bunch of amateurs trying to organize a rally that theoretically ranks with the Monte Carlo in importance. We got a letter from a French team saying they'd come over and run for $30,000. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

"Two years ago we got 14 inches of snow in southern Michigan. It shut the rally down cold. One year the sheriff of Lake County decided he'd make some points with the voters and he set up road blocks and arrested all the guys. Every year when this thing comes around, with weekend after weekend of driving through the woods laying out the route, I say, 'Never again.' But we always come back. We must be crazy."

The 1973 Press On Regardless ends in a soggy field of scrub brush on the outskirts of Alma, Mich. There the final stage is run around a crude, convoluted course that features a jump that sends the cars pancaking into a mudhole. Some 500 curious Alma residents appear to watch the competitors—their ranks now cut to 23—flog through the last few yards of mire to the finish line. The cars look foolish, as if they are refugees from a junkyard being driven by a gang of drunks. When one recalls their brilliant, high-speed exploits in the thick forests, it seems somehow demeaning for them to put on this clown act for the benefit of a handful of spectators. Nevertheless, Walt Boyce and Doug Woods win easily, finishing with nearly half an hour's time advantage over a well-driven Volvo 142S manned by Michiganders Jim Walker and Terry Palmer.

As the competitors stagger from their battered cars, their faces dirty and stubbled with whiskers, with prospects dim that their share of the modest $9,300 prize money will compensate for their efforts, a first-time observer says, "I've got a suggestion for these guys. Next year it might be easier for them to stay home and hit themselves in the face with a ball peen hammer for three days. That way they'd get the same kind of pain and it would cost them a lot less money."

But pain and suffering are only part of the POR. As Walt Boyce says, it may symbolize one of the final frontiers, where men can run the open roads with the kind of abandon that is at the heart of automotive romance. As long as that element exists, men like him—red-eyed, bones chilled and aching, at the wheels of sliding, grime-caked vehicles—will prowl the Michigan wilderness, comforted by the fact that only they understand the truth and beauty of the greatest automotive misery trip of them all.

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