A Brief History of Press On Regardless®

Gene Henderson and Ken Pogue on their way to victory in the ’72 POR. Photo courtesy of Mark Henderson and Brian McMahon.

Press On Regardless® is the Detroit Region SCCA’s premier time-speed-distance (TSD) road rally. Run largely on unpaved county roads and federal and state forest roads through the woods of northern lower and upper peninsulas Michigan, the current Press On Regardless® (POR) provides today’s TSD rallyists an opportunity to compete in a rally with a long history and rich tradition. While the roads used can be challenging and the speeds brisk, it is nonetheless a legal and safe TSD rally.

First run in 1949, Press On Regardless® is America’s oldest continuously run rally. Over the many years that POR has been conducted it has run in a variety of formats. That first POR was not unlike the current format of the rally. It was a two day event that started in Detroit, with 24 entrants proceeding during the day to Battle Creek, where a break preceded a night run back to Flint. Then on Sunday morning the remaining contestants started the final leg back to Detroit. The route covered 360 miles over frequently difficult little used, unpaved back roads. A heavy overnight rainfall on Saturday night helped make this maiden POR a test of endurance and perseverance for competitors and cars alike. While there were a few variations from the TSD rallies run today, it was essentially a challenging TSD rally, with the teams given route instructions and (legal) speeds to drive the course, and timed along the way by workers at checkpoints unknown to the competitors.

During the 50s POR continued to evolve, incorporating routes traversing different areas in Michigan and incorporating time trial sections. But the focus remained – POR was intended as a tough, challenging TSD rally for car folks who wanted to test themselves and their cars over many miles and hours. As the years progressed the rally moved into northern Michigan, running over twisty unpaved county roads and the many available federal and state forest roads and two tracks. In 1961 Detroit Region rally legends Scott Harvey and Gene Henderson co-chaired that year’s POR, and initiated for the first time a 24 hour event, the genesis of what was to become known as ‘the longest, oldest, meanest, toughest rally in the USA.’

Throughout the early-to-mid 60s POR continued its tradition as challenging and demanding endurance rally. Speeds were brisk, and many of the roads were narrow, twisty, rough and unforgiving. It was a significant achievement just to successfully finish a POR. Then in 1968 co-rallymaster Scott Harvey introduced something new and unexpected to POR. The last segment towards the end of the first half of the rally was essentially a performance rally stage, where unlike a TSD contest, scores were determined by the quickest time completing the 6.3 mile ‘special stage’. Subsequent PORs included additional stages as part of the contest, and in 1970 was added to the FIA International Calendar as a non-championship rally event, lending international recognition and prestige to the rally. In ’71 POR started in Alma, in the middle of the state, but for the first time crossed Mighty Mac and ran on roads in the state’s upper peninsula. POR evolved into a full blown performance, or stage, rally, and in ’72-‘75 it was included in the FIA International Rally Championship for Manufacturers. Press On Regardless® continued to run as a demanding stage rally, eventually running entirely in Michigan’s upper peninsula. The Detroit Region found it increasingly difficult to organize and manage POR as a stage rally in the upper peninsula, some 300-400 miles away from Detroit. In 1994 the rally reverted to its TSD roots, but still retaining its character as a tough, demanding TSD endurance event.

Press On Regardless® has run as a TSD rally ever since, and continues on today as a premier TSD rally challenge, offering TSD competitors the opportunity to compete by staying on time over the roads traversing through Michigan’s forests in the northern lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan. POR continues to provide an entertaining and demanding TSD rally experience for rallyists, but is now a much ‘friendlier’ event. While speeds are brisk, they are (as they must be) legal speeds under the relevant speed limits. The event is not intended to be a car breaker; instead, route instructions clearly identify especially rough and potentially problematic sections on the roads used, and competitors are given sufficient time to traverse those sections without damaging their vehicles.

But make no mistake, POR remains a test of focus, concentration and endurance. The rally typically runs 350-500 miles. There is some variety in the format – the rally is sometimes run as a two day event, and other times run as a very long single day event. Regardless of format, the rally requires skill and perseverance, and continues to provide an event to test the best TSD rally teams. POR remains a rally that every dedicated rallyist should run at least once in their life!

(Much of the material on this page comes from Andrew Layton’s outstanding book on the history of POR, ‘Press On Regardless: The Story of America’s Longest, Oldest and Meanest Road Rally’. Layton has done a superb job of telling this legendary rally’s history in detail, and is a great read for those who want to know more about POR. It’s available from Amazon and Revolution Press, LLC Revolution Press.)