To the Woods!

("No, no! Not the Woods!")

What kind of person would risk running his everyday car into a tree, or breaking the suspension on roads last used by roving bands of mastodons? What kind of person would stay up all Friday night, after only a couple of hours of sleep Thursday, catch a few hours shut-eye on Saturday during the day, then stay up most of Saturday night and Sunday morning? Normally someone in that state of wakefulness is trying for the Guinness Book of World Records. In SCCA, a person of that description is a Pro Rallyist.

You don’t hear a lot about Pro Rallies in the news; they rate somewhere below basket weaving tournaments and frog skinning contests. And the spectators are just as crazy as the participants, staying up all night to watch 30 or 40 car drive through the same corner. Of course, if they’re real lucky, the cars will come back the other way several hours later. The list of hero drivers isn’t exactly Andretti or Unser. Try instead John Buffum, Hendrik Blok, Rod Millen, Scott Harvey, Taisto Heinonen, Bob Nielsen, Tim Winker….

Program cover for the 1979 POR.Wait a minute, aren’t Nielsen and Winker a couple of T.S.D. rallyists from the Twin Cities? Right you are scent-of-the-woods breath. While most L.O.L.ers were concerned with who finished where at the Road Atlanta National Runoffs, these two, and their crews, were making last minute preparations to head for Houghton, Michigan. Purpose? The Marchal Press On Regardless, the famous "P-O-R", America’s oldest, toughest, meanest and longest rally. Along with Nielsen and Winker were 71 other entrants from all over the U.S. and Canada.

Among the Minnesota delegation were Tom Nelson and Brian Jacobson as co-drivers in Nielsen’s Saab 96 and Winker’s Datsun 510, respectively, and about ten other members of the Twin City Rally club. LOL members from Duluth and Rochester were also on hand as course workers.

Click here for a larger view of the Comic Ozzie Datsun 510. The P.O.R. started at 6 PM Friday, November 2nd, with a parade of the entrants through downtown Houghton and Hancock. The first sompetitive stage eliminated several contestants including Tom Tolles, a top contender who got two flat tires on his fiberglass Volvo (and too many miles to the service break for another spare), and Jon Woodner in a factory TR-8 who got stuck. Winker and Jacobson almost cashed it in on SS1 when they hit a tree head on. Fortunately it was a relatively small tree and only bent up the light bar. At the first service break (following SS5) the bar was bent into useable shape and the 510 continued on to SS6… Mandan Road! Mandan Road is about the poorest excuse for a road in America. Narrow, with ruts, large puddles (more like small lakes), boulders, and dead cars strewn about… and then it started to snow. Eleven teams ended their P.O.R. on Mandan Road, but the two Minnesota teams made it.

The dinner break followed SS10. Nielsen, who had started as car #52, was up to 30th restart position. Winker had dropped from #32 to 34th after the 510 suffered wet ignition problems on Mandan Road. Both cars started the second part of the P.O.R. about 2 AM Saturday. Winker, who never drinks coffee, started. There were still a lot of miles to drive before the competitors would get any sleep.

Special Stage 12 was another very rough road with lots of puddles. After getting held up by a stuck VW, Winker’s Comic/Ozzie Datsun stalled again due to wet electrics. Several more minutes were lost trying to dry things out and finally the mighty Nissan 4-banger fired again. However, the stalls had cost over 20 minutes in lateness penalties (teams are allowed 45 minutes of such penalties before being time-barred).

In the early morning hours, sleep tries to overtake the drivers. Both Winker and Nielsen complained of hallucinations jumping out in front of them in the hours just before Saturday’s sunrise.

1979 Lac Vieux Desert Divisional PRO Rally. L to R: Tom Nelson, Phil Berg, Tim Winker, Bob Nielsen, Bruce Kushner, Wex Christopherson, Brian Jacobson. Fortunately, the Datsun and the Saab continued to run and made it back to Houghton where service crews opened a bar for breakfast before getting a few precious hours of much needed sleep. Just to be nice, the service gang washed both cars that afternoon so they would be presentable for the start of the Saturday night section, ten of the stages run the previous night, only backwards. Winker’s car had to be towed back from the car wash after the key broke off in the ignition. Fortunately there was an extra key among the half ton of spares. A DNF due to a broken key would not look good.

Only six more cars retired on Saturday night. Nielsen/Nelson and Winker/Jacobson were among the 28 who made it to the finish. Merely finishing the P.O.R. is an accomplishment much like finishing a marathon auto race such as LeMans or Daytona. Nielsen was 19th, Winker 25th. And finishing 20 minutes ahead of the second place car were Taisto Heinonen and John Bellefleur of Canda in a factory-backed Toyota. Second went to Scott Harvey and Randy Graves in a 4WD Dodge Aspen. Buffum, Millen and 40 others weren’t so lucky; they were non-finishers, victims of the "P.O.R.".

(from "THE TONNEAU", newsletter of Land O' Lakes Region, SCCA, February 1980. Written by Tim Winker.)

A view of the P.O.R. from the Driver's Seat.

Official Results of the 1979 POR

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