Once I first met Tate Morgan just a few years in the past, the founding father of the Gambler 500 was munching on some snacks from a Meow Combine bag. “That may’t be precise cat meals,” I assumed. To at the present time I’m nonetheless undecided what was in that bag, however it was a precursor to the irreverence I’d discover on the Gambler 500.
What began in 2014 as an precise race with 28 of us vying for dominance in crapcan automobiles by the backwoods of Oregon has morphed into a global path cleanup with 1000’s of individuals around the globe.
As extra individuals heard concerning the Gambler 500, Morgan determined to include his ardour for land stewardship. “I needed to gamify it and make it enjoyable, like Mary Poppins,” he says. “As a substitute of velocity, I am utilizing trash because the successful metric.”
Not that there isn’t any racing on the Gambler 500. With a modicum of security gear, gamblers can run their automobiles within the HooptieX collection. Suppose Lemons however for racing automobiles in worse situation, and in dust.
For the Gambler, you solely have to recollect one rule: “Don’t be a d*ck.” The web site is deliberately imprecise however contains waypoints to assist information Gamblers to trash-strewn places. Choose it up and produce it to Gamblertown throughout the day, then get together at evening. Repeat till the weekend is over.
There are small Gambler occasions everywhere in the nation, even reaching into Mexico, Canada, and Iceland. However the one exterior Redmond, Oregon, is the OG. This yr a ragtag group of 8000 or so individuals pulled practically 500,000 kilos of trash out of the woods, together with eight boats, 12 campers, and a full-size faculty bus.
The parents that come out to the Gambler 500 are as diverse because the automobiles they create. I chatted with just a few of them to find out about their builds and discover out what retains them playing.
Jake McDonald: The Veteran
McDonald’s first Gambler was in 2017, when the occasion was nonetheless a imprecise, shimmering, unfindable occasion with a secret-handshake mystique. Phrase on the road was that you just had to purchase a particular T-shirt at a particular time with the intention to take part. McDonald did, solely to be instructed it was a joke and all you needed to do was present up.
His first and solely Gambler automotive is a 1972 AMC Javelin. Yow will discover pristine examples of Javs for upward of $30,000, however McDonald’s rig does not have practically that a lot juice. After the inventory motor and transmission went to that nice junkyard within the sky in 2020, McDonald changed it with a small-block Chevy powerplant he discovered on Fb Market for $100.
He mounted the entire engine up excessive for extra floor clearance—the Magnacharger supercharger thrusting up from the hood is only a bonus—and added an MSD ignition. Entrance disc brakes make the automotive nearly secure, and the Javelin wears 30-inch BFGoodrich all-terrain tires.
McDonald has touched nearly each a part of the automotive aside from the physique, which turns into evident once I see the large rust holes within the trunk. Nonetheless, the automotive is robust sufficient to haul a trailer loaded with two mini-bikes and a go-kart on the four-hour drive from his hometown of Grants Move, Oregon, to Gamblertown, with the patina of rust, mottled paint, and stickers attracting consideration the entire manner.
C.J. Cromwell: The Visionary
Cromwell confirmed as much as this yr’s Gambler 500 with out a automotive. A contract MacGyver who’s a fabricator and mechanic, he used his journey to ship completed tasks to non-Gambler prospects and did not have room on the trailer to deliver one in all his well-known builds, just like the Trophy Mutt.
You have not heard of the Trophy Mutt? It is a duplicate of the Mutt Cutts van from Dumb and Dumber, besides it is constructed on a extremely modified Geo Tracker chassis with the power to sail by the air like a champion frisbee canine. It is well-known. The place have you ever been?
Okay, however absolutely you’ve got seen the Plybertruck. Cromwell beat Elon Musk to the punch with an Acura MDX skinned with plywood to match the Cybertruck’s futuristic design. It isn’t electrical however it’s working on public roads, so we’re giving him the win.
From a Jet Ski on a motorbike to a ship on a automotive chassis, Cromwell is the man for artistic Gambler builds. His displaying up with out a automotive is akin to Santa Claus sliding down the chimney with an empty bag. What the heck, Cromwell?
The heck is time, my mates. We will by no means get sufficient of it. Cromwell put his mettle to the take a look at with an in a single day HooptieX construct.
After delivering his prospects’ automobiles on Saturday, he discovered a Hyundai Accent on Fb Market for $400. “Within the Market picture the automotive was on its aspect, so I knew it could be excellent,” he says.
After a baseline loop across the HooptieX course, Cromwell went to work along with his easy-breezy 3.0-inch elevate courtesy of 4 grade-eight bolts and a few scrap steel. Tennis balls had been added to the strut springs for a bit extra top, and a set of barely bigger tires had been thrown on for good measure. It wasn’t fancy, however come Sunday morning, Cromwell reduce 30 seconds off his HooptieX time, educating us that typically the best modifications can have probably the most impact.
Tyler Merrill: The Greenhorn
Merrill tried to purchase his Gambler automotive when he was 14 years previous, however the proprietor refused to half with it. Quick-forward 20 years or so, and Merrill now owns that dream automotive, a 1958 Plymouth Savoy named Maxine.
Merrill procured the automotive as cost for serving to clear a scrapyard. In excellent Gambler type, the factor was already arrange as a dually. The earlier proprietor had put in bull bars within the entrance and rear and used Maxine to push masses across the scrap yard. Merrill did the plain and threw the physique on a truck chassis, maintaining the dual-rear-wheel setup.
Below the hood is a 12-valve Cummins turbo-diesel pushing out about 1000 pound-feet of torque. The Tremec TR4050 five-speed guide transmission can solely maintain about half that, so Merrill says he is destroyed fairly just a few clutches. Thankfully, a six-speed NV 5600 is ready in his Utah store for set up.
Merrill drives Maxine—a nod to each Mad Max and the Stephen King horror novel Christine—just a few instances per week, getting waves, giving out stickers, and thumbing his nostril at anybody who’s too uptight to take pleasure in a monster mashup.
“This was a junkyard canine,” he instructed me. “I took this previous, beat canine and gave it new life.”
Come for the Rubbish, Keep for the Folks
Regardless of the variations of their automobiles, all three of those Gamblers have an identical motive for popping out, and it proves Tate Morgan’s level concerning the significance of constructing an disagreeable job, like off-road stewardship, into a celebration.
McDonald likes the kind of of us the Gambler attracts, saying, “This occasion filters in individuals you wish to be round.” He gestures to the camp: “This is able to not occur in a bar or grocery store or whenever you go to the fitness center.”
Cromwell likes how the Gambler format makes tenting and off-roading accessible and secure. “That is my sanity. It is my assist crew to have the ability to journey and never do it alone and make it cheaper and simpler,” he says.
I’ve to agree. I arrived on the Gambler 500 on my own and was instantly welcomed into any camp I selected. Drinks, each grownup and in any other case, had been supplied, as was meals and mechanical recommendation. One man even gave me a T-shirt with the phrases “Race Automobile Driver” emblazoned throughout the entrance for no motive apart from that he thought it could make me smile.
Nonetheless, it is Merrill who sums it up greatest. “I’ve met so many mates that I by no means would have talked to in any other case. The Gambler attracts true salt-of-the-earth individuals and it at all times throws away all of the issues individuals are inclined to argue and battle about. You belong right here. All the pieces is sweet.”
The way to Turn out to be a Gambler
If you wish to Gamble, check out the Gambler website. If there isn’t an occasion in your space, Morgan permits anybody to make use of the moniker so long as rubbish is collected and no person income from the occasion.
Should you come throughout giant items of trash whereas out exploring that you could’t haul away your self, you’ll be able to mark it on the Sons of Smokey app. Conversely, in the event you’re longing to check the pulling energy of your new Hummer EV, test the app to see if there’s any rubbish close by that you could haul away.
Lastly, again to the Meow Combine. Within the early days, Morgan named the corporate as a pretend sponsor of the Gambler 500, and as a substitute of rolling with it, Meow Combine had a less-than-positive response. Morgan doubled down with the snark, and that is why he was consuming snacks from a Meow Combine bag.
At the very least that is what he says. It’d nonetheless have been Ocean Explosion. Typical Gambler conduct.
Senior Editor, Options
Like a sleeper agent activated late within the sport, Elana Scherr didn’t know her calling at a younger age. Like many ladies, she deliberate to be a vet-astronaut-artist, and got here closest to that final one by attending UCLA artwork faculty. She painted photos of automobiles, however didn’t personal one. Elana reluctantly acquired a driver’s license at age 21 and found that she not solely beloved automobiles and needed to drive them, however that different individuals beloved automobiles and needed to examine them, which meant anyone needed to write about them. Since receiving activation codes, Elana has written for quite a few automotive magazines and web sites, protecting classics, automotive tradition, expertise, motorsports, and new-car critiques.