The Gambler 500: Magnificent Motorized Madness

I just attended Oregon’s Gambler 500. It was my first time “gambling,” I had no idea what to expect, who’d to expect, or what vehicles I’d see. Imagine Mad Max meeting a theme rally, who then meets a bunch of mechanics, “animals”, and creative folks. Throw that in a blender and you get what I experienced: sheer awesomeness and madness.

Andy and I drove The PDXJ and the company Andy works for, Warn Industries, had sponsored the event. We were handing out free product and were on the official recovery team for the event. The recovery group was stationed at Meadows around 5:00am, ready to assist anyone who broke at the line, broke before the line, or just needed help getting to the line. I had the chance to meet many characters as hundreds of customized rigs were lining up. Old Chevys, Subaru Impreza wagons, tiny Justys, an old Jeep Cherokee just bought off the lot for the event. Hacked up minivans, Crown Vics, and Mustangs were present. Oh, and we can’t forget the puppy car, the Blue Waffle car, the Energizer battery Hot Wheels SUV, or the dozens of vehicles that had customized hood ornaments, roof ornaments, or piecemeal exhaust and intake systems! Lots of imagination here. And after seeing all this, I just knew we’d have a great day.

Seeing some of these crazy rigs in action while winding through city streets, gravel trails, dusty forest service roads, and Oregon’s highways proved to be hilarious, fun, and just plain awesome. As you’d expect, there were multiple breakdowns and tows were during the two-day, 500 mile Gambler event, but we didn’t hear anyone complaining. Instead we saw people totally happy to lend a helping hand to fellow Gambling strangers. Whether it was pulling somebody out of a ditch, helping fix their rig (like we did with our winch by straightening someone’s A arm), or simply handing out cold drinks, people were awesome.

Turning The PDXJ around at the top of Brokeback to help a Subaru in need.
The PDXJ in action using our WARN to pull a Subaru’s A-arm back into place. It worked!

I never thought I would see so many fantastic costumes either: beer bottle people, Smurfs, and even the Devil himself. The creative feeling was infectious and awesome.

The overnight check-point was HooDoo Ski Area near Bend, OR. It was packed and I witnessed a car show like none other. It was also the place for repairs as folks prepped for the next day’s drive. One massive party was had; you could mingle, have some drinks, get a tattoo at the mobile tattoo bus, or even soak in the hot tub while drinking your beer in the articulated bus! Yes, you read right. The mighty bus was bought right out of a field, new motor dropped in the night before, and she fired up ready to rock for the event. Yes, they found enough water to FILL the hot tub!

Yes, this is a mobile Tattoo parlor!
Yes, this is a custom articulated bus that includes a fully functional hot tub!

After waking up to an automated rooster call turned into a sick cow moan (which would’ve been weird anywhere other than the Gambler 500), day two had more choices of easy, medium, or difficult routes. We decided to run the difficult trails both days. We figured folks may have a harder time traversing the rocks and bumps along the Barlow trail in vehicles such as a Barbie pink chop-top Cadillac, or getting stuck at Brokeback waypoint, which was up in the mountains. Thankfully, the only recovering we did was winching the aforementioned A-arm straight and filling up a land yacht’s rear air bags with our on-board ARB air compressor (they gave us beer and an awesome hat as a thank you!).

Not too much damage considering this pink Caddy tooled along Oregon’s Barlow Trail.

As the day drew to a close, those who could still drive their hacked-up hatchback, sawzalled SUV, lifted sedan, or chop-top minivan made their way back to Portland Meadows for a car and vendor show, give-away session, and post-run beverages. There was even a vehicle auction where Gamblers could sell their rigs for cash that would get donated to the Children’s Cancer Association. In fact, the Gambler 500 ended up donating $3,200 to the charity.

Tate, the Gambler 500 organizer, giving away product and auctioning off Gambler rigs!

Over 744 vehicles turned out for the event, far more than the anticipated amount, but everyone chipped in to help each other along the way, picked up trail trash as necessary (there was a prize for the biggest amount of shell casings you could collect), and had a safe and all-around good time. I highly recommend this event to everyone next year. And even if you don’t buy a $500 crap-can cruiser to customize and run the event, at least be around to watch everyone else run it. #alwaysbegambling

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