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mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/12/18 10:53 a.m.

Authors note: My intention was for this to simple article sized post, my attempt at refining my writing as a real author. I can't do it. There is too much information, too much story. Instead it will be several posts and lots of pictures. 

"Offroading in the dark, having fun."  
I shot off a text to my wife as I waited at the bottom of a hill outside Bastrop Texas. This was partly to reassure her that I was ok, and partly so that she might have a nice set of last words from me, just in case. I was behind the wheel of a lifted Subaru Imprezza and the hill in front of me was steep, slippery, and had a washout big enough to swallow a full size truck. From the back seat, Dallas, the car owner and builder yells "Now we're gambling! Send it!" and up we go.
The Gambler 500 is a series of similar events held all over the country. Rules are loose, buy something for $500 or less, make it capable and safe, and spend the weekend doing a road rally with it. The original Gambler 500 was held in Oregon in 2014 with 14 entrants as a test of how far $500 vechicles can go and it set the tone for all future events by using a questionable definition of "road". Enthusiasm for the event quickly spread and a series of loosely affiliated events sprang up all over the country. A quick internet search for "Gambler 500" will bring page after page of video. Jacked up cars on mud tires doing things that they clearly shouldn't be doing. Ten minutes of watching will either convince you that you need to join in, or stay far away. I'm heavily in the join camp, so when Dallas casually dropped "I'm building a Gambler car" into a conversation, I knew I needed to weasel my way in. 


I decided to be the embedded journalist. To observe and participate, to get the full story of what this event is and who the people are that do it. The world is filled with proper motorsport, both on road and off, so why Gamble? Why put time and effort into cars that are right on the edge of being worth more as scrap than as a car? The car I spent the weekend in is 1996 Subaru Imprezza L Wagon named Busty LaRue. It's powered by the very unloved single cam 2.2 and that power flows though a vaguely selected five speed manual transmission and very functional AWD. Modifications include a four Subaru Forester struts, and a set ot 225/75R15 Goodyear Wrangler TrailRunner AT tires. If you try this with your own Imprezza you'll note that these tires won't fit without considerable sheetmetal removal and hammer bashing that is sure to bother your neighbors. The worlds cheapest offroad LED lights were bolted high and low, a skid plate was added, the rear sway bar was disconnected and all of the neglected regular car type maintenance was caught up after two years of being left for dead in a field. The car drove over 800 miles, served as sleeping quarters for two nights, and was flawless. If there was any problem with the car, it's that it provided no drama. To properly Gamble implies that you're taking a chance, that you might not make it, but Busty was a sure thing. 

The rest of the field.....well.....I'll let pictures tell most of that story. I didn't catch every competitor, merely a cross section. You'll note that there were plenty of cars that fall outside the $500 rule. The Gambler aims to be inclusive and doesn't turn people away. Instead Gamblers choose to lead by example. Showing up in something that is too capable simply makes you want to go home and shop for something worse next time. People don't go home from an event and shop for Jeeps, they go home and shop for Chevettes. It's the way of the Gambler. 

 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/12/18 11:55 a.m.

7:00 am Saturday morning. It was still dark as I drove through the gate at Rally Ready Driving School outside Austin Texas. I had a bag of breakfast tacos as a peace offering to the team that I didn't know. They had all slept in their cars, and I had slept on a friends couch, so a hot breakfast seemed like the right thing to do. This seems like a good place to introduce the cast of characters.  

Dallas: This guy is the car owner and the man who made things possible. He drew the three of us in from different places and backgrounds. This is his third Gambler having done two in Arkansas previously. I met Dallas through the GRM forums because he loves cars and the people that play with them. We've hung out and talked cabover trucks and projects and all sorts of things. His enthusiasm and dedication to the act of participating in all things automotive is infectious. He's the kind of friend you want to have. He currently has six Subarus scattered about the Houston area. I asked him "why Subaru" and he made a valiant attempt to logic his way into something that boils down to "I like them". 

Adam: Adam is connected to Dallas through Formula SAE in college. He literally has a doctorate in automotive shenanigans and Texas marked his seventh Gambler. He drove 10 hours from Kansas just to drive around with us. That sounds kind of insane, but it's just scratching the surface with Adam. He usually Gambles in a short bus on Deuce and a Half tires with stacks that throw fireballs. Driving a bus gives him enough room to do things like smuggle booze across state lines to make sure that the event can go off without a hitch. His idea of toning it down is to step back from the bus and into a mid 80's FWD Cadillac. The motivator for this change is to drive to car north this year, his whole family in the seats next to him and make a two week family vacation out of driving the Oregon Gambler. Adam is the voice of Gambler experience. He knows how things work, how to navigate, and how to fix a car if need be. 

Jim: Here is the grownup of the group. I say that only because he's the only one with less than 10 motor vehicles, so he must somehow be acting more responsibly than the rest of us. Jim is on a downward spiral though, I know it. He's taken a drink of the Subaru coolaid and wants more. A fairly normal sporty car purchase leads to straight pipes and extra boost and  dragging home another Subaru for a rally car project. Jim was instrumental in helping Dallas prep and modify the Imprezza for Gambler duty providing help, insight, and late night garage space. This was Jim's first Gambler, though I doubt it wil be his last. 

Seth: This is me, just a guy who likes to play with cars and meet other people who feel the same. My contribution was a couple of stickers, and a bag of tacos. 

Drivers meeting was at 9:00. Not so much rules as guidelines. Be a good person. Be a good neighbor when entering and leaving Rally Ready. Don't hurt anyone, especially yourselves. Follow laws to the best of your ability. Have fun. If this isn't fun then there isn't much point to it. Truer words have never been spoken. 
First cars out at 10:00. This is a road rally, but they spiced things up by starting and finishing the event on the stage roads and offroad trails at Rally Ready. Rain in the days before the event made things slippery and more than a few people needed help getting through. It was a good way to start the weekend. 

Completing the stage roads meant that you got a coordinate sheet, and we were off! 
If there was any area for improvement with the event, it was waypoints. We were taken on a winding crazy route east of Austin. Fantastic scenery, some great roads, and a lot of things I would never have seen driving around by myself. Many of those things would have made fantastic waypoints, but more often than not we were directed to some guy's mailbox, or a power pole on the side of a field. Meanwhile, when we did seem something interesting, we stopped, walked around, and enjoyed ourselves. This is the first year for the Texas Gambler and I suspect that next year the waypoints will be as good as the route.  
We ran into surprisingly few Gamblers along the way. Part of this was us being fairly early in the run order (we were ahead of a lot of people) and part of it was people deciding that hitting every waypoint was unnecessary to enjoying the day. You Gamble the way you want to Gamble. 

We manage to hit every waypoint on the first day and have photographic evidence of it. Some Gamblers are scored with points awarded for waypoints and tasks along the way. This one was not, and overall people were ok with that. Gas and food stops needed to be managed if you wanted to get everything done in a reasonable time frame. Lucking Texas has the solution to every travel need in one gigantic place, Buckees. 

After dinner huddled around a light pole we headed to the offroad roads outside Bastrop where I sent my wife that message. It appeared to be a failed housing development that was used by everyone with 4wd that wanted to have a good time. On our way in we warned by a departing Ford Explorer that things were gnarly. He wasn't wrong, and it was so much fun that after I did a lap behind the wheel to hit all the waypoints, Dallas hopped in and did the route in reverse. We did indeed have fun, and a quick drive from there got us back to Rally Ready. 
There was a large campfire and loud cheery conversation went on well into the night. I'm old, lame, and it was cold so I hopped into my car and my sleeping bag for the night. 

 

Lof8
Lof8 Dork
2/12/18 12:16 p.m.

Very cool!  There was a group planning one in N Florida that seems to have gone quiet. But if one ever shows up within 500 or so miles from me, I will be there!

bluej
bluej UltraDork
2/12/18 12:20 p.m.

oh man, I lost it at "free tide snacks" laugh

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/12/18 12:33 p.m.

Sunday morning was just above freezing and somewhere between fog and rain. Several of the Miatas opened their tents, looked around, and loaded up on trailers. Apparently Miata is 'almost' always the answer. When looking at the cars in previous posts it's easy to discount them as rolling junk in much the same way that people discount LeMons race cars as rolling junk. While not 100% false, the majority of the Gambler cars are very well prepared. Looking through the wheels and under the cars revealed brand new brake parts, shiny steering gear and fasteners that had all been torqued. Cars were mostly lifted with knowledge and parts appropriate to the task at hand and with an eye toward handling both on and off road. Many cars had tires that far exceeded the initial cost of the vehicle. It's fair to say the most of the Gamblers know how to prepare a safe reliable car, which is something that doesn't fully come across in the pictures and and video from past events. It's there though, these guys know what they're doing. 
I hopped up onto the second story porch of the ranch house to try and snap a picture of the camp in the early morning fog. Equal parts race paddock and Burning man, it was a sight. 

Off on the second day. Navigation for these rallies is fairly straight forward. A sheet with coordinates with a few notes. Use your software of choice on a phone or computer and remember that being able to communicate with GPS satellites is not the same as having the data to navigate.

As we left Sunday morning we were given the warning that we had to make it back to Rally Ready by 2:00 if we wanted to run the stage roads for the day. As we punched in coordinates it became clear that we couldn't make them all and still be back in time. We did try a few short cuts. 

The roads on the second day were even better than the first though with less gravel. They still took us to some beautiful locations including Hamilton Pool where we did the 10 minute hike to get the team picture you saw earlier and a couple cool low water river crossings where I had the opportunity to geek out about carbonate geology to my teammates. 

We made it back at Rally Ready to do one last loop through the woods. It was technically harder, but the lack of afternoon precipitation had it drier than the previous morning and some carful crawling reduced drama considerably. I've helped organize some events here and worked on some of these roads, to see them being enjoyed by such a wide variety of people made me happy. 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/12/18 12:51 p.m.

With the temperature hovering right around 34 degrees we packed up our cars, shook hands and headed home. Depending on when people finish and what the weather is, there is more or less of a party atmosphere when it's all over. Had it been 30 degrees warmer I think most of use would have gladly hung out and gotten home two hours later. Maybe next year.  
When it's all said and done, it was a fantastic weekend. I've seen more of the state I live in, strangers have become friends, and my ideas of what a car is capable of have forever been altered. There was lots of chatter about "next year" as the teams were packing up and I have no doubt that right now is the perfect time to sell an AMC Eagle in the Houston area. I'm personally trying to figure out how to explain to my wife that I desperately need a car that's worse in every way than the 10 I already own. 
There was a diversity in this group that I haven't seen before at any automotive event. There were people who thought a car event always included beer, a tow rope, and mud, and others would could talk ackermann and what tires were going to work best for endurance racing this season. 

I want to thank the people that are responsible for the Gambler 500, both nationally and in Texas. I didn't actually meet any of them and that certainly makes me a terrible journalist. I guess we're all learning. The Houston Overland group provided support and pre-running of the route and yanked people out of the mud and was responsible for a great group of guys coming out. Rally Ready put in a ton of time working on roads and developing a route through the woods that would strike a balance between possible and hard enough that some people would suffer, if just a little bit. 
Thanks to Dallas and Adam and Jim. Then let me not only tag along, but drive a car that wasn't mine on some enjoyable difficult terrain. We Gambled, and we won. 

dculberson
dculberson UltimaDork
2/12/18 1:08 p.m.

Awesome. I'll have to look for any nearby events. I did just have the $400 Sidekick fall into my lap.

EvanB
EvanB MegaDork
2/12/18 1:47 p.m.

In reply to dculberson :

Detroit Gambler is coming up, April 28 I believe. 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/12/18 2:05 p.m.
EvanB said:

In reply to dculberson :

Detroit Gambler is coming up, April 28 I believe. 

Do it!

Cotton
Cotton PowerDork
2/12/18 2:29 p.m.

What’s the thing that looks like it started life as some sort of crazy van or bus?  That thing is awesome.

EvanB
EvanB MegaDork
2/12/18 2:35 p.m.
mazdeuce - Seth said:
EvanB said:

In reply to dculberson :

Detroit Gambler is coming up, April 28 I believe. 

Do it!

I'm planning on it. Probably in a Volvo 240. 

sleepyhead
sleepyhead HalfDork
2/12/18 4:10 p.m.
Cotton said:

What’s the thing that looks like it started life as some sort of crazy van or bus?  That thing is awesome.

my guess was airport fire engine

Slammo
Slammo New Reader
2/12/18 4:17 p.m.

I believe they said that is the chassis and running gear from a Chevrolet pickup, but with a custom hunting body installed.  Why, I don't know.

bmw88rider
bmw88rider SuperDork
2/12/18 5:26 p.m.

How did I miss this? GRRRR. Right in my back yard. I'll have to set a reminder for next year to look. 

 

Awesome Write up Seth

sleepyhead
sleepyhead HalfDork
2/12/18 5:29 p.m.
Slammo said:

I believe they said that is the chassis and running gear from a Chevrolet pickup, but with a custom hunting body installed.  Why, I don't know.

Because Texas
?

chada75
chada75 Reader
2/12/18 5:36 p.m.

The old Magnum and T-Bird is love.

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/12/18 7:10 p.m.

In reply to bmw88rider :

Thanks, I was torn about starting a thread before hand so that more people might know, but this was a deliberate attempt and living in the moment, collecting the story, and putting it down in words. I even brought a notebook and took notes. laugh

In reply to chada75 :

We did our first loop through the woods behind the Magnum for most of it. It was a pretty simple spring over conversion with an extra leaf added and the torsion bars in front cranked to to moon. The articulation and ability to soak up bumps was impressive. We talked to them for a bit and their plan is to drop a 12 valve Cummins in it before next year. It was cool. 

RevRico
RevRico UltraDork
2/12/18 7:16 p.m.
Cotton said:

What’s the thing that looks like it started life as some sort of crazy van or bus?  That thing is awesome.

Looks like a smaller version of a mud pontoon like this. The "why" of a mud pontoon is so a dozen people can drink beer in the mud, as far as I can tell. 

I've never seen a build for one, but all of the ones I've seen on video have been surprisingly agile and well behaved in places even the trucks they're built from get stuck. 

 

Seth, great job on the article send with all the pictures. It looks and sounds like a blast, and I'm now debating the Detroit gamble cause it's semi close and just looks so fun. 

bmw88rider
bmw88rider SuperDork
2/12/18 8:19 p.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

Well, If I remember next year you are more than welcome to join along. I'll even bring the mummy bags if it's cold. They keep you nice and warm. I would regularly sleep out at MSR-C in January in those. wink

sleepyhead
sleepyhead HalfDork
2/12/18 8:38 p.m.

I figured I'd drop some statistics, just because it's easy for me to pull them about; and maybe knowing them would/will be useful.

Total "story length" is 2537 words, based on the writing program I use (Scrivener).

Post #1:   672 words
Post #2: 1048 words
Post #3:  461 words
Post #4:  356 words

I reckon that the forum format encourages multiple posts vis-a-vis a single one.  I reckon a second pass of editing could probably neck it down to 2k words and three posts... which I would encourage you to do from a "personal development" perspective.  Unfortunately, Scrivener's only available on Win/Mac/Linux/iOS currently.

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
2/13/18 11:45 p.m.

I want to do a Gambler...

pilotbraden
pilotbraden UltraDork
2/14/18 5:58 a.m.

Well now, all winter I have been driving a Focus that I bought 2 years ago for $500 and Detroit has one of these events in April. What should I do?

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/14/18 7:14 a.m.
pilotbraden said:

Well now, all winter I have been driving a Focus that I bought 2 years ago for $500 and Detroit has one of these events in April. What should I do?

One of the coolest things about the Gambler is that they're traditionally free. There are some fees for camping or for access to an offroad park if that's on the menu, but the organizers do all of this out of the kindness of their hearts. Fees for the four of us for the weekend were less than $100. So my thought is.....DO IT! Take that Focus, grab a buddy, and see what it's made of. 

In reply to Vigo :

I was wandering around on the second day contemplating vehicles and thought "I wonder where I could find a two door Dodge Raider......Vigo would know......"

edizzle89
edizzle89 Dork
2/14/18 7:36 a.m.

plan to do a Gambler with some buddies in 2019, either Arkansas (closest for the 3 of us) or just go all out and make our way to Oregon. seems like some of the most fun you can have on 4 wheels

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltraDork
2/14/18 7:50 a.m.

The West Virginia Gambler is probably close enough for me to attend, and this seems like a fun thing to build a very silly car for.  Hmmm.

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