The 2022 Gambler 500 was the eighth annual gathering of the most unlikely do-gooders you will ever run across. The vehicles look like refugees from a low-budget Mad Max fan film. Each Gambler ride is perhaps illegal for road use by most definitions. The reality is, that the group consists of thousands of people in about 800 different vehicles all out looking to pick up trash from your forests and grasslands.
These misfits of do-goodery combined to haul a record 1000 cubic yards of junk out of public lands. That would fill 37 standard trash trucks. That is roughly 270 tons. When you think about it, it really is much more. A dozen junk cars were hauled out of public land, almost as many boats and several trailers. And so many tires!
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There are many iterations of Gambler 500 events in nearly every state, but this is the “OG” original that started it all in Central Oregon. Tate Morgan and a host of friends were tired of looking at piles of garbage in the forests. As the word spread over those first couple of years people came out in droves. Now it is in the thousands.
It Is More Than Picking Up Trash
The weekend is mostly about cleaning up our public lands, but there has to be more to attract a wider variety of car enthusiasts. Along with venturing out into nature, there is a HooptieX Rally Cross race, mini bike races, go-kart races, live bands, a midway of food trucks, and manufacturers that support the Gambler lifestyle.
Even beyond all that, it is about doing things with friends. Making new friends. Finding friends, you never knew you had. It is about the innately human process of seeking out people with similar dysfunctions. And petting lots and lots of dogs.
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Alright, Who Brought The Rain?
By 10:00 pm on Friday night, the rain came to Central Oregon. It was as bad as what the Portland area was getting, but it made things very slick off the road. It even made the HooptieX more interesting. In true Gambler fashion though, no one paid it much attention.
Off Road Xtreme Gets More Involved
Last year I was assigned to cover this event and did so in my wife’s 2007 Honda Accord. It is a really nice car, and therefore completely unfit for Gambler 500 duty. This year I wanted to do more than photograph it and talk to people that were out there. I grabbed trash bags, a shovel, gloves, a sleeping bag, and talked Ford Motor Company out of a 2021 F-150 Hybrid 4×4 for the weekend. Still too nice to be a true Gambler vehicle, but it was far more capable than an Accord. That, and I am not afraid of Ford, my wife, however…
There are four classes in HooptieX. For stock vehicles, there is a two-wheel-drive class and one for four-wheel-drive. This is for vehicles that are “arguably” about $500, the rules are, shall we say, loose. Then you have “Hater” class, this is for shiny newer cars and trucks and prepared rally cars. Finally, there is “Super Soft” class, for all-out off-road racing machinery, UTV vehicles, or custom-built off-roaders.
The creativity and decorations rival any straight Gambler car. However, Gamblers are urged to obey all rules of the road, a HooptieX is in a dirt field and speed is the name of the game. This years course measured 1.7 miles. A quick lap was in the three and a half minute range.
The winners of the HooptieX were in Super Soft, Shilo Downer, vehicle unknown with a time of 2:47.299. In Hater it was once again Alex Chadney in his Subaru rally car with a time of 2 minutes, and 35.569 seconds. The All Wheel Drive class was taken by Russell Applen in a Subaru with a best time of 2 minutes, and 44.419 seconds. And finally, the massive two-wheel-drive class belonged to William Loehr in his Toyota with a 2 minutes, and 51.628 seconds.
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At the end of the weekend, there was crowned a 2022 Gambler 500 World Champion. This year it is Michael Shotwell, a Gambler among gamblers. Shotwell has Gambled in all lower 48 states and works hard to spread the word. Well deserved, Michael.
The Ballad Of Matt And Russ
This is the Mercedes Benz of Matt and Russ. Matt and Russ tried climbing a muddy and rocky hill without anything protecting the oil pan. The 5W30 escaped onto the ground far from pavement. Lucky for them Off Road Xtreme was able to give them a ride back to meet family members. Never leave a Gambler behind!
Photography by John Elkin