Blazing New Trails At The 2019 Tennessee Gambler 500

Make it work. Sure it may be old. Yeah, I know it hasn’t run in years. Yes, I’m aware that this isn’t exactly correct. No, I don’t expect it to make it through the whole trip. Oh yeah, this is going to be an adventure.

For anyone attending any Gambler 500 event these statements are very common. There can be a whole lot of doubt, and a bit of apprehension. There may even be a slight amount of fear of the unknown. However, once everyone gets on the trail, it all disappears and the fun starts.

A favorite at the Tennessee Gambler Redemption run was this beat-up, old Blazer.

For anyone that has not been to or heard of the Gambler 500, you are in the minority. These rally-style off-road-centric festivals are sweeping across the nation. The Gambler 500 is dedicated to taking cheap, impractical, and most of all, fun vehicles off-road. A guy named Tate Morgan started the initial event in Oregon. He wanted to get a few friends together and see how far cheap cars could go off-road. What he didn’t expect was that so many people from all over the country would take notice.

At a Gambler, it’s best to come prepared with everything you can fit in the vehicle.

The word “race” is missing from any and all descriptions of the Gambler. At the initial Gambler, Tate and his friends realized very quickly that the people that were having the most fun were the ones just enjoying the journey. It was the people that took their time and showed up with the most ridiculous rides that seemed to get the most fun out of the event. After that, the focus of the get-together turned from winning to bringing the most ridiculous and impractical project you could create.

This Chevy Blazer was dug out of the weeds by its owner just weeks before the February 2019 Tennessee Gambler 500.

With that spirit in mind, we found ourselves at the Tennessee Gambler titled “Redemption.” This was the second Tennessee Gambler held at the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. Many of the participants of the first Gambler held in September 2018 came back for redemption. Some came because the last one was fun. Others came back this time around to try their luck at some of the points that may have eluded them the previous time. We are lucky enough to visit both. We noticed a whole lot of new faces at Redemption. That’s always a good thing.

While cruising around checkpoints, we came across Daren Payne. His full-size Chevy Blazer screamed gambler rig. We just had to ask how he managed to be a part of this crew. He explained, “This is our first time coming to a Gambler. We had friends that came to the first one and they had such a good time. We figured we would get some tickets and head on down.”

For Daren Payne, his full-size Chevy Blazer screamed gambler rig.

People come to the Gambler for a lot of reasons. We have been to a few of them now. The one theme that seems to be consistent among participants is the strong sense of community. When you go to a Gambler, there is an understanding that something will break. Nevertheless, everyone helps each other. Whether you need a ride or a part, other participants will lend a hand.

As with all Gamblers, off-roading is a large part of the weekend-long event.

For Daren, his reasons for attending were twofold. He described his participation like this: “We knew it was going to be a good time because our friends went to the last one. That was reason number one. We looked at the Facebook groups and saw that fun was always the number-one rule. Have fun and don’t be a jerk. That’s what we took away from the Facebook groups. We can do that! Also, the nostalgia of it kind of struck me. I like to be a part of groups that want to have fun. I also like the fact that it’s not about trashing things or doing wrong. It’s about taking care of the land and bringing trash from the trail back out with you.”

Good stewardship of the land is a hallmark of any Gambler experience. Many participants will take the time during their build process to include grocery carts or roof racks. They do this so that they may haul more trash out of the trail than other attendees. Part of that is due to a sense of altruism. However, we would bet that the award for Most Trash Picked Up is also a motivator. While the event is not a race, there are awards presented for accomplishments. Gambler awards like Most Incapable Car and Longest Trip To Attend, among others, are doled out before the last day.

Custom bumpers and details were added to the rig before the Gambler run.

For Daren, the stewardship portion of the event is important. He plans to attach a large cart to the Blazer for the next Gambler. That way he can collect even more trash off the trail. During the Blazer build, Daren realized he needed to do some work in order to make the truck somewhat reliable.

Sometimes, even the smallest light can be helpful.

He said, “I’ve had this Blazer in my family for 25 years. We grenaded the rearend back in 2008 and it’s just been parked in some weeds ever since. So, about three weeks before the Gambler, we pulled it out and got to work. We crammed in a rearend from a Pull A Part yard. That was the first step. Then we added some cheap blocks and U-bolts to raise it up a little. It had 33-inch tires on it before. But we wanted to have 35- inch tires. We had to raise it up a little so it wouldn’t rub. Then we changed out the fuel pump and put some new gas in it. Here we are!”

The interior of the Blazer was left stock and is still in pretty good condition.

Following that little discussion, we were headed back to camp. That’s when we saw Daren’s Blazer on the side of the road, and no people in sight. We headed back to camp wondering what had happened and if they were all okay.

As it turned out, something Daren failed to mention to us during our first conversation was that the original tank in the Blazer might have had a little bit of rust in it. Daren shared that they had been having issues with the truck running since day one. Apparently the rust in the tank would get caught up in the fuel pump and the engine would stall due to fuel starvation.

Shaking the truck back and forth to get the rust was shaken free of the fuel pump was sometimes necessary to get the Blazer running.

“It’s an old donkey. It just goes and goes,” Daren said with a laugh. Apparently by shaking the truck back and forth they had been able to get the truck to run once the rust was shaken free of the fuel pump. At least it had worked up until now. They rocked the truck like crazy, but this time, it refused to run.

That kind of adventurous spirit and backwoods engineering is just the kind of experience the Gambler invites. The motto of the Gambler is “Always Be Gambling.” For many participants, just finding their ride before the Gambler is a gamble in and of itself. Getting the build together is a gamble for others. For yet other participants, keeping the vehicle running is the ultimate gamble.

Putting the truck together was a family affair for Daren. His youngest daughter helped put his custom grille on. The fun that they had in the garage working together to get ready is just a part of the experience for this crew. They gambled that they could put the truck together. It was a gamble that it would stay together. They gambled that it would be a good time, and they won big.

Daren’s youngest daughter helped put his custom grille on.

The best part of the Gambler for Daren and his family was that they got to do it together. For many of us, the adage that the family that wheels together stays together is a way of life. Our Gambler weekend was not exempt from challenges. In fact, the Tennessee Valley saw record flooding and rainfall during the entire weekend. That didn’t keep participants away or the Gambler spirit from thriving. Those challenges just brought everyone together.

If you have any interest in a good time with great people, you may want to check out your local Gambler 500 chapter. Chances are there is an opportunity close to you where you can experience some of the same things we described here. New states are getting in on the fun all the time.

Check out the Gambler 500 to see where the next chance is to get involved. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you spend. It doesn’t even matter what you wear or what you look like. The only thing that matters is that you embody the principles of the Gambler lifestyle. Take care of the land. Always be Gambling. Fun is always greater than rules. Finally, Don’t be a jerk. See you out there.

About the author

Christie Materni

As a photographer, and self-proclaimed "magic maker" for over 12 years, Christie loves to create anything from amazing images to great chocolate chip cookies. Traveling the country with her camera, husband, and sometimes a dog, in search of fast cars and tough trucks is her favorite way to spend the day.
Read My Articles

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