It seems that I have been hearing about the Gambler 500 for far too long. For those that are not familiar, Gambler 500 events are typically weekend-long, off-road navigational challenges. Participants must navigate to off-road waypoints in cars that are slightly less than ideal for the terrain.
In fact, most of the time these rides have never been off-road a day in their lives. The drivers basically gamble that their chosen vehicle will make it to the waypoints. Then the next gamble is that the vehicle will also be able to make it back to the established camp. Many of the cars are even expected to make the potentially multi-state trek back home after the event as well.
Gamblers, as the participants and rides are referred to, are encouraged to acquire a vehicle for approximately 500 dollars or less. Then they wheel that vehicle to the established GPS coordinates. Extra cool points are provided to those that create an especially different or impractical rig.
The amount of money spent on the vehicle is always considered a moot point, as fun is always greater than any established set of rules. Gambler 500 events stretch all over the U.S. and Canada, and the one theme that persists amongst all of the events is that fun is greater than any established set of rules.
This isn’t just an event to smash up some cheap cars. The hallmark of the event is stewardship of the land. A prize is handed down to the participant or team that collects the most trash on the trails during the event. It is not at all uncommon for several large dumpsters to be filled with trash during the weekend. It’s a pretty significant achievement that goes a long way toward gaining the support of local communities and law enforcement agencies in the communities where Gambler 500 events are held.
One of the participants at this year’s OG Gambler 500 was AJ Butler. He and his 2000 Dodge Ram really stand out in a crowd. After seeing it, you can’t help but want to find out how it ended up there.
“I have a bunch of nice cars and I’m afraid to drive them,” AJ admitted. This is a sentiment shared by many Gambler 500 participants and we have heard it before. AJ explained, “I wanted to get a crappy car that I could actually really hammer on, and this is my first year here with my own vehicle. We are pretty happy to be here and it’s been just a great time. Everyone has been really cool and shown us some love. You stop and get help and then you help other people along the way. It’s been really amazing.”
What people have no idea about is just how much of a family atmosphere these events create. Everyone is in the same boat, so to speak. That is to say that everyone is driving off-road in a vehicle that is less than ideal for the situation. That results in quite a bit of carnage at times. It also creates a great opportunity for people to meet other like-minded souls and lend a hand.
The big Ram came into being after AJ and some friends had kicked around ideas for a build for about a month. They settled on an Angry Birds theme. AJ said, “It was my daughters’ idea. She cut most of the feathers that are on the truck. They were all one big sheet of vinyl that were individually cut and then laid on the truck. It took three people about three 10-hour days to get them all done and then laid on the truck.”
The big angry red Ram has definitely been a family affair, as AJ’s wife Jessica also got in on the action. She used a computer-aided vinyl design and cutting machine to do several of the graphics placed on the ride.
The day AJ bought the truck, the hood flipped up on the drive home. AJ remembered that, “I was just driving home and it flipped up. It puckered me all up and I thought for sure I was going to wreck.” A later inspection reveled that the hood mechanism had been held in place with a hair tie from the previous owner.
The roll bar came out of a 1978 GMC that was sitting out in the middle of a field for years. It is customized with some all-thread bolts to mount a large slingshot, inspired by the mobile game. AJ admitted that the group has sent water balloons flying up to 500 feet with the setup.
Lighting the night is handled by the KC lights that came with the truck when it was purchased. One of the most noticeable features includes the side pipes. They are off of a 1951 Mercury lead sled.
AJ shared that, “The guy that had it didn’t like that it had three ports. So we took them off and put on new ones. Then I put these on with some old cutouts I had lying around. They are fully functional and so is the tailpipe. That allows you to shut these down if you are driving on the highway. If you want to show off, then you can unplug these things and make some noise!”
The wheels and tires came from a newer Dodge Ram and were sourced off of Craigslist. AJ then took the time to spray paint them so they would glow in the dark. The Angry bird face on the dune flag was custom made by an embroidery shop in California. AJ sent the owner an email and she was able to do the deed for a mere 12 dollars.
AJ built the front bumper with some scrap quarter-inch-thick schedule 40 pipe that was lying around at work. He recalled that, “I don’t remember pulling out a tape measure once. It’s definitely not perfect. It does look pretty good, though, for being done completely by eye. We also mounted a Harbor Freight winch that we hope works.”
AJ was unable to make the stock front grille go back on the truck. He surfed the net for a while to find something that would protect the radiator. He explained, “I was able to find this deal where I got the headlights and the grill for only 30 bucks. Well, I found out why it was so cheap quick. The grille is a cheap knock-off that doesn’t fit worth a darn. I just jury-rigged up some brackets to make it work.”
The hood came from a local junkyard and was sourced with all new hinges and the ever-important hood latching system for 28 dollars. Four broom heads from the local dollar store create the ever-fashionable mohawk on top. A couple of large magnets ensure that the mohawk can blow safely in the breeze with no worries.
The original 5.9-liter Magnum V8 still resides under the hood. However, during the course of the Gambler 500, it did develop a lifter tick. This was quickly addressed with some thicker oil and a lot of positive thinking.
Second gear was lost in the original automatic transmission during the towing of a fellow gambler with a busted oil pan. AJ said, “When you go to get on the highway or anything, it goes straight from first to third gear. It really does suck for off-roading because first and second gears are all you use. We got through most of day one and we think we’ll make it home.”
Future plans for the rig include the repair of the transmission and also some engine upgrades. Exactly what those upgrades will be is undetermined as of yet. As long as the same attention to detail and jovial spirit is placed into that work, we are sure it will come out amazing.
The Gambler 500 events have become a nationwide phenomenon that brings off-road enthusiasts and car people together in a symphony of chaos. If you have a crappy car sitting out in your yard or know someone that does, this could be your creative outlet. Maybe you will bring the best car. Maybe you’ll bring the worst. At a Gambler 500 both will be celebrated. You may even walk away with a new ring for your troubles. In any case, you will definitely come away with some great new stories to tell all your friends and loved ones. We sure have.