Ever drive up to a place and get the creeps? Well, that was the feeling as we pulled up to the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee. The prison was to be our home away from home as we attended a Gambler 500 event there. That was where we came across Bobby Laymance and his Flaming Lemon Drop, a late-70s Ford LTD II. Bobby Laymance is the head distiller for the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary based moonshine company End of the Line Moonshine. It just so happens that the same location is haunted and hosts ghost tours during the summer months and various events throughout the year.
For those that are not familiar, Gambler 500 events are typically weekend events that challenge participants to acquire a vehicle for approximately $500 or less. Then wheel that vehicle to established GPS coordinates. Extra cool points are provided to those that create an especially different or impractical rig. The focus has always been on the idea that there doesn’t need to be a set of rules that everyone has to play by. Instead, creativity and fun is emphasized far above any dollar amount spent or adherence to specific rules.
We met Bobby and his wild gambler build during a moonshine tasting the first night of the event. His friendly demeanor and openness immediately won us over. Bobby is one of those guys that you talk to for a short time and feel like you have known him forever. Friendly and always willing to lend a hand, he immediately agreed to tell us about his build.
One look at his build told us that Bobby had gone above and beyond putting together a rig with a lot of personal touches as well as being one capable of running the gambler. The 2019 Tennessee Gambler is the second event of its kind to be held at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary. The inaugural event in September 2018 was the first time that Bobby or his son, Bobby Jr., had ever heard of a gambler. Event organizer Mason Dixon had reached out to the Brushy Mountain owner in an effort to hold the gambler there.
That is how Bobby first heard of the event and saw the cool creations that were brought in to challenge the local terrain. Bobby was too busy distilling moonshine to participate in the first event. But both he and Bobby Jr. agreed that they should definitely put something together to have some fun at the next one. Mason and the owner of the property agreed to hold a second gambler in February of 2019 and Bobby and his son set to work to create a rig worthy of the gambler title.
Bobby originally bought the car four years ago with 61,000 original miles on it. It had only had one previous owner, but it had been sitting for a long time. Unfortunately, as we all know, cars do not like to sit for a long time. This resulted in the fuel tank, brakes, carburetor, and several other components going bad. Fortunately, Bobby is handy with every kind of tool and the work that needed doing didn’t dampen his spirit a bit.
Instead he, his daughter Alicia, and Bobby Jr. set to work. Over the next three weeks (mostly on weekends), they replaced all of the previous components with new ones. They even went as far as to replace all of the lines and add a fuel cell. Belts, plugs, and general tune-up items were completed before work started on the suspension. Coilover springs were added to the rear in order to provide some lift. Spacers were added to the front to create enough room for the larger wheels and tires. “Those wheels and tires were the most expensive things on the whole build,” Bobby Sr. stated with a laugh.
Bobby started work at Brushy Mountain by doing general contracting but the owner soon recognized his talent, work ethic, creativity, and indomitable spirit; and off he went to moonshine school. If you’re anything like us, you’re probably wondering whether moonshine school is a real thing. Yes, that’s a real thing. This transition meant that he had to distill full-time and his previous business of Laymance Customs would be dormant for a bit. Bobby was good with that, though.
The benefit was that he still had a shop to work in and even had some leftover materials to use for his gambler build. Metal scrap was readily available around the shop. One day while taking a break from the build and discussing their next steps, the trio noticed some piping lying around. This became the machine gun on the roof, which adds an element of malice to an otherwise colorful and whimsical build. “We pretty much had everything else stuck together and I saw it sitting there. I thought to myself, ‘Yup, that there looks like a machine gun,’ and so up there it went,” Bobby explained.
Bobby just happened to have the flaming yellow and pearl paint hanging out from another project; it followed the spirit of what they were after. “I didn’t sand it or nothing. I just went ahead and sprayed it,” he admitted. One of the best things about a gambler build is that it’s up to the individual to create something memorable. Bobby turned much of the creative license over to his son Bobby Jr. “He’s really good on ideas and being artistic, so he helped me with all of the metal art and drew all of the designs on the car,” Bobby Sr. said. One of the most notable designs on the car includes the cartoonish image of Bobby Sr. in his favorite Hulk Hogan costume. “We go out to Vegas and I get all dressed up in my costume, so he put those on there for me. He can draw, that’s for sure,” he commented.
This was the family’s first participation in the Gambler 500, but they are definitely bitten by the bug now. The entire family is getting in on the fun, as the overall plan for the next one is to build at least four cars. “I want to do something even crazier, so Alicia or Bobby Jr. will probably drive this one, and we’ll build up one for me and one for my friend down the road who has a body shop. We don’t know exactly what we’re gonna build just yet, but we know we’re gonna do something. We just had a lot of fun and we want to have more cars in the next one,” Bobby Sr. said.
Bobby estimates he’s probably got about $2,500 invested in the rig. He’s already said he would sell it for that amount, so if you’re in the market, it’s one to consider. The only other modification planned is possibly a higher air intake for when things get wet. Things definitely got wet at this event, as Tennessee experienced historic rainfall during the gambler.
“I was whooped by the end of the day on Saturday,” Bobby admitted. Despite the tough conditions, Bobby and his family wheeled over washed-out trails and bounced over rocks without any significant damage. In fact, the only real issue they experienced was the carburetor flooding at times. “We followed some other people and had a great time. We also came across a culvert that was totally flooded at one point. One of the guys with us said, ‘Well, we can turn around,’ but then someone else said, ‘Let’s build a bridge.’ So that’s what we did. We threw logs and rocks into the hole and eventually we drove right across. Everyone is really great and everyone helps everybody. We had a blast and I loved it,” he said.
If you’re ever in Tennessee the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary is a must-see. It’s right near the Devil’s Triangle in Petros; that’s Morgan County, Tennessee. There’s nothing better to do after wheeling than stopping for some good food and a little bit of moonshine. Don’t forget to take the tour at the prison and say hi to Bobby.