If you haven’t heard about the Gambler 500, you’re in for a treat.

The original Gambler 500 started in Oregon back in 2014 as a large scale, trash cleanup effort in $500 cars. Since then, it has spawned variants across the US in multiple states. Most states now have some sort of Gambler 500 event at least once a year, meaning you most likely don’t have to travel too far for one. Having attended several of these here in the southeast myself, I’d like to share some things with you all about these events. Here are some things to expect at your local Gambler 500 event:

Gambler 500 Trail Cleanup


     1. You WILL get muddy.

It is unavoidable. No matter if it is intended or not, you will not be leaving this event as clean as you came into it. Sometimes, the campsites will have some form of mud bowl off to the side for participants to sling their cars around in. Other times, you’ll find deep ruts on trails that will force cars to hit redline just to make it through. Regardless, there is mud to be slung. It’ll find its way into your car, your shoes & even your teeth. If your idea of a fun time is “a night in” then these events are not for you.

Sean's Lifted Vette

     2. You WILL come across about anything while cleaning.

The goal of these events is to clean trash from roads, highways & trails. Each time I have gone, I have seen something new pulled out of a ditch or gulley. We always travel in groups where guys & gals are not afraid to glove up and clean up trash wherever possible. We have found old TV’s, microwaves, tires & even boats! We always try to find a way to haul it all off. Most events have large dumpsters outside of camp or base for participants to toss all of their trash. A group of about 50 people can fill a large dumpster completely within a weekend.

Lifted Honda Family Photo

     3. You WILL find your cars limit.

If you didn’t already know, you will now. Most cars that show up to the event are within the $500 budget. Crown Vic’s, Civics, old Kias – I’m almost sure I’ve seen it all by now. Most of these cars are 2WD, which you wouldn’t think would be great off road. But I have seen plenty of beaters make it up hills that even most Jeep guys wouldn’t dare touch. I have watched a FWD Honda Civic casually climb a steep hill that a 4WD GMC struggled up. I have seen a Toyota Yaris go through a mud bog so deep that it was almost to the rockers. I have watched a Chevy Lumina do reverse donuts in a creek. You would be surprised by how hard it is to completely stop a car.

Casey Shull Civic Truck

     4. You WILL break something.

Don’t worry, it’s a beater. It never fails, however, that something breaks out on the trails. Clutch line failure, snapped control arm, cracked radiator, tie rod snaps – I have seen it all. Some folks TRY to break their cars by pushing them to their breaking point. I have known multiple people to bring cars for the sole purpose of breaking them for fun. It will happen, so make sure you come prepared. You might be surprised by how much duct tape and zip ties will “fix”.

Ben Bennet Civic Climbs Waterfall

     5. You WILL have fun.

The Gambler 500 series of events is quite possibly the best motoring series of all time. Just about anyone can attend & participate. The feeling you get when you see a trail cleaned up by your group is great. Watching a bunch of $500 cars going where they shouldn’t is a blast. If you can, I highly recommend you attend one close to you. Some events offer on-site off-road racing as well, which is always fun. Bottom line, this is a bucket list series for anyone that loves cars. I promise it’s the best bang for your buck.

Slightly Mangled Civic

Writer’s Note: The Tennessee Gambler 500 is coming up soon! September 17, 18 & 19 – see you there!

Text & Photos by Ben Battles