Gamblin’ The Ozarks
The Gambler 500 is a Rally Style Navigational “race” that is 500 Miles in a $500 Car. It was Spring, and I knew I had to be part of “Gamblin The Ozarks” in September. There are Gambler 500’s all over the country. The $500 rule is just a recommendation, most cars end up being more than that with all the mods/fixes. We searched locally to find out what vehicle we wanted to go with. We found a 97’ Land Rover Discovery that could be jumped, and driven about 50 feet before dying. The Rover came with 3 very solid BF Goodrich All Terrains, and 1 all weather tire. Cosmetically it was about a 3 out of 10. Clear coat peeling all over, and the driver side quarter panel had been replaced with a slightly different shade. The Rover spent most of it’s life in southern California so it had no rust. The owner was asking $800, we negotiated down to $600. The next Day we had it towed back to the house.
Getting it “Road Worthy”
The truck would start with a jump, and run/drive for about a minute or so before dying. The first issue we tackled was replacing the battery and alternator. The Rover would now start on its own, and drive without dying. We changed the spark plugs, and the oil. The Brakes were sketchy at best. You would have to pump them several times to stop. We Bled the shit out of the brakes. They seemed to improve but were still a little spongy.
We decided to take it on a long test run (30-50 miles). We were able to go about 27 miles and we started to overheat. Once we inspected the issue we found that a previous owner had JB welded the coolant reservoir and it was now leaking. We couldn’t believe that someone would half ass something like that. Once the new reservoir arrived we installed it and put about 100 miles on the rover without issue before the Gambler weekend arrived.
The Rover also needed a face lift before the Gambler. So we hit up our friends at The End Times Electric Tattoo Co. They went to town spray painting it for us. They did a great job and it still gets compliments to this day. (Check out the “Gambler” on the hood, Dice on the roof, and dragon down the side)
Heading to the race
We didn’t know if the Rover would last 10 miles or 10,000 miles so we opted to trailer it to the Gambler. We packed extra parts, fluids, tools, food, whiskey, and all the gear needed. We then started the 145 mile trip south from Springfield, Missouri towards Ozark, Arkansas. If you have experience driving/pulling Rovers you know they are Heavy as shit, but the 5.0 F-150 pulled it just fine.
We we’re approaching Harrison Arkansas (about halfway there) when our trailer had a blow out. We couldn’t believe it, and quite frankly we were pissed off. We were able to pull off into a gravel lot to safely inspect everything. We borrowed this trailer from a friend, and the trailer had no spare.
So we jacked up the trailer (with the rover still on), pulled the wheel off and brought it to the Harrison Wal-Mart (tire shop was closing in an hour). They were able to put on a new tire while we finished shopping for food/supplies. We put the wheel back on, lowered the trailer and headed down the road.
The rest of the drive was nothing but hills and S-curves in the dark. (ARK HWY 7).
We initially left Springfield at 3 pm and it was now about 9 pm. We had finally made it to Turner Bend. As we pull into camp we see dozens of vehicles that seem to make up a post apocalyptic military caravan.
You could smell gasoline, burnt rubber, and hear engine revs all around. We had Made it to the gambler! We checked in and set up Camp. We made friends with our neighbors and eventually got some sleep.
We got moving at about 7:30 AM the next day. Our neighbor (driving the “free candy” van) needed a Jump. We helped them get that ole creeper van started. We then made sure we had all the supplies we needed for our 250-ish mile journey in the Rover that day.
Most of the Gamblers lined up in front of the Turner Bend General store. Everyone was socializing and taking photos. The only rule out here is “don’t be a dick”. It feels like it’s the old west and instead of riding horses we’re all driving piece of shit cars. The organizer was walking around giving everyone the checkpoint coordinates. I am guessing there were between 50-80 Gambler cars participating at this years “Gamblin the Ozarks”
The race officially started at 8 AM. This is when we realized that our cigarette lighter was not functional. We would need this for our GPS unit as this is a navigational race. We drove 15 miles to the nearest store to get fuses. The issue proved to be more than a fuse, and we were losing precious time. We then decided to wire in our own set up directly from the battery. That worked! We were on the road and had power to our GPS unit.
About an hour and a half after the official start we made it to our first check point. When we arrived there was a flatbed trailer, a van, and about 5 people standing around. The Van had broken its axle. We stopped and helped them push it onto the trailer. (to our surprise the people with the van sourced another axle locally, installed it at the campsite, and raced the van the next day!)
Once they were good to go, and we had socialized enough we decided that we had to take this beast down some trails. We were in the middle of the Ozark National Forest in a Land Rover….what would you do? We spotted a random trail, and drove down it about 5 miles into the thick woods.
We eventually came to a serious fence and decided to turn around. We finally made it back to a main road and decided to go to the next check point. We had driven on the highway for about 45 miles. Sometimes running into other gamblers. We had issues finding the next check point, but found some ATV trails. We decided to see where these would go. We drove about 3 miles down into the woods when we came across this creepy concrete building that looked ransacked and abandoned. We decided to take a break and look around.
We then fired the rover back up and instead of heading back to the main road we headed deeper into the woods not knowing what we’d find. The Trail was narrow and took us down the side of a “mountain”. After about 1 hour we could finally see the flat land at the bottom of the mountain.
We had an issue: There was a huge tree blocking the entire trail, and the hill was too steep to go off of the trail.
We decided to hook the tow strap up to the tree and pull it aside. After about 20 minutes we were able to proceed down the hill.
We got to the flat lands and accessed our location on GPS and realized that we were 20 miles in any direction from a road in an old unreliable land rover….Shit. This was about the time our temp gauge started to climb and we were getting a little anxious. We decided to shut down the rig and hike the trail to see what we could find. We heard sticks breaking, and found bear prints. I had the feeling that we were being watched by something even though we were dozens of miles from civilization. I had my firearm, but luckily we didn’t have to use it. We headed back to the rover, and it wouldn’t start. 20 miles from the nearest road and our rig wont start. We let it sit for another minute or two and tried again. It fired up and we knew we had to get out of here. We had to cross a dry creek that contained big boulders. We had to carefully maneuver the rig through this section. The next 10-15 miles were uphill and at some points we had to put the locking diffs on. These were steep narrow trails meant for ATV’s. GPS showed that we were getting close to HWY 7.
We could see the light at the end of the tunnel…however there was a river in front of us. With nothing to lose we forded the river. The water was up to the hood, but we crossed successfully. As we see HWY 7 in front of us the Rover starts to misfire and lose power. We get it onto the Highway and it is misfiring really bad. We pull over, pop the hood, and think “what now”. We had no cell phone service, and weren’t picking up anyone with our radio. Luck would be with us that day as a group of 3 Gamblers come around the bend within 10 minutes of this happening. They stopped to see what was the matter. They each poked around on the engine a bit to no avail. Our engine had sucked in some water and was not happy about it. We were about 75 miles from camp and it was getting late.
The Gold Jeep Grand Cherokee (Goldmember) Gave the rover a push for a couple miles as we coasted in Neutral. The Rover just wouldn’t stop misfiring. We decided to take our essentials, lock up the rig, and hop in with these gamblers. When you’re in a car for a couple hours with strangers…you become friends. We still keep in contact with these guys and plan to see them at future gamblers. We weren’t driving so we decided to drink our whiskey and enjoy the ride. We were able to make it to 3 other check points with these gamblers before heading back to camp.
We were on our way back (about 30 miles from camp) and the Zombie apocalypse F-250 had some issues with steering linkage. Obviously this is something that needed to get fixed so he didn’t drive off into a ravine.
We decided to hit up the Closest O’Reilly’s to get the necessary parts. The other guys went in and found the parts they were looking for. During this time I took some good photos of the “Griswald Family Station wagon” (If you have went to a recent Christmas Parade in Northwest Arkansas there is a good chance you’ve seen this beast with your own two eyes.)
We got the Zombie Apocalypse F-250 safely driving again, and set our sights on camp! We were about 5 miles from camp and spotted a hole in the wall liquor store. Our supply had dwindled, so we decided to stop and restock.
We had gotten back to camp with the help of fellow gamblers. We fired up the grill, and cooked a late dinner. We ended up polishing off our whiskey and walked around camp to see what was going on. All you could hear was yelling, engines revving, and tires burning out. Near the center of camp there was a “tug of war” contest open to all gamblers. We sat and watched for an hour or two yelling and cheering others on. Bumpers broke, engines blew, and burnt rubber filled the air….it was glorious. In this trashy motorcar circus I felt at home. After socializing and checking out more cars we retired back to camp.
Tug Of War
It was now Sunday Morning, and our vehicle was 75 miles away. The 2nd leg of the race was starting and only about 30% of the cars that started the race were now able to participate. We slammed a few red bulls, packed up camp, and socialized with fellow gamblers. We decided to hit the local diner for some good down home breakfast. During breakfast we checked our GPS to find where we pinned the Rover so we could recover it.
We jumped on the highway and drove an hour and a half until we spotted the Rover. We decided to try and start it. It fired right up and we decided to drive it around for 10-20 mins. We were shocked to realize that it was running fine. We concluded that it just needed to dry out. We decided to load it up on the trailer and head home. It was becoming the lunch time hour and we were in Jasper so we had to make a pit stop at The Ozark Cafe. After Lunch we made the hour and a half trip back to Springfield. We made it back without any issues.
If you are a gear head, love adventure, or both I highly recommend participating in a Gambler event as soon as you can. This was an experience I’ll be talking about for a long time. I made great friends, and had more fun than I could imagine. During the months following we have replaced other parts and made the Rover more reliable/safe and are anxiously awaiting the next “Gamblin the Ozarks” in October.
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