The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Sweet Home provides pit stop for Gambler 500 participants, all in good fun


July 18, 2018

GAMBLER 500 teammates work on a Lincoln Town Car in the O'Reilly parking lot Saturday afternoon.

Decked out in a straw hat and red striped shirt, Kelly “Kell-Dog” Whitlock fronted a group of men hunched over the engine compartment of a 1995 Lincoln Town Car in the parking lot at the O’Reilly auto parts in Sweet Home Saturday afternoon, July 14.

An auto body shop owner from Sandy, Whitlock and a few buddies from “quite the plethora” of backgrounds were tinkering with the fuel system, which apparently wasn’t doing well in the 90-degree heat.

Crowded around and offering suggestions on how to deal with the “fuel delivery issue” were Casey Lane, also of Sandy, Steven Light of The Dalles, Mike Waine of Maupin and Adam Monnes of Portland.

Their companion vehicle, a ’79 Lincoln with a variety of “Gambler 500” logos emblazoned on it, as well as a few other rallying cries not printable in a family newspaper, sat in the adjoining parking space.

The Subaru, occupied by four young men from Seattle – driver Vinny Denoto, Sam Diebel riding shotgun, and brothers David and Luke Mulqueen in the back seat, along with an inflatable horse tied on the roof, had already broken down “a couple of times” Saturday, Deibel said. But, he added, their vehicle did have 256,000 miles on it.

They were running now, so off they rolled.

The Lincoln crowd seemed to be having a reasonably good time – as good as one could expect under the circumstances. Amid some colorful comments, intermixed with a lot of jokes there was some more serious discussion of valves and return systems and whether the carburetor might be leaking.

“We should put ‘Sponsored by Zip Tie’ on this thing,” suggested Lane, with a chuckle as some of his buddies applied the plastic flex strips to tighten up loose wiring and other items under the hood.

Someone announced that he’d just received a text from some buddies who’d reached the Sisters area in another Lincoln, this one a limousine. They reported that another car had turned onto the road to Hoodoo and lost power there. Apparently, losing power is part of the experience.

The Gambler 500, for those not in the know, originated in 2014 when Tate Morgan came up with the idea of staging a mostly off-road “Rally-Style Navigational Adventure” using cheap, impractical or fun vehicles.

Morgan, an Oregonian, and his friends founded the event as a challenge to see how far a $500 car could go. Fourteen cars participated that first year, and the number doubled in 2015. In 2017, the number surged to 800 participating vehicles in Oregon, and independent regional events began across the U.S.

It’s not a race, but it is a competition.

Participants are given GPS coordinates at the start of the two-day event that encourages drivers to explore at least 500 miles of off-road driving. At the end of Day One, participants gather at an overnight meeting location to swap stories and prepare for the last leg of the trip.

There’s more to it than that, including a stress placed on environmental stewardship and philanthropy. For more information, visit

At the ground level, as was demonstrated in the O’Reilly’s parking lot, it is also about camaraderie, seat-of-the-pants mechanics, and just having a good time – oh, and brew.

For some competitors this year, Conversion Brewing in Lebanon was their starting point for this year’s Gambler 500.

Participants stopped at the local brewery Friday, July 13, to acquire GPS points installed by Conversion owner Matt Cowart, and sample Conversion’s first-ever packaged brew, appropriately called “Gambler 500.”

“I got to be friends with Tate (Morgan), the organizer, last year and found out he’s a home brewer,” Cowart said.

Since Cowart was considering letting his business serve as a starting point for the event, he determined it would be fitting to make a special edition brew with Morgan.

This meant it also would be necessary to package the beer for “Gamblers,” as they’re called, so they could take a four-pack with them.

Morgan helped make the first batch with him at Conversion Brewing, Cowart said.

Three brews later, as many as 1,800 cans were packaged and ready for the 2018 Gambler 500 on Friday.

Although other breweries have made special edition brews for the annual event, Cowart believes this is the first time Morgan helped make one of them.

Though the point of the Gambler 500 is, clearly, environmentally sound cheap transportation, brew played a large secondary role, at least for the buddies traveling in the two Lincolns that stopped in Sweet Home.

Light, who owns FreeBridge Brewing in The Dalles, informed a reporter that he had two 30-liter beer barrels stashed in the trunk of the broken-down Lincoln, under a horse blanket, and that when they reached their destination he would employ a CO2 system to deliver the drinks.

“I’ve got it plumbed to dispense,” he said.

At that point an Oregon State Police pickup rolled up.

ADAM MONNES, left, of Portland, and Casey Lane and Steven Light, rear, watch as Kelly Whitlock, center, and Mike Waine work on a broken-down Lincoln Town Car.

“You guys need a ride?” Trooper Steve Kenyon asked, jokingly. He got out and exchanged some small talk with the group before driving off.

O’Reilly’s manager Joshua Goode sauntered out into the parking lot to check on the progress. This wasn’t the first rally car visit he’d experienced, Goode said.

“I see a ton of them, all day.”

He handed out O’Reilly stickers to decorate the cars.

The mechanics decided it was time for a test start.

“Fire it up,” ordered Whitlock, stepping back to inspect his handiwork.

The Lincoln belched a little and rumbled to life.

“Much better!” exclaimed Lane. “See if she can power brake. That’s the true test.”

Engines rumbling, all six of them quickly piled into the two Lincolns and rolled over the curb onto 12th Avenue, and headed east – before something else went wrong.

– Reporter Sarah Brown contributed to this story.


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