The off-road community is with a heavy heart today as we have lost one of the greatest legends in the off-road world. Mark A. Smith who is known as "the father of modern four-wheeling", passed away this morning at the age of 87.
Smith was the Founder of Jeep Jamboree USA as well as Mark A. Smith Off-Roading, Inc.
He was born in 1926 in Globe, Arizona, Smith grew up as the son of a mining engineer in eastern Nevada. While serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, Smith first drove a Jeep, the vehicle he would be associated with throughout his life.
In 1951, Smith settled in Georgetown, California. Looking for a way to boost local tourism, Smith and a group of local boosters devised the Jeepers Jamboree, a demanding off-road excursion traversing an ancient footpath soon to be known the world over as the Rubicon Trail. In time, the event grew into the largest and best-known off-road event in the country. In 1982, Smith took the Jamboree concept nationwide, founding Jeep Jamboree USA, which offers over 30 annual off-road trips across the country exclusively for Jeep owners.
In 1979, Smith organized and led the Expedicion de las Americas, a 120-day, 20,000 mile off-road journey from the southernmost tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, above the Arctic Circle. This historic trip featured a traverse of the virtually impassable Darien Gap, a 103-mile stretch of dense, hostile jungle, which took 30 days to cross. The Expedicion team was the first non-military group to complete a vehicular crossing of the Gap.
He also organized and headed the 1987 Camel Trophy event, considered to be the world’s most demanding off-road adventure, in Madagascar.
Smith’s long official association with Jeep vehicles began in 1954, when the Willys Corporation, then the manufacturer of Jeeps, began their sponsorship of the Jeepers Jamboree. The affiliation with the Jeep brand continued in to the present, with Smith helping to develop the off-road capabilities of Jeep vehicles for over 60 years. The four wheel drive test facility at the Chrysler Proving Grounds, as well as test facilities for law enforcement agencies, tire manufacturers and the Severe Off-Road Track at Quantico Marine Corps Base and over 250 other off-road demonstration and training courses were designed and built by Smith.
In 1980, Smith was inducted into the Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. In 1986, his accomplishments were recognized by the United Four Wheel Drive Association, which named him “Four Wheeler of the Decade”, and in 1989, Smith was inducted as a member of the Explorer’s Club of New York.
Smith was also active in the civic life of the Sierra Foothills region of California, serving as Sherriff of Eldorado County and spearheading the planning and construction of the Georgetown and Lake Tahoe airports.
Smith is survived by Irene, his wife of 63 years, and his children Robert, Patti, Greg, and Jill, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.