Mark A Smith, founder of Jeep Jamboree USA & Mark A. Smith Off-Roading, Inc., and popularly known as “the father of modern four-wheeling”, died June 9, 2014 at the age of 87.
In 1953, Mark A. Smith and a small group of Rotarians and friends figured out a way to draw visitors to their town, Georgetown, California: stage an annual Jeep vehicle trek across the Sierra Nevada Mountains by way of the old Rubicon Trail. The event has run continuously since then and the demanding off-road excursion traversing the Trail’s ancient footpath soon became known the world over and grew into the largest and best-known off-road event in the country; it is also heralded around the globe. In 1982, Smith took the Jamboree concept nationwide, founding JJUSA, which offers over 30 annual off-road trips across the country and beyond, exclusively for Jeep owners.
Smith’s long official association with Jeep vehicles began in 1954, when the Willys Corporation 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. Smith designed and built 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, plus over 250 other off-road demonstration and training courses.
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 helped to organize the 1987 Camel Trophy event, considered to be the world’s most demanding off-road adventure, in Madagascar.
A 1980 Inductee to ORMHOF, Smith’s accomplishments were also recognized by the United Four Wheel Drive Association in 1986, 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 Sheriff of Eldorado County and spearheading the planning and construction of the Georgetown and Lake Tahoe airports.
Born in 1926 in Globe, Arizona, Smith was the son of a mining engineer and grew up 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. Smith is survived by Irene, his wife of 63 years, and his children Robert, Patti, Greg, and Jill, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.