Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Jeep Legend and Hero: Mark A. Smith

Jeep Legend and Hero: Mark A. Smith
The offroad community has just lost a true off-road icon: 87-year-old Mark A. Smith. 

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Mark at Rubicon Springs during the 60th Jeepers Jamboree between interviews and countless "hellos" from others.  Every time I saw him, he was surrounded by admiring Jeepers awaiting their chance to speak with him.  It seems that everyone but the trail-closure faux-environmentalists loved and admired Mark A. Smith.

Mark has many titles to his credit.  He was a miner, a Marine, a sheriff's deputy, the owner of a lumber company, an airport manager, a real estate developer, and a devoted husband.  He was the founder of Jeep Jamboree USA in 1982 after inventing the sport of "Jeeping" and founding the Jeeper's Jamboree back in 1953 and its first-ever organized Jeep trip on the Rubicon Trail.  He organized and headed the 1987 Camel Trophy in Madagascar.  He was a consultant for Jeep, seemingly the only thing to go unchanged as the brand's ownership transferred from Willys to Kaiser, American Motors, Chrysler, Daimler, and finally Fiat.  He was an offroad test facility engineer for Jeep, the Marine Corps, and countless others.  He was inducted into the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1980, and a board member of the Rubicon Trail Foundation.  He even had "JEEP" tattooed on his butt.


Mark’s spirit of adventure lead him in 1978 to create and conquer the longest overland 4WD journey in history: The Expedición de las Américas.  This record-setting adventure took him and his friends 21,000 miles by Jeep from Tierra del Fuego, Chile to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska through the impassable Darién Gap:


Bower Motorsports Media interviewed Mark at the 60th Jeepers Jamboree:


Jeep themselves selected Mark as the representative of the 1950's decade of Jeep's history:


Expedition Portal has reprinted Overland Journal's interview with Mark, and it provides a great insight into the life he lived.  Four Wheeler Magazine also wrote a nice summary of his accomplishments.  But Mark was more than just a historical figure himself; he also had put together an impressive collection of historical Jeep vehicles:



Mark had a terrific appreciation for the Rubicon Trail.  You can see and hear his passion for this little slice of heaven, which goes a long way towards explaining his devotion to fighting the faux-environmentalists' land closure movement:



Mark's daughter Jill Smith is now the President and CEO of Jeep Jamboree USA and is exactly the kind of woman you would expect her to be, as someone who grew up on the Rubicon Trail and was raised by a man such as Mark:



Mark was an inspiration to many and believed, "If you have a dream, make sure you pursue it."

Thank you for your service to the offroad community.
R.I.P. Mark A. Smith

9/13/2014 UPDATE:

Chrysler's blog paid tribute to Mark A. Smith by publishing an article on the celebration of his life that many of his closest friends organized.  From the blog, I found this quote by Fred Williams to be particularly touching:
“Mark Smith passed away, but not before feeding some logs of excitement to that inner campfire of so many adventure hunting off roaders.  Let’s not let that fire die!”

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