For those who haven’t heard the name Dick Cepek, in the Jeep world, it’s almost the equivalent of living under a rock. Dick was duh man. His amazing story embraces the true meaning of what the American dream represents while he clearly kicked ass and then some during the early days of four-wheeling.
Even if you’re aware of the story of Dick’s success you may not know everything about this name that’s synonymous with outdoor adventures and four-wheeling lore. Let’s get to know a little more of the history behind the man who turned his love of everything the outdoors has to offer into a world-renowned, epic off-road brand.
Dick Cepek was born in 1930 in the small town of Hillsboro, Wisconsin, a place whose claim to fame being the “Czech Capital” of this mostly rural Midwestern state. Soon after Dick’s birth, the Cepek clan moved to Columbus, Ohio where Dick’s dad got a gig in the growing automotive industry. Daddy-O worked in the maintenance department of a trucking company. His father’s place of employment would provide Dick with a foundational understanding of vehicles and later become the guiding force behind the innovations Dick would develop under his namesake brand.
After graduating high school, Dick did the manly thing and served in the Navy. Upon returning home he landed a job at Westinghouse Electric. While working for the “electric company,” he locked eyes on his future wife Dorothy. They married in 1954 and eventually had a son. A few years later, Westinghouse transferred Dick and his family to South Gate, California – the location where Ed would eventually launch his successful off-roading accessory business.
Conquering The Great Outdoors
Dick, his wife and young son all shared a love of the great outdoors including hunting, fishing, and camping . Many weekends were spent barreling across the Southwestern California desert region. One of Dick’s first rigs was a four-wheel 1958 Toyota Land Cruiser, a vehicle purchased solely for one reason – so Dick and his family could access the desert’s most remote locations. These adventures quickly became a regular part of their lives and would forever change Dick’s path in life.
As the driver, Dick quickly realized the Land Cruiser’s tires sucked. The ability to conquer the rugged, arid desert terrain was not part of the stock tires’ DNA. With his automotive background, Dick knew the Land Cruiser’s wheels were too narrow and not durable enough to hold up under the desert’s challenging conditions. Dick’s spidey sense began to tingle.
Moving On and Up
An inferior product was denying Dick and his family of the best in off-roading experiences. Dick set out to “build a better mousetrap”. He hooked up with the Armstrong Rubber Company and together they brainstormed a more durable tire, one that didn’t cower at the sight of tough terrain but instead ate it for breakfast. The design was a beauty. Soon Dick, his bride and son were covering new ground in the Southwestern California desert, accessing areas that were once no-go zones.
Friends and family grew green with envy as the tires Dick helped craft were superior to anything else available on the automobile market. Dick’s garage became a pop-up store crammed wall-to-wall with tires but not for long as they were selling faster than hotcakes at a Weight Watchers cheat meet. The overwhelming sales success inspired Dick to roll the dice and purchase a barbershop in South Gate which he then transformed and tricked out into the first Dick Cepek headquarters.
Behind Being “Baja Proven”
According to the Cepek Story, in 1963 Dick with his wife, son and the Washburn family, all set out to drive the entire 1,000-mile length of the Baja Peninsula. After conquering this rough-and-tough terrain, Dick was so impressed with the performance of his tires he coined the phrase “Baja Proven.” Eventually, this term would be connected with other products available in the Dick Cepek line after they too successfully survived the punishing Peninsula stress test.
Later in 1966, Cepek along with his friend, another legendary off-roader, Ed Pearlman, would return to the Peninsula to compete in the first official Baja 1000 (originally called the Mexican 1000) off-road race. Like the bosses they were, Cepek and Pearlman took a respectable second place position in the competition. This only served to fuel more interest in Dick’s tires as dust eaters from the race hurried to place orders after witnessing for themselves how the tires were totally badass in the Baja.
Successful Sales of a Growing Global Brand
Off the road, out of the desert, back in his shop and store in California, Dick, the mad genius, continued to sell a wide variety of tires, wheels and almost every 4×4 accessory he could find. His hand-picked products included desert-related materials such as survival books, tents and automotive jacks that would operate even in soft, sandy conditions.
In just a few short years, the Dick Cepek Corporation took over the world, well parts of it, becoming a best-selling, internationally-recognized retailer in Italy, the Middle East, New Zealand and South Africa. Shortly after reaching these global marketplaces, Dick began a wholesale division so he could deliver his products to other retailers all around the world. In a weird and ironic way, Cepek and his growing brand were virtually trekking all over the planet without actually leaving his home in California.
Hall of Fame Status
Dick’s growing successful business venture didn’t stop him from continuing to enjoy off-roading along with everything the great outdoors had to offer. It was in his blood. During their early Baja racing days, Dick and his 4×4 friends laid out the groundwork for the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) which would eventually go on to organize the very first, official annual Baja 1000 event.
Early NORRA members got together and hammered out the rules and vehicle classes that would go on to define the race for many years to come. At the time, there were few rules other than participants were required to stop at five checkpoints in the 950-mile race with no pre-defined course to follow. For his efforts and contributions to the sport, our boy Dick was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978 just five years before his unexpected death.
Details on the exact cause, nature, and events leading to the death of this off-roading pioneer are unknown other than to say his passing is listed as “untimely.” Born in 1930 and with a date of death listed as March 1, 1983, as per Wikipedia, (a sketchy source at best) at just 53 years of age Dick left us all too soon.
In conclusion, it’s really gnarly to know that Dick Cepek wouldn’t let a crappy set of tires stop him from ripping it up proper in the desert. Dick was a dude who truly blazed a path for four-wheelers everywhere.
To get the very best information about superior products available for your off-roader, sign up for our free newsletter and get the most current news on the best Jeep-related info available in the auto industry.