Dick Cepek was unquestionably a pioneer of off-road motorsport. After seeing a hole in the market for off-road tires and other accessories, he started Dick Cepek Tires, jump starting a now thriving industry. Even though he passed away over 30 years ago, his legacy lives on in the off-road racing world with a line of “Baja Proven” products for off-road adventure.
Cepek was born in Hillsboro, Wisconsin in 1930, but moved to Columbus, Ohio at an early age for his father’s work. After high school, he served in the Navy before taking a job at Westinghouse Electric. While he was working there, he met his wife Dorothy. They married in 1954, and soon after the company moved him to South Gate, California.
Cepek always loved outdoor activities like camping, hunting, and fishing, but his life would change dramatically after he purchased his first Toyota Land Cruiser in 1958. The purchase allowed Dick to begin exploring the Baja California coast south of the border. Dick would take his wife and young son Tom on camping trips that would last weeks, exploring the southwestern desert and traveling far from any roads.
During this time, Dick also started going on group drives with local off-road enthusiasts. It was during these rides that Cepek realized the standard tires for off-road vehicles weren’t cutting it. The soft sand of the desert would often cause his tires to sink and the rocky terrain would wreak havoc on them, so he began utilizing the tires usually sold for farming. This still didn’t suit his purposes, so he reached out to Armstrong Rubber and had them design an off-road tire specifically for his Land Cruiser.
In 1963, Cepek set out for a great adventure with his wife and son. Their goal was to drive the entire length of the Baja peninsula, a distance of over 1,000 miles. Cepek was so impressed with the way his off-road tires held up that he labeled them “Baja Proven,” a phrase that would become the trademark for his future brand. Cepek would return to the Baja Peninsula again in 1966 with fellow future off-road legend Ed Pearlman to compete in the first official Baja 1000, where he and Ed finished second.Not long after, members of his off-road groups wanted these tires too, and he began supplying them with his revolutionary tire. Word spread throughout the area and he began to see the widespread demand for off-road products. Dick filled his home garage with the tires, and took out an ad in the famous Western-lifestyle magazine, Sunset Living. Cepek quickly outgrew the space, so after receiving buy-in from his wife, he moved into a retail space and opened his first off-road tire shop.
Within two years he was able to leave his job at Westinghouse to focus on off-road sales full time. Around the same time, his current space had become too small so he moved into an old fire hall. Off-road enthusiasts from all over the country began flocking to Dick’s shop in California to buy his tires, and he soon expanded into other off-road products, from off-road jacks and suspension parts to camping supplies and aftermarket lights. His company soon grew to 15 locations, three warehouses, and a thriving catalog business.
Dick Cepek, Inc. became known internationally, selling products to New Zealand, South Africa, Italy and the Middle East, and he even opened a retail store in Japan. He also started a wholesale side of the business to sell to other retailers, which was immediately successful. Dick Cepek was on top of the the off-roading world.
Cepek’s impact on the off-road world grew beyond just the influential products offered by his tire and accessory shop. He will also be remembered for the impact he had on organized off-road racing. During the Baja 1000 race in 1966, he and teammate Ed Pearlman laid out the ground work for the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA). NORRA became the initial organizer of the Baja 1000 event, and laid out the rules and vehicle classes that would define it for years to come. For this work, Dick Cepek was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1978.
Cepek passed in 1983 at the early age of 53. His son Tom took over the business. Tom ran it until 2000, when it was sold to Mickey Thompson Performance Tires. The Dick Cepek name still endures, continuing a line of tires, wheels and accessories suited for off-road racing and exploration. Tires like the new Trail Country EXP carry on his legacy, offering chip and cut resistance and a deep tread for maximum grip in a variety of surfaces. Even today, Dick Cepek Tires and Wheels stands on the cutting edge of the off-road world, and they’ll continue to innovate well into the future.