Rebelle Behind the Wheel: Emily Miller

Rebelle Rally - Emily Miller

Welcome to rally raids, often known as competitive off-road racing. The goal isn’t necessarily to speed, as one might anticipate on a racecourse. Instead, drivers get in their cars or get on their bikes and aim to hit the assigned checkpoints while also putting their driving and navigation skills to the test.

For the duration of the race, which can span anywhere from a few days to well over a week, there’s no Google Maps — just a good, old-fashioned compass and map.

While many rally raids welcome any participant with the courage to compete, the scene is dominated by men, as one might expect. At Rebelle Rally, however, this is not the case. The longest off-road race in the contiguous United States is a two-thousand-kilometer journey that takes eight days. It is also only open to those who identify as female.

The Rebelle Rally began in Tahoe and concluded near San Diego, though the route through Nevada and California changes each year. They began along the shores of Lake Tahoe in 2020 and traveled south through the vivid sceneries of Fish Lake Valley, past the Eastern Sierra Mountains and the imposing Mount Whitney, and through Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the continental United States. They also visited national parks such as Death Valley and Joshua Tree, before concluding their tour in Glamis, which is noted for its seemingly unending waves of dunes. Emily Miller, the creator of Rebelle Rally, is the driving force behind the organization. Here’s Emily’s story.

Rebelle Rally - Emily Miller

What drew you to racing in the first place?

At the National Automobile Museum, I met famous racer, Rod Hall. We started working on projects together, and he invited me to learn from him and race for him. He paved the way for me and was a fantastic coach and mentor. His advice has stuck with me, and he is the voice in my thoughts.

What prompted you to start your race?

As the CEO of a sports marketing firm, I’ve had the good fortune of producing numerous events and gaining enough expertise to know exactly what I wanted to achieve and how to execute it. I was inspired to organize a sister race in the United States after competing in and then helping to promote a rally in Morocco. (Competing internationally is not easy or inexpensive, especially for those who are new to it.) In terms of quality, experience, and competition, I wanted to integrate the elements of a well-produced Red Bull event while also competing with any of the top worldwide rally events. For our competitors, I wanted a badge of honor.

Rebelle Rally - Emily Miller

What factors did you take into account when putting together your competition?

For a long time, I had been instructing, driving, and racing — and I had seen that there were relatively few women engaged. As a result, I wanted to build a platform that gave women the confidence to shine and the support to do so. Women, on the other hand, did not show up when I was coaching or presenting programs for women. Why weren’t they doing more? So, placed against the backdrop of the United States, some of the most iconic, magnificent landscapes in the world, I devised an event that was constructed for women’s strength — and also pushed them on their shortcomings.

Apart from being a women-only rally raid, what sets Rebelle apart from other rally raids?

We designed our unique competition structure to give a challenge that fits a number of our objectives, including executing it on public lands and in a variety of tough formats, as well as making it fascinating and enjoyable to drive. Our checkpoint challenges are timed, and contestants must locate them using just a compass and a map. Green, blue, and black diamond checkpoints are used to rate the checkpoints, similar to a ski run. Our Enduro challenges employ a rally roadbook, which is effectively a set of directions similar to those provided by Google Maps, but in a different format.

The Rebelle Rally is also distinct from other rallies in that it is designed for stock automobiles, i.e. the cars we drive daily. Participants are not required to have a race car or truck, but all vehicles must be street legal, plated, and capable of traveling at the posted speed limits on interstates.

It’s an opportunity for everyone to see what these cars are capable of.

The most important was convincing land management officials that this is not a race and that our community is concerned about the environment we pass through. And to show the wider racing world that Rebelle is a rigorous and challenging competition that is open to both men and women.

What’s the point of having a female-only event?

The Rebelle Rally is the United States’ oldest competitive off-road rally, aiming to be a comprehensive package competition – and it’s only for women. The fact that it’s a women’s event isn’t being hammered home. We’d have a team or two of women if we opened it up to everyone right now. That’s just what I didn’t want to happen. We made it a women-only event so that they would feel at ease.

Women’s participation in racing is not discouraged, but it is also not encouraged. Some women compete in races who have no qualms about signing up for the Rebelle, but other ladies have wanted to participate in the Rebelle for a long time.

The racing environment does not necessarily prohibit women from participating, but it also does not necessarily encourage them to do so. Some ladies compete in races and have no qualms about joining up for the Rebelle, but other women have always desired to do so. “Okay, this is a perfect location for me to start,” they think of the Rebelle Rally as a platform.

What was the most difficult aspect of starting Rebelle Rally?

The most difficult part was convincing land managers that this is not a race and that our community cares greatly about the area we pass through. And to show the wider racing world that Rebelle is a rigorous and challenging competition that is open to both men and women. These challenges were not insurmountable, and overcoming them has aided us in reaching our current position.

And I can’t answer this issue without discussing the complexities of logistical challenges and the meticulous attention to detail required to develop an automated scoring system for such a unique competition format. Not just for the racers, but also for the crew, the Rebelle Rally is a mental teaser!

Rebelle Rally - Emily Miller

What factors do you consider when deciding on a route and checkpoints? The scenery is breathtaking!

Since the beginning, Jimmy Lewis, a legend in the motorcycle world, has served as the Rebelle Rally Course Director. He and I plan the course path, and then I place the checkpoints along the way. The checkpoints’ secret sauce is that they must do several things: keep racers on the proper track, test their navigation skills, provide an entertaining drive with intermittent driving obstacles, and take in and see stunningly beautiful scenery. We’d want to present a gift to everyone who takes part. It brings us a lot of pleasure to achieve these objectives on the course while also allowing participants to visit places they would not typically visit.

What do competitors gain from competing in the Rebelle Rally?

They improve their driving and navigation skills, but they also learn a lot about themselves. The rally is all about teamwork, leadership, and collaboration, so participants leave with lifelong friendships formed through shared experiences. Even though they are racing against each other, they must work together to reach the final finish line, which is difficult and long. And that’s one of the rally’s most intriguing aspects.

What recommendations would you provide to a woman with male-dominated hobbies or interests?

Continue to work hard and pursue your dreams and hobbies. Maintain an optimistic attitude. There are no justifications.

She is incredibly gifted; she can dance with a car.

Where do you like to go off-roading the most?

Although I adore British Columbia and Africa, some of the best off-roading can be found in the western United States, specifically Nevada. It has so many back roads, ghost villages, and different terrains, and it’s so sparsely populated. Also, the locations in California between Death Valley and Mt. Whitney are unbeatable. Incredibly, the highest peak in the United States is so close to the lowest. The topography is breathtaking. What I like about it is that it is right in our backyard. It makes you respect our own country’s public lands.

What other female off-road racers do you admire?

Michelle Mouton was my idol when I was 16 years old. She won the famed Pikes Peak race while racing for Audi. She is incredibly gifted; she can dance with a car. I also respect Sue Mead, a great friend who has blazed paths as a journalist and drove off-road all over the world. Sara Price is a young woman with a lot of experience, raw skill, and determination. Her excitement, ambition, and attitude are inspiring. And I have a lot of respect for Nicole Pitell, the owner of Total Chaos Fabrication. I spend a lot of time in the car with her, and she is an exceptionally great driver who has developed an off-road company from the ground up, producing high-quality components. She’s always willing to join you on an off-road adventure. Others are undoubtedly present. It’s inspiring to see women seeking adventure and competitiveness outside of the gym.

Even though the last two years have been difficult, you managed to hold the Rebelle Rally in 2020 and 2021. You had tight testing and mask requirements, and it was a no-spectators competition. What made these rallies so unique?

Rebelle Rally - Emily Miller

Recognizing electric vehicles is incredibly exciting for us and something I’ve wanted to do since the beginning. The Rebelle serves as a testing ground for both people and vehicles, in our opinion. As a result, automobiles like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Rivian R1T were the first to be designated as electrified. We want to use the rally as a testbed for electric vehicles because they need to be able to do more than simply drive about town for people to be interested in buying them.

The finest thing, however, was simply being present. The year 2020 was a particularly difficult one. We wondered if we’d make it to the starting line every day leading up to the Rebelle. So being at the starting line has been a blessing. We didn’t expect it to be smooth due to Covid, but it was the smoothest we’ve ever had. But we’ve been working together as a group for quite some time. We all have each other’s backs and are here to help one another.

What does the future hold for you and the Rebelle Rally? Are there any exciting things in the works for the future?

Yes, but they’re top-secret, and I can’t reveal them just yet. I can state that we will revisit our results from this year, as well as the training and feedback, and apply them to improve the Rebelle. I believe you may expect some interesting updates to our course, and I’m looking forward to it.