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Beautiful Women Who Defy Convention Go Virtual

Emily Miller morphed two words to make the moniker for the Rebelle Rally, blending “rebel” and “belle” into the name for the all-women’s rally she started five years ago. A beautiful woman who defies convention became the watchword for this off-road venue that has gained an ever-growing number of entrants, increasing numbers of automakers and sponsors, and a huge fan following. If you meet Miller and know anything about her life path in business and as an off-road racer, you’ll agree that this 5-foot powerhouse embodies these characteristics, as well. 

Emily Miller, Rebelle Rally Founder
Photo by Total Chaos.

Preparing for the Rebelle’s fifth year, Miller was on track to grow the Rally in some new and exciting ways. She wanted to hone in on a legacy plan to keep this 4WD venue and its community going in the event that anything happened to her. 

“We are introducing the inclusion of Electric and PHEV vehicles through our new Electrified designation this year. We have also continued to develop the Mapbox Data Visualization Platform (TAMI) and will be showcasing the updated version in October. This platform was built in-house, and captures data on specific vehicles and sends it back in real time to manufacturers—even in the most remote locations. We want the rally to change and grow in new and exciting ways while maintaining our reputation as a “proving ground.”

Like the past four years, Miller and a cadre of off-road experts had begun to offer training events for both newbie and returning rally teams, as teams signed on to participate in the 2020 event. Then COVID-19 hit and challenged life as we knew it. We talked with Miller recently about how the virus has affected her and the Rebelle and the ways she has been able to move forward with positive momentum.

Emily Miller planning her course using a map

“When COVID-19 began and, as people started learning new ‘bucket list’ items on their own time, we knew there was a space for a virtual Rebelle U (see below). Although registered teams have always had access to online navigation courses and in-person drive training, this was a way to broaden our audience and bring courses to them that are normally not available to them. We moved quickly, connecting with some great instructors in our circle. Thus far, we’ve had a recovery course live from Canada courtesy of Overlanding BC, two-time Rebelle/2019 4×4 champ Rachelle Croft of Expedition Overland offered a course on how to pack your vehicle, and our head Rally judge/director of scoring and professional navigator Chrissie Beavis reviewed enduro timing. After the first class was held, we knew we had to keep this going.”

Emily Miller: From Mentored to Mentoring

Miller is blessed to have been influenced by the passionate. As a child, she’d gather with her father beside the fireplace and pour through the stack of auto magazines, sharing observations and a mutual love of four-wheeled friends. From her mother came the adventure gene. Trips with her young daughter would not be to a theme park, but rather to experience great architecture or something car-related. Later in life, after establishing a successful sports-marketing company, Soulside Network, Miller met with a kind and talented man, who would also influence and change the course of her life. Rod Hall, the legendary off-road racer, team owner, and 4WD guru became a friend and mentor, who taught her the skills and wisdom of off-road racing. She then joined Hall on the off-road circuit and in some 4WD training events.

Emily Miller conducting Rebelle Rally training
Photo By Nicole Dreon

Then doors opened to the world of off-road racing. Miller competed with Hall and other notable racers both in the U.S. and Mexico. She also traveled to Morocco where she participated in the Gazelle Rallye, an all-women’s off-road event. Miller garnered podium finishes, and later became the U.S. promoter and trainer for American women wanting to compete in the Gazelle Rallye. Miller later founded the Rebelle Rally based on her own experience of seeing many women on the sidelines at off-road events and competitions, but seldom in the driver seat. Providing a platform for women to shine on U.S. soil was her goal, along with arming them with the tools and skills they need for their own future journeys, wherever they may be.

What is It?

The Rebelle Rally is the first endurance-motoring event created for women only in the U.S. It takes place in the stunning backcountry and desert terrain of California and Nevada. After four years, the Rebelle has hosted more than 300 female competitors, has a staff of 70-plus (including a full-time chef), and lasts a total of 10 days, including 7 days of scored competition and 1 day of competition that is not scored.

The 2,000km, timed, checkpoint-to-checkpoint rally with special stage features is not about speed but, rather, teamwork, perseverance, and grit. A combination of unique skillsets is required, including compass route plotting, trail and terrain reading, and proper maintenance of mind, body, and team vehicle, as well as driving proficiency. Best of all, perhaps, the Rebelle requires competitors to leave their cell phones behind; not just for the driving part, but for 10 days!

Rebelle Rally competition
Photo by Actiongraphers | www.actiongraphers.com

With a background of organizing highly complex events, such as the now-legendary AMA Red Bull Supermoto in Reno, Nevada, in 2005, Miller knew she needed to surround herself with a team who understood the challenge of establishing a legacy event.

“What I set out to do was build a rally that people would trust—that would be true to this mission. I knew from the beginning, if we were not exhaustive in our planning, preparation, and execution from the start, no one would take a women’s rally seriously. I also knew that I needed a crew who understood what it takes to pull off a world-class driving event.”

Participating in the Rebelle Rally
Photo by Actiongraphers | www.actiongraphers.com

“Providing a platform for women to shine on U.S. soil was her goal, along with arming them with the tools and skills they need for their own future journeys, wherever they may be.”

Miller’s goal was to generate a heritage similar to the mentorship she gained alongside Rod Hall. She goes on to say, “In the off-road world, I was one of those rare women who had a mentor who trusted me and allowed me to learn for myself. I knew I wanted to pass this gift of mentorship-by-experience along to other adventurous, smart, and driven women.” 

Emily Miller and Rod Halll
Emily Miller and Rod Halll.

The Rebelle participant may be a student, a CEO, or a mother; it’s women from many different walks of life. Miller believes each brings unique qualities to the event. Want efficiency? Ask a mother, she says. Determination and drive? A CEO can answer. An unbridled desire for adventure and smiles for miles? Youth will serve well. What you will not find at Rebelle is a grizzled off-roader in a highly specialized vehicle. Although she has experience in this world, Miller wants to create an attainable event where women can shine, in vehicles they may otherwise use in everyday life.

Currently, the Rally counts the support of 11 mainstream automotive manufacturers. “Gaining the support of one or two would be considered successful for any off-road event, let alone a relatively new one,” Miller says. She credits the low cost of entry, the event format, and the opportunity for automakers to accomplish real-world testing as part of her “secret sauce” with the rally.

“We have one team comprised of engineers from Honda who live in their vehicle for the length of the event, and experience firsthand what works, what needs improvement, and what might be nice to have on board. That is what racing is really all about; it always has been about high-energy field testing.”

What Now? The 2020 Rebelle and the Pandemic

Sponsor, manufacturer, and fan support are a few of the most significant ways that Rebelle has grown over the past five years. On equal footing to the external support, the community she sought since the rally’s inception has crystalized in the face of COVID- 19. Miller often refers the Rally’s success to the extraordinary folks who make up her team, but it was the challenges of one that has created a new chapter in the Rebelle Rally’s legacy: Rebelle University.

Emily Miller showing off her vehicle

Sponsor, manufacturer, and fan support are a few of the most significant ways that Rebelle has grown over the past five years. On equal footing to the external support, the community she sought since the rally’s inception has crystalized in the face of COVID- 19. Miller often refers the Rally’s success to the extraordinary folks who make up her team, but it was the challenges of one that has created a new chapter in the Rebelle Rally’s legacy: Rebelle University.

“One of the ways we started to do the classes grew from the fact that one of the central pillars of my team, Kirsten Tiegen, suddenly found herself stuck home with three boys—6 and under! All at home, all the time! Upon commiserating, we realized there are so many people in the same boat, working AND having to homeschool their children. The thought grew—let’s start doing home training designed so that kids could help them. They can all go out and try distance-recognition training. They can help make a road book, and whether a young person is able to do the exercise or not, they are connected and a part of our world. Also, some of the categories are good for non-rally applications; we had over 6,000 people watch a recent YouTube presentation: How to Pack Your Car!

Emily Miller checking the tires

And so, now five years in, Miller has honed in on what she sought at the beginning: a crew who could pull off a world-class event and inspire women to challenge themselves to accomplish what they didn’t think possible.

“I feel blessed and thankful for the moment. We have gathered a group of more than 70 highly talented staff who comprise one big family with one goal: executing a genuinely world-class driving event. I have people who say, ‘I want my daughter to do this,’ and their daughter is like 2! So, it’s clear that we need to ensure that we have a sustainable rally that is not about one person, but the product of many. The rally should be able to continue regardless, maintaining its character and a moral compass.”

Rebelle Rally training video

The rally is scheduled for October, a timeframe that is still in question as to whether the U.S. will be in a period of remission and allow for the event to proceed. Miller slides on her well-worn event organizer’s hat and speaks with confidence and optimism. “I am watching what the government says and, if it needs to be moved, we’ll move it. I have a great relationship with the Bureau of Land Management. We work very hard to have a clean and clear operational plan, so that if we need to make changes or move it, we can.”

Rebelle Rally training video

There has been little-to-no sponsorship lost, and no teams have dropped out. In fact, one team recently signed up. “We haven’t had any teams drop out. I was just on a Zoom call with a team from France, who are still trying to come. They had a few sponsors drop out, as things are really tough all over. But the fact that the team is still intent to move ahead speaks to the spirit that is emerging from this moment,” the mentor, organizer, and racer reveals. “We’ve had teams sign up since the lockdown, and it seems like people are keeping their heads up and the planning is playing a role in that.” 

Rebelle Rally training video

For Miller, what may have felt like the top of the mountain feels now like the basecamp. Securing the future of not just the rally, but the inspiring, gritty, smile-fueled community has become the real challenge. It’s clear she’ll succeed.

Rebelle U: What is It? 

Rebelle University matches the spirit of the Rally with modules practical, personable, informative, and fun. Audiences can watch and ask questions as they are hosted and posted on Facebook Live. 

Rebelle Rally training Off-Road Basics
Rebelle Rally training Off-Road Basics

Rebelle Rally U Courses:

Rally Competitor Marketing

How to Avoid Common Mistakes on Rebelle

7 Ways to Make Coffee on the Trail

Get Ready to Rally!

Suspension Basics

Enduro Timing 1&2

Latitude/Longitude

All About Road Books 1&2

Think Like a Map

Thrival not Survival: How to Prepare for Heat and Cold Exposure

All About the Vehicles

Jeep Prep with Nena Barlow

Recovery Skills with Overlanding BC

Rebelle Rally training Off-Road Basics
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