By Sue Mead
Emily Miller champions and challenges women to achieve their personal best and to strive to win. After the finish of the 2020 Rebelle Rally, it’s clear that this veteran 4WD expert has now garnered a win in the world of off-road rallies, as close to 400 women have competed in her annual all-female, eight-day event that Miller has designed to appeal to women who enjoy serious competition and have a passion for driving and exploring. Automakers have begun to use the 2,500-kilometer-long rally as a showcase for new models, which this year attracted 36 two-person teams and seven all-new vehicles, including a hybrid SUV and a fully-electric truck. Ford entered three teams to champion its all-new 2021 Bronco Sport.
Miller morphed two words to make the moniker ”Rebelle”, blending “rebel” and “belle” into the name for the country’s longest navigational rally she founded five years ago. A beautiful woman that defies convention became the watchword for this venue that has gained an ever-growing cadre of entrants from the U.S. and beyond, increasing numbers of automakers and sponsors, and a huge fan following. If you meet Miller and know anything about her path as a businesswoman and an off-road racer, you’ll agree that this 5 ft. powerhouse embodies these characteristics, as well.
Despite the pandemic, Miller worked diligently to keep this year’s rally in place and did so successfully. In March, she worked with a medical director on protocols; used an on-site COVID coordinator during the rally; and required that masks be worn and strict social distance rules be followed by all participants. “The rally was really smooth operationally. Honestly, I believe our COVID planning pushed us to over analyze each area and to be more than ready for curveballs,” Miller said, who also developed new ways to provide training for competitors before the rally. “When the pandemic 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 (university), our pre-rally training platform. Although registered teams have always had access to online navigation courses and in-person driving 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.”
Many participants that had previously competed in the Rebelle remarked on its toughness this year. “The rally was tougher from the competitor’s standpoint, but it was very similar to 2019 in terms of driving,” described Miller. “However, there were more ‘X checkpoint’ options, which meant more decision making and map plotting. These two things take up time and force hard decisions.” Teams are awarded points for accruing green, blue, black and X checkpoints in the allotted time each day, on a course that started near Lake Tahoe, Nevada and ended in southern California’s Glamis sand dunes.
“In terms of the new-versus-returning, hats off to the rookies; they had a tough course and did an impressive job,” praised Miller. “It’s fun to see the returning teams. They have progressed so much since they first arrived at the Rebelle!
We had 97 staff, but not all are onsite. We have many people working remotely on tracking, dispatching, scoring and live broadcast. This year was really smooth with our staff team; everyone really had each other’s backs and it was an honor to work with them.”
“It was great to see Ford’s commitment to the Rebelle by entering three Bronco Sport teams. And our fans were really excited to see them in action,” said Miller.
“Each team brought a different perspective which was fun to watch. Shelby Hall and Penny Dale, experienced off-roaders who had participated in the rally before, were very focused on the score and competition. Neophytes to off-roading, Jovina Young and Erica Martin, from Ford’s Bronco Sport internal team, were a really strong team and were very smart and thoughtful in their decisions. It was great to watch them work together. They were very focused, but also had a lot of fun. It is great to see employees get to literally live in their vehicles for 10 days. That experience is invaluable. Newcomers to the rally, Elana Scherr and Betsy Anderson were covering the vehicle and the rally for a story, but fully immersed themselves in the challenge. Betsy has experience in off-road racing, but Rebelle is so different from other races, so I can’t wait to hear more about her experience. I would see Elana writing notes at night and was impressed that after a long day, she had the energy to stay focused on the task of journalism. They were very professional.”
What’s next for Miller and the Rebelle? “Next year, the rally will see some fun changes in the route and see new places. We will still remain in the desert southwest. The 5th year edition was definitely the toughest, with a lot of highlight locations and terrain from year’s past, but it’s time to create the next 5 years. We want the rally to change and grow in new and exciting ways, while maintaining our reputation as a ‘proving ground’.”
The Rebelle participant may be a student, a CEO, or a mother, says Miller; 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 off-roaders in highly-specialized vehicles.” Although she has experience in this segment of the 4WD racing world, Miller wanted to create an attainable event where women can shine, in vehicles they may otherwise use in every-day life. She credits the low cost of entry, the event format, and the opportunity for automakers to accomplish real-world testing as part of her Rebelle Rally’s “secret sauce”.
Now, five years in, Miller has honed in even further on what she sought at the beginning: a crew that could pull off a world-class event that inspires women to challenge themselves to accomplish what they didn’t think possible. It’s been a win for the participants and a win for Miller!
*What is it? Teams of two —a driver and navigator —relinquish their cell phones and all GPS and Internet-enabled devices and rely on old-world navigation to find their way to checkpoints of varying degrees of difficulty using only a compass, maps and roadbooks. The rally is not a race for speed but rather precision driving and navigating and travels through designated open off-highway vehicle areas across Nevada and California, using Tread Lightly! principles.
For further information, go to www.rebellerally.com