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My Journey to the Rebelle Rally

When you look at world class race car drivers, they aren’t typically big muscular people portrayed in most of our mainstream athletics. In fact, the idea of the machine acting as an extension of your mind and body is really what racing is about.  Mind of over machine.  Racing is about discipline and not letting your ego take over and trick you into overdriving. We have seen firsthand women drivers race at the highest level from the legendary rally driver Michèle Mouton, to NHRA racer Shirley Muldowney, to NASCAR racer Danica Patrick. But a sport like off-road racing isn’t necessarily about winning races, it’s about conquering fear. An idea that is universal and is especially important for women.

A few years ago, I got to meet Emily Miller in her role as communication director for King of the Hammers.  I quickly learned about her involvement in The Gazelle Rally or Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, an all women’s rally in the desert of Morocco that features traditional style map and compass navigation in nearly stock vehicles. I watched as she took everyday women and put them through training and then threw them into the rally.

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“Disconnect from technology and reconnect with yourself.” -Rebelle Rally

The result was transformative. You could hear and feel the confidence in these women as they spoke about their journey, the challenges they faced, and how they had learned about themselves. Just like off-road racing here in the United States, it was trial by fire.  You could argue that this idea of self challenge is sorely lacking in today’s society and is one reason why so many people don’t know who they are and what they are capable of.

What I am not saying is that off-road racing competition can cure all the problems in the world but just think for a second.  If you could offer the women in your life a way to become more confident and empowered, wouldn’t you want to do that?

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Fast forward to 2016 and Emily has launched a new event in the United States with the goal to empower more women to compete in off-road racing. This is how and why the Rebelle Rally has come about in Emily’s own words:

My Journey to the Rebelle Rally
By Emily Miller

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The Beginning
I’m a car fanatic.  Growing up with my father, he always had a stack of car magazines next to the fireplace that we would study religiously. As a kid, I was taken to see famous architecture and cars – not standing in ride lines at Disneyland.

After I started my business, Soulside Network, a sports marketing company, I was at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada for a meeting. It was a typical meeting with lovely people who oversee the late Bill Harrah’s car collection – housed within the walls of NAM. Board members were at the table, including a gentleman named Rod Hall. I can say that single meeting would have a major impact on my life.

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The meeting that day wasn’t necessarily about the collection, but about my tourism authority client’s mission to promote the Reno Lake Tahoe region as an adventure destination, with NAM, vehicles, and off-road being amongst those adventures. Perfect combination given my passions for adventure, the outdoors, a lifelong love of cars, and “line picking sports” of skiing, snowboarding, and cycling. I was a fair bit younger, and living my dream, combining my hobbies and passions with business.

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So Rod got my cell phone number and immediately began calling, asking me to help him on a couple projects. One – to help him sort out his purchase and revival of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. Two – to help his event production company achieve higher vendor status at GM (basically a paperwork process). It began.

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Hall went on to become a stalwart of off-road racing racing in Baja for 47 years straight, stringing 35 consecutive race wins together in the early 1980s and creating the longest unbroken streak of race victories in off-road racing history.

Little did I know, at that time Hall was (and is) one of the most winning racers in the history of off-road. Today, at almost 80 years old, he still holds many records including the longest string of consecutive wins (35), racing in every single Baja 1000 since its inception, 23 Baja 1000 class wins, only overall Baja 1000 victory in a stock 4-wheel drive….And the list goes on.

We spent a large amount of time working together, and he was able to observe me tackle a variety of Soulside’s projects.  At the time, they were mostly large sporting events for companies such as Red Bull, that usually involved shutting down streets, and plenty of logistical challenges which required a 24/7 work ethic and “never quit” mentality. Not too dissimilar from Rod. We added projects to our list including several multi-dealer off-road events for GM/Hummer, vehicle launches, etc.

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Pictured: Rod Hall and Emily Miller | Photo: Nicole Dreon

During that time, he taught me how to drive off-road, simplifying the 4×4 lessons, and basically just throwing me in and seeing how I fared. I loved it. A vehicle is a piece of equipment just like a pair of skis, a bike, a snowboard. Once you are strapped in, it becomes an extension of your body. One day, on the way to Starbucks, he announced that he had found his new driver for his factory supported off-road racing team. Me. Whoa. He promised to teach me everything I needed to know, but that I would have to learn how to win. But for anyone who knows Rod, the lesson you must learn first is how to finish.

At first, I co-drove for many races, and got to learn from the best. I was put through the paces, and tested. And then I took the left seat. It was not only an honor, it was at once stressful, intimidating and completely reassuring to have him watching over.  He is an absolute stickler for taking care of the car, and puts the fear of God into you for driving too fast (faster than you need to, and faster than the car can handle long term).   It was more pressure than I let on to, as I took the job and his instructions very seriously. I saw it as a huge responsibility to do exactly as my teacher had taught me. He was my Yoda.

Coaching
While racing, I got to see amazing places that are off the beaten path, as well as learn so much from Rod. The ins and outs of strategy, how to drive by feeling the vehicle, how to take care of a stock 4-wheel drive, throttle control, line choice, learning backroads, trails, Baja, and the desert from the most seasoned veteran I could hope to find. Another perk was to hear hear his amazing stories from an outstanding career, and the one-liners he is so well known for. ….He then asked me to be a demo driver running hot laps for his Michelin/BFGoodrich Light Truck Tire seminars.

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Before long, given my day job of producing and promoting events, my role expanded to managing the seminars as well as coaching. Our schedule bulked up to two programs per week, 20 plus events per season running 48 people per week – 450-600 per year – through the series. 7 years.

During this time, I couldn’t ignore the fact that there were almost no women racing, or participating in the seminars. The classes were for sales managers who sold the product and it was the perfect chance to learn more about the product from hands on experience. We were constantly told the female sales managers, although few in number, posted top results.

The only thing I could sort out was the intimidation factor. The microscope. The fear of failure. Who knows, but given the fact that women make up half the population, the numbers didn’t make sense. On the other hand, we had plenty of women come to our customer events for the GM/Hummer brand. The women loved the trail drives and coaching. And for the ones that didn’t start out driving, before we knew it, they would be in the driver’s seat with ear to ear smiles waiting for the next challenge.

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So I launched a women’s driving event. A one-off bringing top female journalists (not just in automotive) together with top female athletes and put them through the paces we did in a regular driving course. It was a hit. The non-intimidating course, along with the great crew at Rod Hall Events created the right environment for these ladies to not only enjoy the lessons, but excel and immediately improve their competence and confidence. Mission accomplished. Competence and confidence are two attributes that don’t just positively apply to driving – but to life.

Fast Forward
Fast forward a few more years… On my racing bucket list was a series of cross-country rallies in Africa.   A family member had also mentioned a rally for women she had seen in Morocco that I needed to check out. Rod and I figured it would be a perfect chance for me to get some experience with that part of the world. It wasn’t a race for speed, and the rules were no outside support, so it wouldn’t require a race truck or team. This was a bonus given this was not part of our racing schedule or funded by our sponsors. Racing is a costly sport. So I set about trying to figure out how to go…an extremely difficult task given there were no Americans or British competing, and it was conducted in French.

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2011 Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles | Photo: Dan Campbell Lloyd

It was a much more challenging than I expected. The language barrier, the lack of local knowledge, the initial cold shoulder, a vehicle we hadn’t driven before, and the list goes on. But with my dear friend and amazing teammate Wendy, we thrived and rolled with it. We made friends, and loved the opportunity to compete with a field of women. They were tough, talented, and undaunted. Trading GPS for a compass and a map, the way adventurers have navigated for centuries was not only refreshing, but added more skills to our quiver.  We continued and then dedicated ourselves to helping promote and train U.S. and Canadian women to compete.

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So Why The Rebelle
Although I love racing….I love my husband, business, people that work for me, my family, traveling, and my sports. So when Hummer closed down, instead of pursuing another ride, I became committed to continuing to help women learn or sharpen their driving and navigation skills. I want to honor my coach mentor, along with honoring the lessons in life that I’ve learned and continue to learn from wonderful people, places, and experiences, by passing it on to others.

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Team #107, Thuy Davis and Darlene Peck. “The Rebelle Rally offers a similar personal growth experience as Outward Bound – that of self-knowledge, tenacity, physical fitness, teamwork, leadership, self-reliance, acceptance of responsibility and most importantly, the ability to transcend self-imposed limits.” -Thuy Davis

I absolutely and wholeheartedly love watching women fall in love with off-road, test themselves, and grow. The Rebelle is a culmination of this, a combination from a journey across many platforms, competitions, and experiences I’ve been blessed with. The goal is to build a great competition in the U.S., as well as a great environment and movement, shared by a team that deeply loves off-road, rally, sports, and adventure, and wants women to share this same love.  May they pass it along to others and not try to keep it to themselves!

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Trading GPS for a compass and a map, the way adventurers have navigated for centuries was not only refreshing, but added more skills to our quiver.

There are many incredible events and rallies across the globe. Some based on speed, some on points, some on particular challenges, some shortest distance, some for women, some for co-ed, and mostly ones that don’t categorize based on gender. Ultimately, I believe most women want to compete in an arena where gender does not dictate classes or outcomes. I know competing against all or almost all-male fields has been good for me and a valuable experience.

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Well, if it wasn’t specifically for women, the general trend would prevail – it would be almost entirely comprised of men entering, with a team or two of women, and it would do little to create a women’s community or an environment where women feel they can thrive and connect with other like minded women. And in the long run, the ones who compete in motorsports will keep doing so, but many who may have been timid or discouraged might feel much more empowered to take on additional challenges and opportunities beyond the Rebelle.

I’ve also been asked, “Why not just do an abbreviated course, 3 days so people can make it work with their schedules and stick their toes in.” My response? The Rebelle is an event where women can feel proud of their accomplishment, spend time focused on their job, push themselves, and be respected for completing it. That doesn’t happen by making it fit in, or sticking a toe in the water. You have to dive in. I’ve definitely learned that the most rewarding and memorable moments in life are the things you have to work for, stumble, fall, fail, and overcome.

This article is dedicated to my driving mentor Rod, and those who have greatly impacted my life – my inner circle, teammates, colleagues, competitors, and role models.  Thank you!

For more information on the Rebelle Rally, visit here: http://www.rebellerally.com

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