Meet Emily Miller, the founder of Rebelle Rally and a real “tire nerd”
Emily, how did you get into off-roading?
EM: I was at a meeting at National Automobile Museum, and I met a gentleman, his name was Rod Hall, he was a legendary off-road racer. He is the one who brought me into off-roading. He became my mentor; he taught me how to drive. He gave me the opportunity to race. He once said, “I can teach you how to drive. You have to learn how to win.”
I was very fortunate to learn from the best. I started racing and I was the first woman to solo drive the Vegas to Reno off-road race—the longest in the U.S.—and I have numerous podium finishes and wins, including in the Baja 1000. Then I became a driving coach, I started my sport marketing company and in 2016 we created the Rebelle Rally.
How did you come up with the idea of the Rebelle Rally?
EM: I was a racer and a driving coach, and we had very few women that came to our driving school, even if they were offered it for free. But what I found, was that when they came, they were great drivers, but were often a bit more timid. So, I wanted to create an opportunity for women to have a chance to learn how to drive in an environment that was really designed for them.
I also had the opportunity to compete in a rally for women in Morocco, the Ralle Aïcha des Gazelle. It was tough but very cool. I wanted to do something similar here in the US, I wanted to tap into the experiences I had and, ultimately, create a world-class challenge for women. That's how I decided to create the Rebelle Rally.
Why the name Rebelle Rally?
EM: The verb “rebel” means “defy convictions.” And then “belle” is a beautiful woman. So, we merged these two words, because we think that our competitors really are beautiful woman that defy stereotypes.
Tell us more about the Rally format.
EM: The Rally is an endurance competition for women requiring precision driving and navigation. It is not a race for speed, but a unique and demanding event based on the elements of headings, hidden checkpoints, time, and distance using maps, compasses, and road books. No cell phones or GPS are allowed.
What I wanted to create was an experience where women learned and grew their skills, really testing and challenging them. And I wanted them to connect as a community. There are stages of the Rebelle where competitors are really in the middle of nowhere. So, instead of losing time finding a cellphone signal, they need to stay focused on what is around them, on their skills, and rely just on them. And this is very powerful.
Rebelle is a rally but also a community, as you mentioned. Can you tell us some fun stories about the rally?
EM: It is definitely a very strong community. There are competitors on the rally that remain connected to each other for years. The rally is very long, it lasts 10 days and a day starts at 5am. This schedule is exhausting, challenging, but also uplifting, encouraging, exciting.
For example, last year we had a massive sandstorm which produced high winds, and destroyed tents, forcing some competitors to sleep in their vehicles. When they came back to the base camp it was like a scene from the Apocalypse. And still everyone said it was their favorite day. There is something in experiencing something so unexpected and different that creates a bond for life.
How many competitors will you have this year?
EM: This year we have 110 competitors across 55 teams. Approximately 50% are new teams. We have competitors from all ages and different backgrounds, but all of them have determination and grit in common.
What do you think needs to be done to have more women competing in Motorsport?
EM: Women are 50% of the driving population. Why are they not 50% of the racing population? We need to break down the barriers to entry and give them options to learn, offering them an opportunity to start somewhere. And Rally is a perfect place to have more women involved because the barrier to entry is not that high.
From a technical standpoint, Rebelle competitors rely on their skills and of course on their vehicles. How important are the tires for the Rally?
We call the Rebelle a proving ground for vehicles, people and products. The Rebelle is designed around stock manufacturer vehicles. There are two classes of vehicles: 4X4 and then what we call X-cross™, that are traditional crossover vehicles. And then there is plenty of on-road and every type of off-road – everything from pavement transit to double tracks, rocky climbs and descents, and then dunes. So, we need tires that do it all. And do it all reliably. We always say that “your vehicle is only as good as the tires you are driving on.” The only thing that keeps you moving in the Rally are your tires. The capability and durability of the tire on all environments is critical for us.
While we started our partnership with Pirelli in 2021, we had already begun to test Pirelli tires in the first edition of the Rebelle Rally. BMW gave us an X5 with Pirelli Scorpion Run-flat tires, and they did great - even on sand dunes. Then last year we tested the Pirelli Scorpion line and we were very pleased. The Scorpion All Terrain Plus, in particular, is an off-road tire that has proven to have great handling, excellent traction, is quiet on the road and a very comfortable ride. Scorpion tires have really been the total package for us.
And trust me as I define myself a real “tire nerd.”