From A Chance Meeting at the National Automobile Museum to Building an Off-Road Rebelle!
Emily Miller was part of a car-loving family growing up but it was a chance meeting at the National Automobile Museum for a totally unrelated project that literally put Emily in the driver’s seat and leading a movement to empower women in off-roading. She’d been at the museum for a sports marketing meeting when she had a chance encounter with off road racing legend Rod Hall. Soon he was teaching her to drive and mentoring her in the sport. Not long after her career changed course and she debuted as a team driver for Rod Hall Racing at the 2006 Baja 1000 rally. And she hasn’t stopped since.
But most recently Emily has been inspired to bring other women into off-roading by founding the Rebelle Rally (pronounced Re-Belle), a 2,000 kilometer off-road navigation rally and the first women’s only rally in the United States. You can follow this year’s event on social media by following @RebelleRally and @AGirlsGuidetoCars; we will be there too!
See how Rebelle Rally is inspiring women to conquer off roading and achieve a whole new level of confidence
From Car Lover to World Class Driver
When she met Rod, Emily wasn’t new to being around cars. Her initial love came as a child, a love passed down from her father. “Our family vacations were to see cars and famous architecture – not traditional vacations like Disneyland,” Emily laughs. “I grew up reading car reviews and wondered why women weren’t writing them.”
But cars and driving were just an interest, not a pursuit, as she built a career in sports marketing. After meeting Rod, though, her immersion in the world of motorsports and rallies became a full time job. Rod Hall is not just an off-road racing legend but at almost 80 years old, one of the most winning racers in the history of the sport. Emily worked with Rod to produce a series of large-scale sporting events, and he admired her 24/7 work ethic and “never quit” attitude. Along the way, he taught her how to drive off-road. Soon he announced he’d found his newest team driver and asked her to join his GM Factory Team for Team Hummer.
When she joined the driving team, she thought she’d drive a production vehicle–the kind of car or truck that can be purchased at a dealership. But Rod saw that Emily had the skills to be a world-class driver and competitor and moved her to to more competitive vehicles. He promised Emily that he’d teach her everything he knew. “He told me ‘I can teach you how to drive but you have to learn how to win, to be a team player.’” Competing, she learned from the best and traveled to lots of incredible places while collecting wins and podium finishes as both a driver and a navigator.
Breaking New Ground as a Woman in Motorsports Competition–and Winning
There were some challenges along the way and a few people who said outright that women shouldn’t be in race cars. Those voices were the exceptions, though, not the rule. As a member of the team, her job was “to do what my boss said. As a driver, you drive the car, take care of it and give it back.” Having a thick skin and not worrying about being under a microscope helped, too.
Emily still holds bragging rights to being the only woman to “Ironman” the longest off-road race in the US, taking third in the Stock Full Class. In between her race schedule, she became a driver and eventually an instructor for Michelin – BFGoodrich Light Truck Tire Seminars.
While she started as the only woman, she saw more women joining the sport over her time. “But there still weren’t lots of women doing it,” she explains. “I wouldn’t call a field of 100 drivers with 2 or 3 women a lot.” She finds it exciting to see there are a lot more women than there used to be, even compared to just 10 years ago when she was a less seasoned racer.
From Off Road Driver to Inspirer and Instigator
But Emily also wanted to bring more women into driving, and that became her passion.
She’d noticed over the years that even though women showed interest and talent for driving, being in a male-dominated classroom or sport can be intimidating and inhibit learning. She wanted to remove this barrier for women and prove to them that not only can they do this, but they can develop confidence and compete on a world class level. So she developed Rebelle Rally, the first all women road rally in the US. Last year, the inaugural year, saw 72 women compete in the 7 day event, and even a few of the teams for the first time drove off road, changed a tire and learned to read a topography map.
In addition to the rally, Emily is leading Rebelle University which teaches women to drive off road in a non-competitive environment.
What Drives Her? Leading the Rebelle Rally and Seeing Competitors Grow, Change and Blossom
Right now, Emily’s focus is on the upcoming Rebelle Rally, which takes place October 14 – 20 across Nevada and California.
If you’re not quite sure what a rally is, Emily describes it as a driving “competition that consists of stages. There can be rallies for overall speed, average speed and just getting to checkpoints.” Rally teams are usually made up of one driver and one navigator. Rallies are a true contest of skill because most aren’t just based upon speed but on also timekeeping, navigation and vehicle reliability.
Rebelle Rally is a hybrid of rallies. Emily and her team designed an event that is the ultimate rally she would want to do based upon her experiences in rallies around the world. It’s not all speed but based on navigation and driving accuracy. “Yes, it’s a rally for women but it’s not painted pink, not watered down at all.” Emily is quick to point out that this rally route will challenge anyone but it is focused on women teams from absolute beginners to the most seasoned competitors.
The Rebelle isn’t just an event but a movement, building a dynamic thing that challenges and changes women. The Rebelle Rally isn’t just open for experienced racers but any woman who wants to challenge herself. It’s for the vehicles that come straight from the manufacturer with no modifications, not race cars, and competitors can even rent a vehicle if they need to.
Her Advice for Women Who Want to Learn Competitive Driving? Don’t Be Afraid
Emily’s biggest advice for other women interested in motorsports or the auto industry at large is to become a better driver and don’t be afraid. “Take the trainings,” she suggests. “What happens in training stays in training – it’s okay to ask questions, no one will laugh and someone else probably has the same questions.”
In her experience, women can become better drivers by just joining a local 4-wheel drive club or going to take a 3 or 4 day class with quality instructors. Emily also says that women who want to move up in the auto industry have to learn about their vehicle and how to drive. “It’s like not knowing how to ski but you want to be the CEO of a ski company. To get the respect of our colleagues, you have to understand and have a passion for our industry. Never stop learning and knowing your cars.”