Jovina Young and Erica Martin are putting their two-decade friendship – and the Bronco – to the test.
If you’ve never gone off-roading before, there are two ways you can learn. You can ease into it, taking some smaller trips before heading off on a big adventure. You can also dive in headfirst by taking on an event like the 10-day Rebelle Rally (Oct. 8-17, 2020) and hope for the best. Jovina Young and Erica Martin of No. 202 Team Fearless Fillies, two Ford employees tasked with putting the Bronco Sport to the test, have opted for the latter.
The two women met right after college when they worked in advertising for J. Walter Thompson. Even when life took them their separate ways, they remained in touch. Erica stayed in the automotive world while Jovina took a little detour through the beer industry before fate brought them back to the same place.
“I saw [Jovina’s] post that she was coming back to Detroit to join Ford’s team,” Erica recalled. “So I asked her, ‘What are you going to be working on?’ because I was simultaneously talking to Ford about a role on the Bronco team. She told me Bronco, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to get this job.’ And now here we are!”
Neither woman had ever been off-roading before the idea of fielding a novice Bronco team at the Rebelle Rally popped up internally at Ford. Erica notes that her family is fairly outdoorsy, including kayaking and biking. Jovina’s daughter, though, is far more convinced that her mom’s idea of camping involves electricity and an RV.
Rebelle Rally: A Crazy Idea for Novices? Maybe
“With Bronco, we’ve always talked about how, when we come out with Bronco, we need to make it just as fun for the novice of off-roading as it is for the expert,” Jovina said. “How do we make it so that that person who is new to this can feel comfortable and try things and get outside with their Broncos or Bronco Sports? When that idea came up, there was a little ding in my head.”
“[Jovina] called me and was like, ‘Do you know what the Rebelle Rally is?'” Erica recalled. “And I was like, ‘Uh, yeah. I remember you mentioning it to me.. What’s the comms plan? Why are you calling me, what do you need from a communication perspective?’ She was like, yes, we’re going to enter [a team], but it would also be cool to enter a novice team. And she said, ‘I want to do it—and this is where it gets weird—I want you to be my partner.’ I was like, ‘Oh man, you’re crazy.’ I can’t say no. I was like, ‘Let’s do it!'”
This year marks the fifth outing of the Rebelle Rally
The annual off-road outing lasts 10 days and covers roughly 1,500 miles of variable Nevada and California terrain during all kinds of weather: hot or cold, rain or shine. It’s the first all-female off-road navigation rally in the United States, and it’s been both a challenge and a reward for the women who show up from all around the world to compete. The goal is to be the first team to hit all your checkpoints in the shortest amount of time.
For 2020, 36 teams and 72 women have taken to the trail. Jovina And Erica are part of the small, six-car crossover class, three of which are the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. Both the crossover class and the much larger 4×4 class will crown their own winners, but, as newbies to the event, Erica and Jovina are hoping to achieve a much more reasonable but still challenging goal: simply finishing the event.
The preparation has been a rally in itself
When we chatted before Team Fearless Fillies hit the road, Erica was open about the value of all the prep work it takes to make an adventure like this happen.
“We haven’t even gotten to the rally yet, and this has already been so rewarding in so many ways,” she said. The skills I’ve learned, the way I’ve pushed myself in ways I’ve never done before, and the community of women that we’ve met. Even just our friendship. I just can’t even begin to tell you how glad I already am that I’ve done this, and I haven’t even done it yet.”
That’ll happen when you push yourself to the absolute limit of your skillset to see just what you can do. Jovina and Erica decided to take on the rally less than six weeks ago, and going from a complete novice to someone able to embark on a 10-day rally through variable terrain and with no GPS necessitates a huge growth. Erica likened it to a cram session in which she and Jovina had to learn not only the hard skills like changing a tire but also softer skills, like how to emotionally prepare yourself for the challenge.
“Ford has training for its engineers, who take all its vehicles off-roading. We went down that path,” Jovina explained. “We had one-on-one training with instructors, went through all sorts of different types of training. We learned how to look at the vehicle before you even get out there, how you inspect it, how you read the lines on the ground and determine which way to go.”
From there, the two headed to Sand Mountain, Nevada for some training in the type of terrain they’ll be competing in. They joined up with Nena Barlow of Barlow’s Adventures, a 4×4 off-roading instructor, and other women who will either be competing in this year’s Rebelle Rally or those who competed in years past. There, Jovina and Erica learned how to tackle the hardships of the rally: dune driving, recovery techniques, repair, and navigation.
“We had been practicing that navigation at home, plotting points and taking headings and stuff. But we really learned last week was route planning. When you have to go through the point that you plotted, you start to realize how accurate you really were. If you’re a little bit off—especially on a hundred thousand scale map—is a lot off,” Erica explained. Then, to punctuate how crucial every step of the route planning process is, she added, “We had to buy thinner pencils. I was using a 7mm pencil, and it makes a difference!”
Jovina did note that she and Erica have one advantage over the other two teams who will be competing in the Bronco Sport. Because they live in Michigan and work with Ford, they’ve been able to get some testing under their belts in a way that the others haven’t.
“We had a Webex with the girls, and we went through all the different capabilities with the lead engineer,” she said. “We talked through what the GOAT Modes are in the vehicle, which ones are going to be really useful for us in the rally, like the sand mode and rock crawl modes. So all the different off-road capabilities.
“They kind of said, here are the things you want to look for and here are the things that are really, really fantastic.
Despite all of the preparation, Jovina noted that they were both still feeling overwhelmed. They’ve still been working their day jobs and managing families while also plotting routes, packing, practicing with Ford, and getting life in order.
“I’ve had so many things going on that I couldn’t really process it,” Erica said of the rally. “I’m glad we have this couple of days before we go to Tahoe to get in the zone. We left all our responsibilities at home in Detroit, so now we have the opportunity to just focus on this.”
It’s all about community.
The off-roading community has been stereotyped as a masculine one that almost seems to require a high level of experience to be considered part of the “in” group. But as they’ve gone through the preparations, they’ve found themselves welcomed.
“Many of our competitors have been so supportive—especially the women’s off-roading community,” Jovina said. “I cannot say enough about the women who have competed in the Rebelle Rally in years past or want to be part of it or are competing this year. We joined a Facebook group with them, and just the amount of tips and support and just everything. Even when we went out to train, we had other people join us to train with us, and they didn’t have to be there. Just because we were new and they wanted to help out.”
Erica added, “Any stereotypes of ‘women have no sense of direction’ or ‘women are bad drivers’—forget about that, because these women are so smart, and they are badass drivers.”
Both women had much to say about the sheer level of confidence building that this welcoming community brought them. Any time they felt discouraged by the task at hand, this group of off-roading women rallied around them to install Team Fearless Fillies with confidence.
“Their encouragement has been so much better than any exact skill they’ve taught us,” Erica said.
The Ford contingent has been just as supportive. They’ve received letters of encouragement from their local colleagues along with notes from the Buffalo stamping plant. Even Henry Ford III reached out via email to let him know he was rooting for them.
And they’re hoping to set their own example.Both women have young daughters at home—young enough that they haven’t quite grasped the magnitude of what their moms are doing. The goal is to show that “if two moms from the midwest can do it, then anyone can do it,” in Erica’s words.
“I just feel like the universe sent this to me, and I’m so excited to be doing it,” she mused. “I have a feeling that I’m not going to be the same person after I do it.”
The Bronco Sport is the best machine for their task.
As Jovina noted, the Bronco Sport is designed for everyone, both beginner and expert. It features seven Goes On All Terrain, or GOAT, Modes that do just what the name says: each mode is designed for a different kind of terrain, which helps drivers optimize their driving experience with presets. You don’t have to think about it—you just have to press a button.
But those modes can still provide an enjoyable ride for experienced drivers who might like the physical challenge of maneuvering their machine. Drivers can turn them off, they can turn off certain aspects of a mode while keeping others on, or they can mix-and-match between all modes to create their own custom settings.
“The modes are just so intuitive,” Erica said. “We were talking about 4×4 or locking differential—some of the modes automatically apply those things, so you don’t have to remember. Once we start to mix and match, we can see what works for us based on our abilities and our terrain.”
Jovina had a lot to say about the size of the Bronco Sport, which she learned was a benefit for the rally.
“When you’re going down a dune or a dirt road, other cars are forced to take a certain line because they’re so wide. They have no choice. But when you’re in a Bronco Sport, you can strategically choose what side of a road you want to be on or to be elevated a little bit,” she said.
The Bronco Sport is shorter and less wide than other off-road vehicles of its class, like the Subaru Forester or the Jeep Renegade, which means it had the advantage of being a little more nimble than its competition. But just because it’s a smaller vehicle doesn’t mean it’s skimping on head clearance, legroom, or storage space, which is largely due to Ford’s intuitive thinking.
“There are some strategic storage solutions, but there are also MOLLE straps on the back of the seats where we can clip stuff that we don’t want to get lost,” Erica said, noting that extra space is crucial for such a long off-road adventure. “We can stash our extra nav gear because, as we learned last week, you definitely need more than one extra of everything. Those little rulers grow legs and walk away. We’re pumped that it has those thoughtful little details that will help us stay more organized.”
That said, the Bronco Sport that they’re driving is still a prototype, which means parts are still being updated and improved with every outing. After 10 days behind the wheel, Jovina and Erica will know the Sport better than anyone on their team—and they’ll be able to suggest improvements based on their lived experience.
“We just want to be authentic,” Jovina said. “A lot of people on the team are heavy off-roaders, and we just want to be a part of that as well. Erica and I are not going to be experts by any means—”
“I will be!” Erica added with a laugh,
“Okay, maybe Erica will be. But I’m not!”
You can follow Jovina and Erica on their journey.
Team Fearless Fillies will be documenting their journey on The Bronco Nation, a website designed for Bronco fans. There will also be live tracking, scoring, updates, and news from the Rebelle Rally October 8-17, 2020.