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Is the Rebelle Rally the Most Important Off-road Competition in North America?

OFF-ROAD RACING, YEAH!! The smell of gasoline, the sound of thunderous exhausts, the teeming energy drink representatives, and million-dollar tube-chassis race trucks. The Rebelle Rally is, well, none of that. In fact, it’s not a race at all, but rather a competitive and inspiring navigation and driving challenge.

Teams search for waypoints marked with tall flags, short stakes, or simply an unmarked position that they hope corresponds to the X they plotted on their map.

Four years ago, when Emily Miller and her team brought the idea of the Rebelle Rally to market, much of the industry said, Sorry not interested, it won’t work here in the US. The idea draws inspiration from events like the Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles in Morocco. Its focus is on driving skills and navigation with team standings based on points gathered from finding waypoints in an ideal time, rather than based on pure speed. Best of all, the Rebelle Rally is open to any woman who wants to participate.

The Rebelle has removed the traditional barriers typically found for entry in off-road events: there are no pre-qualifiers from other events needed, and the vehicle-use rules are structured so participants can enter just about any 4WD or crossover they have sitting in their driveway. To further encourage participation, the Rebelle has established a series of driving and navigation training courses to help everyone be competitive and safe. It is this intent of the Rebelle Rally and its rapidly growing popularity that makes us think this may be one of the most significant off-road competitions in North America.

Traditional Navigation

Navigating to the over 200 checkpoints on the course takes a specific and practiced learned skill of route finding by map, compass, and dead-reckoning. No GPS or outside assistance is allowed. Competitors use tools, including a stopwatch and odometer readings, to employ dead-reckoning and speed-over-distance pacing to find their way. Hilly terrain and twisting roads add to the difficulty—5 kilometers on the map may become 6 or even 9. Constant attention and calculation by the navigator are required to keep up and stay on track. Competitors report that this is especially difficult in the sand dunes, as there is no trail or track, and drivers are constantly adjusting course to manage, changing direction and adding distance to the odometer that may be neutral toward progression to the target.

Stock and Near-stock Vehicles

The Rebelle Rally was created with the intent of being approachable with few barriers to entry. Competing vehicles must be street legal in all 50 states. Full-tube chassis vehicles, race trucks, and buggies are not allowed. Tires must be DOT-approved, publicly available, and no larger than 35 inches tall. Aftermarket suspensions are allowed, but the vehicles’ stock pivot points must be used, so no cutting or welding. In addition, the Rebelle features two classes: 4×4 (with a low-range transfer case) and Crossover (without low range). What this means is that competitors can be comfortable using the vehicle that might be sitting in their driveway. This reduces the need for specialty custom vehicles that are often cost-prohibitive.

Bringing New Adventurers to Rally Competitions and Overlanding

Every year, one of my favorite parts of the Rebelle Rally is to learn what the competitors do for a living. Traditional competitive off-road events tend to be frequented by people who are professional drivers or make driving their exclusive hobby. However, the Rebelle is a truly unique event, as are most of the competitors who enter. School teachers, lawyers, mothers, military officers, doctors, students, retail sales, and many other professions can be found. Ages and relationships vary widely too, there is often a spread from twenty-somethings to those into their seventies. You can find teams made up of best friends from high school, sisters, co-workers, mothers and daughters, and complete strangers who met just days before the start. They are all sharing the experience and giving one another a run for the podium. You can read about several of the teams on the Rebelle Rally Team Bios page.

Training with Rebelle U

For many, participating in the Rebelle Rally is a significant life experience centered around growth. Driving off-road in adverse terrain to seek out coordinates with no electronic assistance is not something most people do every day. Everything involved in the Rebelle extends and pushes the competitors into a new comfort zone. To help make the event more inviting and less intimidating, as well as safer and more competitive, the Rebelle has put together a series of training courses. Competitors can enroll in all or some of the 7+ training days that happen in preparation for the rally. Participants learn everything from vehicle preparation and maintenance to navigation and driving skills. These trainings are held in the field with hands-on practice. The Rebelle also publishes training tips online.

Competitors traverse 1,500 miles, over seven days, in search of more than 200 waypoints.

A Level Playing Field

Someone recently asked the event organizers if they had thought of dividing the field into advanced level and novice competitor categories. The answer was a firm no. The Rebelle Rally course is built to challenge everyone in the same way, regardless of experience or skill level. The best navigators and drivers can become lost, stuck, or broken, and the greenest newbie can win the day using the basics that they learned during training.

Woman-owned Event

The Rebelle Rally, as a women-only event, is fostering and progressing women’s participation in all of the off-road categories. The event is also helping to develop more world-class drivers and navigators, while also inspiring participants to expand into other driving competitions. As a woman-owned event, it has not only become one of the premier navigation rallies in the country, but it has also provided another venue for women to build driving skills, venture out, travel, and overland the world with confidence.

The Rebelle Rally basecamps are impressively done. Well deserved and welcomed oasis at the end of long tiring days of dust, sun, and the exhaustion that accompanies good competition.

An Expert Staff

It all starts with Emily Miller, founder of the Rebelle Rally. She raced for eight years with the Rod Hall Racing team and has achieved a number of wins from Baja to Morocco—too many to list here. Kirsten Kuhn coordinates all the details for the seamless execution of 70+ competitors covering 1,500 miles over seven days. This is supported by a staff of over 60 people, all helping to make the Rebelle Rally happen at a level of professionalism typically seen internationally. The course is laid out by Emily with help from the Dakar, Baja1000, and Enduro motorcycle racing legend Jimmy Lewis, the get-it-done staff at Total Chaos, Hall Racing team member Chris Woo, X Games gold medalist Chrissie Beavis, and many more. These folks plot and pre-run the course for months before the rally, attending to every detail of the Rebelle experience. Rescue 3 supports things on the safety side, and there are countless other efforts such as Drew Deckman’s 40-foot food truck that cooks close to 500 meals each day to keep everyone properly fueled.

Teams started each day’s stage in pairs or staggered to spread out the fleet.

Growing Industry Recognition and Support

After the first year of the Rebelle Rally, a lot of those naysayers started to pay attention. The event is seeing participation from aftermarket companies and vehicle manufacturers. It is showing an industry that competitive driving events can be about more than horsepower, and they can promote driver skills and showcase stock or lightly-modified vehicle capabilities, too. For 2019, Jeep, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, Ford, Lexus, and Rolls Royce all had factory-supported teams driving near stock vehicles. With Rachelle Croft (of XOverland fame) at the wheel, the Lexus won the 4WD class, with the only modification being tires. Rolls Royce (driver M.e Hall) won the crossover division having only added skid plates, a spacer lift, and a custom bracket to hold two spare tires in the cargo area. In the past, we have seen Ram trucks, as well as dealer entries from Land Rover, Mercedes, and Jaguar. The event is attracting a solid roster of sponsors from across the automotive and outdoor industries https://www.rebellerally.com/sponsors/.

In many ways, the Rebelle Rally is redefining off-road competition in the United States and breathing new life into the sport. It is an event that competitors, spectators, and companies should all keep their eyes on. https://www.rebellerally.com/