Industry Insights: Emily Miller

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This “rebelle” with a cause is the visionary and motivating force behind the Rebelle Rally, a weeklong off-road navigation rally in the United States strictly for women.

One of the challenges in bringing women into motorsports is finding women who believe they can succeed in what remains an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. In the past, attempts to create all-female motorsports competitions could be perceived as condescending—a “Powder Puff” race is a novelty, not the main event. It has taken a new generation of racing women to create venues where women can develop their skills and discover that they do have what it takes to excel.
Among that generation of women working in motorsports today is Emily Miller. She is a longtime off-road racer and motorsports marketer, and a graduate of Western Colorado University. After spending years racing for Rod Hall Racing and producing events with the team, Miller formed her marketing company, Soulside Network, Inc. Through Soulside, she has worked with many major brands producing and marketing motorsports events. Her credits include 13 years working with King of the Hammers as media director and working on the Red Bull Supermoto Championship.
Since 2015, Miller has been the visionary and motivating force behind the Rebelle Rally. This weeklong event is the first women’s off-road navigation rally in the United States. Blending challenging off-road driving with ultra-precise navigation, the Rebelle tests a variety of skills over eight days of competition. There’s no GPS allowed. The rally is navigated for time, speed, distance (TSD), headings, and hidden checkpoints using only maps, compass, and a route book. It is not a race for speed, but rather a unique and demanding event that builds skills not only in finding one’s way but getting over tough terrain and maintaining one’s vehicle to the end.
Over the past nine years, the Rebelle Rally has attracted the attention and respect of automakers looking to prove and refine their off-road chops as well as substantial media presence. We caught up with Miller for a brief chat to talk about how she created and developed this landmark event.

PRI: What led you to organize the Rebelle Rally?
Miller: It was a culmination of things. For one thing, when I was racing there were almost no other women racing. I’ve been in races where I was the only woman driving. I’ve been in big races like the Baja 1000 with over 500 teams, and only two women were drivers. We ran training programs, and it was open to women. They’d be invited, but women just wouldn’t come even though it was open to them.
Then a key thing was when I went to Africa and competed in an all-women’s event called the Gazelle Rally (formally known as the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc), and it was great. It was really different. There were no Americans doing it, and I was racing for Rod Hall at the time. Rod always told me that the best way to see the world is from behind the windshield doing cool things. So I went over, and I did that, and I thought, this is a great rally for women who probably don’t have experience in racing.
I love Morocco and I love the culture, but I think we have the best and most diverse off-road driving terrain of anywhere I’ve been to in the world right here in the United States. I mean, where else can you go from the highest peak in the lower 48 at Mount Whitney, and within a hundred miles as the crow flies, you’re at the lowest point and you go from high alpine to the most insane desert.
What I loved about the Gazelle Rally was that it was really a great opportunity where women weren’t afraid to step in. There are more women than ever racing now, but that’s still 2% of the field or less. That’s not a lot of women racing. Women are great drivers, they’re great navigators, and they’re great tenacious competitors, but why aren’t there more women in the field of racing?

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With the Rebelle Rally, Emily Miller created a Dakar-style rally for women competitors that covers a variety of terrain, from 10,000 feet in elevation to below sea level, over eight days. “You use a lot of brain and a lot of spirit and a lot of grit, and it’s hard to win.”

PRI: That’s a great question. Why is it so difficult to attract women as competitors?
Miller: This will be controversial when I say it, but 60% of our audience for Rebelle, whether it’s on our website, social media, etc., are men. We are very intentional about how we do our marketing so that it’s gender nonspecific. We just show women being badass! What I have seen is men get really excited about the rally and encourage women to do it. But a lot of times women will be really uncomfortable and decline. They have other places to spend their money, or they don’t have time, or they’re just not comfortable with the idea.
Then I see women saying to other women, ‘Do you think that’s a responsible thing to do? Do you think you should do that?’ And the men are saying, ‘Go DO this!’ Women need to be better about supporting each other on achieving their dreams. Then there are the ones who may talk about it or kind of dabble in it, but they’re afraid to say yes. When you have people around you who aren’t encouraging you to say yes, that’s challenging. I have almost never seen a man discourage a woman from doing the Rebelle, but I have watched women discourage other women from doing it.
I am not saying that’s the total issue because I’ve also been subject to conscious and unconscious bias against women in this space from both men and women. But I also believe that there are a lot of really great men out there giving women opportunities and just giving people opportunities to be involved. We always say, start somewhere. If you want to get into this, just start somewhere. I also say, if you want to be the best, learn from the best. I believe that a lot of times the best are going to be the ones who are very encouraging of women in the space.
I asked one journalist who competed in the Rebelle Rally several times, and she said she normally doesn’t do women’s events. So I asked if she would have signed up for the Rebelle Rally if it was an open event instead of a women’s event? She said no, she probably wouldn’t have, but she couldn’t explain why. What I’ve found is that women really want to learn the skills, but they want to learn it in an environment where they feel comfortable stepping in and not feeling under the microscope. I think the industry is doing a much better job of welcoming women into the space, but I still want to see more until women are closing in on 30% to 50% of the competition field. We still have a lot of work to do.
PRI: How does the Rebelle prepare women to participate in other events?
Miller: I think that there need to be opportunities where women feel comfortable to come in and start somewhere, because I think it is about that first opportunity. People need to work proactively to create those opportunities. What the Rebelle does, which I think is great, is that you use a lot of brain and a lot of spirit and a lot of grit, and it’s hard to win. You need to be really good to win, but you can learn those skills. This rally gives you seat time. When people leave the Rebelle, they’ve had eight start lines, eight finish lines, and about a hundred hours of competition time under the pressure cooker of the clock. While it’s not a race for speed, you still have to get it done. Further, they’ve been able to reinforce good driving skills, good navigation skills, and make good decisions.
PRI: How did you develop the Rebelle’s orienteering format?
Miller: I wanted to make something we don’t have here in America. I wanted multiple days because I believe that anyone can do anything for three days, because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But when you get into eight days, you’re talking about something that takes more determination, and it shows you how good you are when everybody’s exhausted.
I just wanted basically a Dakar-style rally, but for stock manufacturer vehicles. I wanted it to be about driver skill and good durable vehicles because there are not many credible competitions that allow stock manufacturer vehicles. Then I wanted it to be remote. I wanted it to be about navigation, and I wanted people to not be able to use their phones or GPS. I believe it’s important for people to have the fundamentals of time, speed, distance, and bearing, and not worry about how they look on social media.
I wanted a triathlon of rally, so we made map and compass challenges, which really nail down people’s ability to understand navigation and be great at navigation. Those challenges are green, blue, and black diamond checkpoints. The green checkpoints are mandatory, the blue and black diamond checkpoints are not mandatory. With the black diamonds, it’s kind of like a dartboard, you get your points based on how close you are to the target and how close to your TSD. I would call it a quick moving chess game, and it’s very strategic.

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Rebelle Rally participants forego GPS or cell phones for navigation and use maps, a compass, and a route book instead. The Rally’s map and compass challenges “really nail down people’s ability to understand navigation and be great at navigation,” Emily Miller said.

Then there are what we call Enduro challenges, which are basically TSD or staying on route challenges. Our course director is Jimmy Lewis, who’s a famous moto racer, and he was the first American to podium the Dakar Rally. Jimmy is an incredible coach, especially with navigation rally.
So you have these different challenges within a day, and you also have to plot your latitudes and longitudes on a map or heading in distance. Our competitors know how to take a physical Lat/Lon in degrees, minutes and seconds, and plot it on a map. They have to do more than 25 of them in a day, and they have about an hour in the morning to do that as well as doing their TSD math before they’ve ever gone out on course.
The last thing that was very important to me is that you had to be in every type of terrain. We have double track, we have fast rally roads, we have washes, rocky technical terrain, and sand dunes. Our altitudes will range from below sea level to 10,000 feet.
PRI: Were there any particular challenges that you had to overcome in order to make this rally happen?
Miller: One challenge was educating land management that we were not a speed race to get the permits. We are the longest competitive off-road rally in the United States, so we go through many districts and different types of jurisdictions. Many people with experience said that there would be no way we could get the permits to pull this off. But I knew it wasn’t illegal, and I knew it wasn’t a race for speed, and I knew that we could spend the time educating people on what it was. It took a lot of time to do that, a lot of meetings, a lot of education, and trying to find the right people and then coordinating them. For example, the Bureau of Land Management said that they don’t really do multi-state permits. So there was a lot of learning and work on their end to make this happen for us because they had to coordinate through all these offices, but also between states and then national parks, national preserves, and so on.

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“There need to be opportunities where women feel comfortable to come in and start somewhere, because I think it is about that first opportunity,” Rebelle Rally’s Emily Miller said. “People need to work proactively to create those opportunities.”

PRI: Now that the Rebelle is established, are there challenges still ahead?
Miller: Here’s what is challenging, and we’re working on some of these things right now: For safety and permit reasons, Rebelle remains a confidential course with no spectators. But we work hard to be digitally focused. We have a great live webcast. It’s on YouTube under the Rebelle Rally channel (, and it’s on our website ( We have a lot of people watch it, and we have a lot of people who follow our tracking and our scoring. Those numbers have gone way up, which is great.
Right now, we are sold out at 65 teams. We tend to sell out at least 10 months in advance, and we don’t want to take it above 65 teams because it starts to impact the environmental footprint, which puts us into a different permitting situation. I would say that the important thing for us is how we continue to expand the brand and the opportunities for people to be involved who don’t have one of those 65 team spots. That’s why we have great training programs. We’ve launched what’s called Rebelle Trials where you can do a training program and then do one full stage of the rally using our format. We tested that last year, and we were sold out and had a waiting list. So we are doing two this year. We’ll do one in California, and we’ll do one in British Columbia, which is really great.

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“Women need to be better about supporting each other on achieving their dreams,” declared Rebelle Rally founder Emily Miller. To encourage and show appreciation for the event’s participants, she shakes hands with the competitors at the start and finish line of the first and the final stages of the rally. She is seen here with a team from the Pacific Northwest.

PRI: Are there any moments when you were particularly proud?
Miller: Gosh, there are so many, and if there weren’t, I’d probably quit because it’s really hard to produce this rally here in the US. It’s when women come back and say, “I went back to the office and I got a huge promotion and my boss said, ‘I didn’t know you were such a badass.’” Other times have been when people have been in really tough challenges out on the rally, and they’ve come through and they had that ‘a-ha’ moment about themselves.
PRI: What have you learned along the way that you can offer as advice to others?
Miller: Sometimes when you want to make something easy, that usually doesn’t work. It’s never easy. There were a couple of times when I wanted to make something easy by hiring an outside group to do something. Then I realized that group didn’t care about our mission nearly as much as we did, and I already knew all the right people. Don’t think you’re going to cut a corner and make something easy.
Also, a lot of people think they want to be event promoters. I would really take a look and figure out if that’s what you want to do, because it’s a really hard and thankless job. We’re fortunate in the Rebelle because it’s very rewarding, but it is very hard to be an event promoter. So first think about that; it will not be easy. Make sure you have good insurance, and make sure your permits are in good shape, and don’t burn bridges. But I would say that what’s critical is to have realistic expectations, stretch goals, and a killer team.

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