By Justin Schuoler, Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS – Endurance rally racing is some of the most grueling competition that the world of motorsports has to offer. Events usually span days, if not weeks, over hundreds of miles of vast terrain from flat desert lands to murky swamps, up to rocky mountain ranges and steep cliff edges. In the United States, the most popular rally is the Baja 1000. Various classes of off-road trucks to dirt bikes all compete in their own classes to prove both their own man and machine are the best.
Some would say that this is a male sport, but Shelby Hall competes as well taking wins and podiums all over the world.
“I’m a third-generation off-road professional,” says Hall. “My grandfather is Rod Hall, and he was a legend of this sport. So I grew up in the dirt, in desert racing, going real fast and using GPS.”
One event that Hall competes in is called the Rebelle Rally, an all-female rally event that takes place in the deserts of Nevada and California. For the last eight years, over 20 female teams fight against the grueling heat of late summer or early fall with eight days to race across 1,500 miles of terrain. Instead of all the top dollar equipment, the Rebelle Rally requires all vehicles to be stock and street legal, putting more focus on the driver and navigator and less on the dollar figure to bring truer competition to the forefront of the race.
For Hall, it’s become an annual sensation.
“When I heard about the Rebelle Rally, I didn’t know what to take of it,” she shared. “I didn’t know how to read a map and compass, and my grandfather was also Emily’s mentor and teacher. He truly believed in her vision, he believed in me as a competitor, so he was my number one sponsor the first year. I have learned so much, so I’ve been competing on behalf of Ford since 2019, and our first Rebelle Rally was in 2020. I went in with my teammate, Penny Dale, and we were in a Bronco Sport and we won. We were the first team to bring in a first place finish on behalf of Ford and the new Bronco brand, which is pretty incredible that it was an all female team.
“Ever since then, I still desert race and I still compete in the rally every year.”
Rebelle Rally founder Emily Miller found inspiration not just through fellow female athletes but through her own experiences as a mechanic herself. Her experience and friendship with the Hall family has driven her to the next level of organizing the Rebelle Rally across the west coast.
“I raced for her grandfather and her grandfather was the most winning racer in Baja 1000 history, so I was able to learn from the best,” said Miller. “Often when I was out there, I was one of the only women and it was hard. I built so many great valuable friendships and lessons from racing, so I wanted to create a competition that was more like some of the global rallies around the world like Dakar (Rally). I competed in rallies outside of the country that are endurance rallies, but you don’t see them here in the US, so I wanted something that was truly world-class that her grandfather would be proud of in stock manufactured vehicles.
“That’s what he was the expert in. That would build a community of women that had the experience to make it happen.”
The event has continued to grow each and every year. More teams enter the race and a larger audience attend to watch the best in the world showcase their talents. With a growing event comes more corporate partners to allow the show to expand to more audiences and build more awareness of the event. Even manufacturers have become partners to help learn the weaknesses of their machines to build better, more durable machines for the daily driver on the roads. The rally allows over 10 manufacturers to compete in the same class, one of the highest variety across all motorsport disciplines.
“Jeep has been a big sponsor. Iridium, the satellite company, Yeti is a great partner, and Pirelli Tires,” Miller continued. “We actually have 11 vehicle manufacturers that are involved with the rally. Today, a lot of the manufacturers now field their female engineers to compete in the cars that they are designing and manufacturing and building, so that they can live in that car and then go back to the drawing board and work to make the car even better.”
Despite all the partnerships, Hall knows that there are still fundamentals that make every race car driver, mechanic and navigator a true athlete. Precision, endurance, communication and patience are just a few of the main puzzle pieces that put together the full picture of all that goes into preparing for a race at this level.
“The one thing it has in common with the Baja 1000 is that you have to have endurance,” Hall stated, sharing some insight from some past races. “We are in the vehicle for 12 hours a day with the same person, so communication is key, patience is key, precision is key. Some days you wonder whose idea it was to do this, and other days, you are on top of the world. ‘I was made to do this.’
“That’s what makes it amazing is that the hard days are equaled out by the amazing days. If you are a true competitor, you learn from your mistakes and you come back even better the next year.”
One of those amazing days was the past NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the Pennzoil 400 when Pennzoil announced their partnership with Rebelle U, the rally’s university program set to help train and coach women interested in stepping into the motorsports realm. Unlike other universities or professional programs, Rebelle U requires no past experience, giving a true open door to anyone with desire to pursue a career like this. Bree Sandlin, Vice President, Shell Lubricants North America Marketing, shared how inspired she was from last year’s race that led her to the perfect partnership.
“We got to go out there for a couple days last year and see the event happen, and we were so inspired by watching these women push themselves, going through these grueling conditions and then come through and gain confidence and this experience,” said Sandlin. “This was all the proof we needed to know this was something we wanted to be a part of. We get to do this in a really authentic way by being a sponsor of Rebelle U which helps train the drivers and the navigators. Our goal is to get more women and diversity involved into motorsports and the automotive industry.
“Rebelle U is available to women to come train, even if you don’t run in the event. It was a perfect fit for us.”
Pennzoil offered to go a step further to introduce a cooperative mechanic program. It’s an open garage available to the teams for additional support, more advanced level training and extra neutral members dedicated to solving mechanical problems and assisting with standard maintenance. Much like a NASCAR driver needs a pit crew during the race, Pennzoil looks to offer that paddock for the rally.
“In the evenings, after the drivers come in, if they need any support for their vehicles, anything that went wrong that they need to see a mechanic, there’s a cooperative mechanic garage,” Sandlin expanded. “They work hand-in-hand with mechanics to solve any problems. Pennzoil will be bringing in some mechanics to help, and of course we’ll be bringing in our oil so if anybody needs oil to change during the event, then they’ll have Pennzoil there available to them.”
For all three ladies, it all comes back to the inspiration they’ve experienced first-hand. Whether as a spectator and partner like Pennzoil or as a competitor and mechanic like Hall and Miller, it has truly become a joy to participate and organize. Miller hopes to share that inspiration with others as the series continues to grow and expand.
“You never know who you’re impacting by teaching them the skills of driving and navigating, and then believing in them,” said Miller. “Because of Rod Hall, today we have the Rebelle Rally.”
All of that inspiration was rooted in one quote that Rod Hall shared with Miller back when she competed.
“He told me, ‘One of the greatest places to see the world was behind the windshield.’”