Back to Back: Jeep® Wrangler Owner Kaleigh Miller is Double Trouble at the Rebelle Rally

Categories: Jeep® Life 

For many, college begets a time of introspective learning, academic scholarship and expansive thinking. For Kaleigh Miller, two-time winner of the Rebelle Rally, the longest off-road, map and compass navigation rally in the country, it was time to get the bug for driving on dirt. sits down with Miller to find out how she started off-roading, what it’s like to win the first off-road competition you enter and, most importantly, find out all about her Jeep® Wrangler.

JW: What motivated you to start off-roading?

KM: Back in college, at the University of Arizona, there was an off-roading club. I was a passenger mostly, but it was fun. After college, my second job allowed me to have a lot more free time, so I thought I should have a hobby. I remembered my happiest days in college, and those were hanging out with the off-road club and going camping. But I never really got into driving until I bought my own Jeep® Wrangler.

woman off roading in her jeep vehicle

JW: So, most important question, tell us about your Wrangler.

KM: I have a 1999 TJ Wrangler. When I bought it, it was basically stock. To me, a Jeep® Wrangler is the iconic off-road vehicle, and that’s just what I wanted. I didn’t have big opinions on this brand versus that brand, but I just knew Wranglers could do the job. I had saved up a little bit of cash, and that one popped up. I definitely wanted an automatic and I wanted the six cylinder because I knew I’d be a lot happier with that in the long run.

JW: Because you were new to off-roading, and to Jeep® 4x4s specifically, how did you start going about modifying your vehicle?

KM: I really didn’t change much for the first couple years, and that was sort of intentional. I figured I’d drive it a couple years, and A) see how it did, then B) make my priority list based on that. At that time, I didn’t even know what kind of trails I would want to do, or trips I would want to take, so I didn’t want to drop a bunch of money on mods that didn’t make sense. Turns out, suspension was pretty high up on the list because out here in Arizona, it’s very rocky. We don’t have a lot of mud. I put on Arizona Desert Shocks (ADS) Smooth Body Reservoir shocks. They’re 2.5-inch with clickers. I call them my go fast shocks.

jeep vehicles off roading

JW: Do you remember the first time you went off-roading after you’d made your first few modifications?

KM: I remember my first trip very distinctly because I hadn’t even put new tires or anything on it yet. It still had the paper license plates before you get it registered. I went on a trip with the off-road club. It’s more of an alumni club now. We did a full day of driving and then camped and drove out. It was a long bumpy road, and I was so excited to get through and not break anything. At the time, I knew how to put it in four-wheel drive and that was kind of the extent of my knowledge. I was nervous going in, but I had a great time.

JW: So, how did you go from being the driver of a very basic stock Wrangler, to competing in something like the Rebelle Rally, which is a world-class event, just a few years later?

KM: My husband actually influenced a lot of it. When I was shopping, I did not know enough to go spend a few thousand dollars, so I gave Ryan, who’d been in the off-road club in college, a call and said “Hey, there is this Jeep® 4×4 I want to go look at. Will you go with me?” He did, told me it wasn’t junk, and that I should buy it. As the months progressed, I reached out to him again and said, “Hey, I really want to lift it a little. Can you show me how?” I would buy all the parts, go to his garage and buy him dinner if he helped me.

Those ended up being our first dates and I learned a lot from him. He’s really into off-roading and drove with the Campbell Racing team and Ultra4. I learned about the Rebelle because Bailey (Campbell) was competing in its inaugural year. (In 2016, at 19 years old, Bailey Campbell became the first female driver to finish King of the Hammers, a brutal off-road race in Johnson Valley, California). I found out online that Charlene Bower of Women’s Off-Road Network was looking for a teammate, so I reached out. We drove the BFGoodrich Jeep® and ended up winning!

jeep vehicle off roading

JW: Mission accomplished! So, that next year, you came back for more?

KM: Because I’d won, that meant my entry fee was waived the following year, and I thought I’d really like to take my own car. It adds to the level of difficulty and challenge to not only do the event, which is very difficult, but also to prepare a car. So, that’s when the build really started.

jeep vehicle body being worked on in a shop

JW: So, what are the mods you’ve done to the TJ?

KM: Basically, every square inch got touched. We ended up getting a new frame and a new tub. The frame got new body mounts, new control arms, and we did new skid plates, even a new fuel tank kit. Everything got powder-coated, even the frame got internally coated, so we never had to deal with rust again.

jeep vehicle being worked on in a shop

We put a Dana 44™ axle in the rear and a high-pinion Dana 30 in the front. All-new gaskets, link mounts, bar mount; we tubed the axles, air lockers front and rear, all-new power steering, power-stop brakes; that was a big difference for me.

We swapped the transmission for one out of a Jeep® Cherokee. That was a big deal for the rally, because then I had overdrive, which was really nice on the highway. We did a tranny cooler, which was good for the dunes because we really get hot out there.

jeep vehicle being worked on in a shop

I stayed with the stock engine. We just added a new gasket seal, water pump, but did a new exhaust system. We had custom motor mounts made by Next Venture. They also did all my body armor, including the sliders, and we got that all powder-coated to match the body because I wanted it to all look stock.

There’s a full cage inside, but we had it powder-coated too, to match the paint, so it’s kind of my little secret. And then, we have two Rigid light bars and a WARN 8,000 winch on the front, just in case.

jeep vehicle being worked on in a shop

JW: Your second time running the Rebelle Rally, you had a different co-driver/navigator, Terelin Petereit. Was there more pressure on you, because you had won before?

KM: Not really, but I put pressure on myself because of the car, since I was responsible for building it and getting it there, and I didn’t want to let Terelin down. I think I would feel really badly if my Jeep® 4×4 is what caused us to not do well, because that’s something out of her control.

JW: So, what’s next for you and the TJ?

KM: My husband and I are doing the Nevada Trophy rally again this year in December. It’s similar to the Rebelle in that you’re looking for checkpoints, but you can use GPS!

JW: Well, for someone who’s only been doing this five years, it sounds like you already have a lot of really great experience under your belt and that your Wrangler has been like a great partner along the way.

KM: Yeah, I think for how short a time I’ve been in it, I’ve been really lucky to do a lot of things with it. It’s been great.

jeep vehicle off roading

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