Q&A: ‘FTE’ Chats with Mint 400 Racer Shelby Hall
She’s a Badass Off-Road Driver Set to Race Her Legendary Granddad’s Famous Bronco in the Mint 400. We Talk Fords, Family & Forging Her Own Fame
Shelby Hall is the granddaughter of off-road racing legend Rod Hall (pictured above), but she doesn’t just share his name. She shares his passion for dirt racing, too, and has been a Rod Hall Racing driver for more than four years. Plus, Hall has competed in various off-road endurance races like the vaunted Baja 1000 and completed the women’s only navigational rally, the Rebelle Rally. Ford Truck Enthusiasts caught up with Hall right before she takes her legendary grandfather’s 1969 Ford Bronco (retrieved from the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame) and runs it in the Mint 400 race. Yes, the grueling off-road race where 350 teams compete over 120 miles near Las Vegas!
Yes, she is that badass.
FTE: You had a really exciting last year. Let’s launch right into it, starting with the Rebelle Rally. How was the experience?
SH: It was such a different experience than anything I have ever done and it was very nerve-racking for me. I race competitively in the dirt regularly, but usually I have a whole team behind me and we have a GPS, plus we have different electronic equipment. Coming into a competition where it is you as a driver…and you have to get yourself 1,200 miles over seven days is a little bit nerve-racking.
I have never done anything like that before, and I didn’t really know where to begin in prepping myself for it. Thankfully, I had an amazing navigator, Amy Lerner, who has competed in the Gazelle Rally multiple times. She really had a great foundation and was a very amazing leader for our team to get organized and [prepared]. Then, you just get into it [and] learn day by day. The first day is a little bit rocky, and the next day is a little bit less rocky. Then, you just really start to meld with how the process is going to go. It was a really interesting process.
FTE: Have you ever read maps before with just a compass and done that kind of navigation?
SH: No, not really. I’ve gone out camping and looked at maps, but never like that. It was a very foreign thing for me.
How did working with a navigator change the way you drove?
It is completely different than desert racing. After the first day, I really had to say: OK, Shelby, we don’t need to beat everyone else to the first corner. Slow down. It was really more of taking in our surroundings than being the first one across the line.
Because I had no experience in reading the maps, I did put all of my trust into Amy. She lived by that map every day and really became one with the map. I just had trust her that we were making the right turns.
What you did find to be the most interesting challenge?
The biggest challenge was making sure we knew exactly where we were at. You get so used to looking at the topographic lines on the map that you start to assume the mountain range in the distance has to be the one you have been looking at. You just want to know where you are.
How are events like the Rebelle Rally and the Gazelle Rally in Morocco helping to highlight women in off-road racing?
The thing that is very empowering about both events is you have no team. It is really up to you and your one partner to take care of the vehicle and know how to diagnose vehicle problems. And those things are just not normal things for women to do. It’s something that we really have to go out of our way to ask a lot of questions then do a lot of research and learn how to fend for ourselves mechanically.
Another thing that was really a different was — and it’s the same for both of the women-only events — is that you camp every night. You have to be able to carry all of your camping equipment, clothing, water containers and everything from your vehicle to your campsite. Being on your own and going out there and setting your camp up, you just put up with it. At the end of it, I definitely felt a little bit tougher.
Is off-road racing still a male-dominated sport?
Oh absolutely. When I go out to compete, there are not even a handful of other women out there. But, the number of women racers is definitely increasing. I think that every woman should have the opportunity to get in a race truck and just go all out. It is such a great feeling, and there’s no reason women shouldn’t be in the sport.
Did you grow up off-road racing?
I did. I’m a third-generation off-roader in my family. My grandfather [Rod Hall] is really a legend in the industry, and not to be biased, but I really feel like he had such a huge role in helping get off-roading where it is today. Him making off-roading a career was really incredible, and Josh, my father, has always been in the off-road industry as well. He is a racer who is more on the training side of things now.
You are part of Rod Hall Drive. Please explain what it is.
Rod Hall Drive, near Reno, Nevada, is an off-road platform that we have created to take our passion and give it to people who aren’t so familiar with the outdoor industry. We use our fleet of side-by-sides and Jeep Wranglers to put together really cool relationship-building tools. We take people on adventure trips throughout the area, and it just creates a really cool experience for people. Even if they are familiar with four-wheeling, it just gives them an opportunity to meet with off-road racers. It’s pretty interesting to be able to share what we love so much with people throughout the area.
Any fun stories from teaching the city slickers how do drive in the dirt?
One of the coolest things that happened last year was the day we crossed the finish line of the Rebelle Rally in Southern California. We had an event the next day at Rod Hall Drive. I was competing in one of our competition Jeep Wranglers. I needed to cross the finish line, say my farewell and turn around and drive 12 hours back home to get ready for the Rod Hall Drive event the next day.
The group we had that day ended up being a group of women. It was so inspiring for me to tell them what I had just done at this women-only race. I told them about placing fourth and telling them they got to drive in the same Jeep Wrangler I raced in. It was a really cool thing since they had no idea this race existed, and they felt really lucky to be able to drive the Jeep. That was really cool and will stick with me forever.
What’s coming up in 2017?
We are gearing up for the Mint 400, where we get to go as fast as we can. (laughs)
We will be competing in my grandfather’s legendary Ford Bronco. It is the only 4×4 vehicle that has ever overhauled the Baja 1000. We actually pulled it out of the Off-Road Motor Sports Hall of Fame two years ago. We totally restored the Ford Bronco and started racing it down in Mexico two years ago.
It rides pretty rough. It is very original. Suspensions have come a long way since 1968. We are keeping it as original as we can. I’m really looking forward to it, and I love that Bronco. My husband is my co-driver and he has been doing all the work to the Ford Bronco. It is a really cool family experience.
The 2017 Mint 400 begins happens March 1-5, and will begin and end in Las Vegas.