Arguably the most skilled co-driver in the world, Rhianon Gelsomino has rally in her blood and carries a broken right fibula in her leg.
Gelsomino grew up watching her father first as a speedway racer and then as a rally driver.
“My whole family is in motor sports,” Gelsomino said. “I’ve quite literally had it in my life since I was born.”
“I personally started in karting and then switched to rallycross,” Gelsomino said. “My family is one full of drivers. I grew up doing a lot of sports, I was a P.E. teacher, and since I’m very competitive, I often wondered why I wasn’t doing the exact same thing as my father and brothers: driving.”
“When I was 23 or 24, my dad convinced me to be a co-driver,” Gelsomino continued. “I didn’t want to, but long story short, my dad’s co-driver trained me. In 2005, I did my first-ever rally with my younger brother Nathan [Reeves], and thanks to that push from my dad, I started co-driving. I realized that both of my brothers were better drivers than me, and if I could co-drive for them, I could go further. If I hadn’t listened to my dad’s advice, I’m sure I wouldn’t have gone as far as a driver myself.”
For the first few years of her time as a rally co-driver, Gelsomino continued to teach P.E. full time, co-driving in her free time for her younger brothers, Nathan and Brendan.
It wasn’t until 2009 that a traumatic experience led to a shift in her splitting time between two worlds. During the Rally South Australia in 2009, Gelsomino experienced a crash that became the turning point in her career as both a P.E. teacher and a co-driver. The crash left her with her legs broken in nine places, which meant 16 weeks out of school and returning to work in a wheelchair while she tried to learn how to walk again.
Eleven surgeries and a year later, she had made the decision to make rally her full-time career; Gelsomino was back in a rally car alongside her brother Brendan Reeves.
Two years post-crash in South Australia, and Gelsomino was co-driving in the World Rally Championship. Currently, she’s the reigning ARA champion. That South Australia crash wasn’t the last of its kind to happen to Gelsomino; in 2014, she sustained second-degree burns to her face and hands after the car she was in with driver Nick Roberts had a mechanical failure that punctured the fuel tank of their Subaru STI, causing it to go up in flames during the Oregon Trail Rally.
Four weeks after the incident, Gelsomino and Roberts were back in action in a new car at the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally — and they finished third overall and first in class.
Photo courtesy of RallySportMag.com.
Then, in 2018, Gelsomino amazingly walked away from another wreck on stage during the Olympus Rally. Her driver for this race, James Rimmer, lost control of the 10-year-old Subaru Impreza WRX, and it was totally destroyed, but both driver and co-driver came out in one piece.
"Thanks for all the messages. Big crash. I am ok. Just sore. James Rimmer has been taken to hospital with lower back and pelvis pain for precautionary checks. All the safety equipment did its job," Gelsomino posted at the time on her Facebook page.
Photo courtesy of Rhianon Gelsomino.
Rally has truly become involved in every part of Gelsomino’s life; she even met her husband in the rally circuit, of all places.
“My husband and I had raced for years in the same circuit, internationally and the world circuit,” Gelsomino said. “You’re normally very busy at races, so you don’t have time for anything else, but in 2012, [Alex Gelsomino] asked me out on a date. We started dating, and after a few months of long-distance — he was based in the US and I still lived in Australia — I bit the bullet and moved to Utah in November of 2012.”
When they’re not competing against each other, they’re teaching and training rally drivers and co-drivers together.
“I was a P.E. teacher, and as much as I love my job, teaching was my passion,” Gelsomino explained. “Once I started professionally co-driving, I could see there was a way for me to teach others how to correct all the mistakes that I’ve already made in my time driving.”
After she spoke to her husband about coaching drivers and co-drivers, OZ Rally Pro was started in December 2013. Gelsomino and her husband train in recon cars, reviewing reconnaissance, logistics, and multitasking, among the other skills valued in the co-driving realm.
“We really want to build the sport,” Gelsomino said. “We both have all the knowledge from all the mistakes we’ve made along the way, and we’ve both learned from them. If we can teach novices, then we can raise the sport, and hopefully, we have more people getting to the next level in the sport.
”They’ve trained more than 370 students since they opened OZ Rally Pro, and while Gelsomino is currently home on vacation in Australia, she has another 35 students booked for training.
Photos courtesy of OZ Rally Pro.
“What’s really important in my role [as co-driver] is preparation,” Gelsomino said. “Before every race I’m going over every detail, getting maps out, reviewing old videos and notes from prior years, and then planning reconnaissance. Being a good co-driver and a professional, you have to have a backup plan for your backup plan and make sure every detail is covered.”
“A lot of people don’t show up prepared to rally events,” Gelsomino continued. “They’ll say that the reason why they didn’t prep is because they’re not a professional, but at the end of the day, it’s all about preparation, and when you want to do the best performance you can do to get the best results, that prep work is part of what allows you to get to a spot where this is your full-time job. If you put in time and work, then anything is possible.”
Now in her third year of co-driving with Travis Pastrana, Gelsomino has the pandemic to thank for drawing them together. When COVID-19 struck in 2020, Pastrana’s co-driver at the time was British and couldn’t get to the US to race.
“Travis [Pastrana] asked me to do the [Southern Ohio Forest Rally] with him, and I was already booked,” Gelsomino explained. “It was hard to turn down that opportunity, but by the next race in the series, we were working together. I signed up for the Ojibwe Rally with him, I put him to work, and we won, which was a fantastic result for a brand new team. I figured he would either like it or not, because I had him doing all sorts of things he’d never done before.”
COVID-19 cut the 2020 rally season practically in half, so Gelsomino and Pastrana did 3 races together that year, and then in 2021, they won the ARA National Championship.
Given the number of broken bones and injuries Gelsomino has sustained, she and Travis Pastrana are a likely pairing on the rally course for more than just their sheer skill.
“As we all know, Travis [Pastrana] is an elite athlete, and many people look up to him because of his achievements in so many facets of extreme sports,” Gelsomino said. “It’s fantastic to be working with someone that’s also passionate and hardworking. To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s Travis or anyone else, I’m gonna make them do the same hard work that I expect of any driver, so it’s been pretty cool to have someone just as driven to put in the work to be competitive in rally.”
As Black Rifle Coffee Company developed its BRCC-sponsored motor sports team for this current rally season, Gelsomino quickly became involved.
“I was doing rally work with Travis back in February, and [Jarred Taylor] and Dov [Ribnick, vice president of media,] were there meeting with Travis at the same time,” Gelsomino said. “I got called in during one of their meetings, and they asked me to be a part of the team. For me, this was such a great opportunity, for more than one reason. Being able to work with such an up-and-coming company is really exciting, and co-drivers don’t really get sponsorships — that’s more driver-focused — so I’m really grateful for this opportunity.”
In March of 2022, Gelsomino met the rest of the crew, including Bucky Lasek, whom she had co-driven for back in 2016.
“These guys have all worked really hard in what they’ve done and to get where they are in life,” Gelsomino said. “I really respect everything that they’ve done to protect our freedoms and our country, and they respect me for all my work in rally and the co-driving world.”
“It doesn’t matter what facet of the sports world you’re working in, you know this team is going to work hard, because they’ve had to do so before,” Gelsomino continued. “Working with this group is a dream come true. If I tell them something, they listen. And by the way, Mike [Glover] is one of the best students we’ve ever had.”
“It’s so exciting to be a part of a brand that’s growing and doing cool things for people, like what they did at Pastranaland over Memorial Day,” Gelsomino said. “What an inspiration these guys have been … I mean, I’ve been in a serious crash where I broke my legs in 9 places, I’ve been burnt, I’ve had lots of things happen in my sport, and I feel like they appreciate what I’ve been through, and I appreciate what they’ve been through. It’s so cool to see how we all see each other differently. I’m loving it.”