February 7th, 2024
We couldn’t wait to catch up with Nicole Pitell-Vaughan, co-owner of longtime Rebelle partner TOTAL CHAOS Fabrication, for our latest partner Q&A. A leader in the realm of off-road suspension, Nicole steers a business that has been at the forefront of innovation and quality in the industry for over two decades.
TOTAL CHAOS Fabrication is renowned in the off-road community for its durable, handcrafted suspension parts, proudly made in the USA. As a steadfast supporter of the Rebelle since its launch, they have been instrumental in the competition. Their role spans from providing valuable support staff and vehicles to being the trusted key link in media transportation.
In our recent interview, Nicole shares insights into TOTAL CHAOS’s commitment on delivering the utmost quality, performance and innovation. And beyond that, there are countless attributes that make TOTAL CHAOS unique and stand out in the industry. And it’s also inspirational, because anyone who knows Nicole knows her resilience and passion for pushing boundaries. Dive in now for a look at Nicole’s journey in the off-road world, and thank you Nicole for taking the time to share your incredible story with us!
Since we conducted our last interview in 2017, how has TOTAL CHAOS (TC) evolved, both as a company and within the off-road community?
I like to say “If you knew me yesterday you don’t know me anymore. I grow daily and so does our team.” We continue to constantly improve our manufacturing processes, hone operations systems, and collect data. That is allowing us to maximize our efficiency with a very lean staff. We are in a rapidly changing market space with all of the mergers and acquisitions of companies over the last three years. We chose to not sell out and will remain an independently owned small company. There are only a few brands left that started in the late 90’s with us that have not been acquired – you can almost count them on one hand. It is pretty rad that this year, five of us are celebrating 19 years together with 100% dedication to the products that we manufacture.
What new innovations or product developments has TC introduced over the last few years?
We specialize in Toyotas and continue to support the brand with a product line that goes all the way back to 1986. Most companies discontinue older model parts, but we have stayed true to our roots with the Caddy Kit. We released a lower uniball conversion for the Gen 1 Tacoma, Gen 3 4Runner and Gen 1 Tundras that addresses a known weak link and adds strength and dependability to the lower ball joint. The Toyota community seems to really appreciate that we are not neglecting the older platforms and are still releasing new products for these rigs. Toyota owners are a very passionate community and a large segment still appreciates the analog older vehicles. They need performance upgrades too.
In 2024 Toyota has a new Tacoma that is just rolling off the production lines. We are pumped to R&D on this new platform and highlight its off-road performance capabilities. I’ll let a cat out of the bag – you will see a TOTAL CHAOS built Toyota Tacoma competing in the Rebelle Rally this year. It will be piloted by two of Toyota’s production engineers who have proven to have what it takes to earn a podium in the Rebelle. Becky Brophy & Samantha Barber will be competing as team #152.
We are also aiming to expand our Ford product line in 2024.
TC has been a longtime supporter of the Rebelle Rally. What motivates this continued involvement, and how do you see it continue to grow?
I competed in a rally in Africa in 2015 and 2016 and I saw my personal growth from the challenges that I experienced. That competition elevated my career and it was noticeable to the team when I returned home from both adventures. My communication, self-confidence, decision making, time management – I grew in all of those areas. Removing myself from my comfort zone was a real game changer. It was a no-brainer to find a way to support the Rebelle and what Emily had intentions to build here in the United States from the very beginning. Plus we scout the course together and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process. It’s pretty bad-ass that two women go explore totally remote for five days and are fully self-sufficient and independent. International competition is very expensive and not many of these competitors can fund a program to go to Africa to get that experience, so continuing to support the Rebelle I know TC is sharing the stoke of all things off-road with this amazing Rebelle Rally experience. You have had hundreds of women embark on the Rebelle adventure – and it is amazing to be a part of their growth and experiences in the sport of off-road.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs in the off-road space looking to make their mark on the industry?
There are only three things no one can ever steal from you. Your honesty. Your ethics. And your integrity. If you walk a path with these intentions daily, it will result in success. Work hard and understand that not everything is an instant success. Be patient for things to fall into place. Not everything goes as you initially plan. And be willing to grind for the long haul – even when no one is looking. If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life! But you’ll get up really early and be really busy all the time (laughs).
Yourself and the TC staff have been driving Rebelle Rally media in the Glamis sand dunes during the final stages since 2016. Can you share one of your most memorable experiences doing this on the Rebelle – and what TC truck did it take place in?
The memorable experiences are found in scouting the epic courses each year with Emily Miller. I totally enjoy seeing Nicole Dreon every year and we picnic in the dunes and catch up on life when she rides with me. I met her in Africa as she took photos for the USA teams. She’s a global traveler and works on production for events including X-Games. She is a hoot and has been a photographer on the rally since the first year. We MTB ride together when I head up to Truckee. She gifted me with a photo from Africa when Chrissie and I competed and it hangs on my home office wall. A great daily reminder to harden up and get ‘er done.
Driving in the dunes is a job that we take as seriously as our day job. I use Morocco Taco in the dunes. We have multiple electronic devices plumbed and we are glued to them trying to follow teams and drive safely. We use YB Tracking and onX Offroad extensively to enable us to know where the competitors are so we can get media teams to the hot spots and into the action so they can capture the intense moments. Dune driving is so technical and you’re hyper focused trying to navigate your line while you have a drone pilot flying plus a camera crew snapping pics out the window. It’s pretty intense to be honest. I have had a few opportunities to share dune surfing with some Rebelle journalists and looking at the perma-grins on their faces and seeing their stoke for carving and surfing the dunes really does make the job fun though. They are forever changed and sometimes get the bug to compete themselves.
What’s on the horizon for TC? Any upcoming projects or initiatives that you’re particularly excited about?
We recently hired an Army vet who wants to get TC involved in giving back to his veteran community. I’m letting him curate some ways TC can get involved. We are extremely proud to support our US military. We’ll be working with Warfighter Made again in 2024 at a few of their events. We manufacture custom parts for a few military project vehicles that not many people are aware of. I have a long-time friend who is a retired Navy Seal. Norte’ (nickname) is a true bad-ass. In 2023 we donated to the Navy Seal Foundation for a charity swim they hosted. On August 19, each participant completed the 3.5-mile swim from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to South Cove Marina in Lower Manhattan. Along the course, swimmers stopped at barges at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to complete twenty-two pull-ups and one hundred push-ups. They then ran with American flags through downtown NYC, where the streets were lined with FDNY, the pipes and drums, NYPD, Port Authority PD, and other local first responders. Once all swimmers and spectators arrived at America’s Response Monument, they completed the final set of pull-ups and push-ups. In total, the swim raised over $600K for NSF which offers 35+ unique programs designed to build strength and resilience, encourage optimal health, enhance opportunities for growth through education, and solidify a sense of community and belonging. Supporting our troops is something the entire team at TC stands behind. I just had some communication with the TreadLightly! team for a girls STEM trail ride they are hosting in March and Emily will be on. I am trying to move a few things in my schedule to participate in that for the 2nd year. TreadLightly! and the Bureau of Land Management have a really cool program they are launching for girls.
If you could plan your ultimate off-road adventure, without any constraints, where would you go and who would you take with you?
If? Let’s strike through “if” and say “when.” We have been hosting some private fun runs we are calling CHAOS GAMES. It’s a private invite with our TC crew and very close friends and selected customers. We are really trying to take a few steps back and stay grounded to remind ourselves why we got into this sport in the first place. We still love to go off road! We explore old historic pioneer locations, hot springs, less traveled trails, traverse incredible mountain peaks with epic views and go to extremely remote places in the desert. My husband Matt has this saying “never give away your honey-hole.” If you hunt or fish you get it. I won’t say where we are going – but I can tell you we are going to cause some CHAOS. We continue to explore the southwest and have for 20+ years. We generally base out of Nevada and every trip seems to find something new, even if we have been down that trail before. California has some rad stuff, but I tell you, Nevada is just epic to roam. We actually have a CHAOS GAMES trip planned for February. We are hoping it’s not a mudder. For international exploring I loved the terrain in Africa. I have all intentions to get back there in a TC rig to explore or possibly compete again.
Lastly, any words of wisdom for our 2024 competitors?
Have a rad time! Learn to trust your gut and focus forward – take it one check point at a time. Every team has a challenge every day. It is part of the construction of the competition. Also, know what fuels your mind and body to function at peak performance and charge hard physically and mentally for a solid ten days. The game as I often refer to it requires a lot of discipline of time management and decision making. Enjoy the ride – because it is an epic one.