It takes a certain level of craziness to drive over 600mph, even more to attempt a land speed record. When people called Jessi Combs crazy, she embraced the term. The 39-year-old South Dakota native had an insatiable thirst for speed, thrills, and disproving stereotypes. Piloting a 52,000-horsepower vehicle built from a highly-modified Lockheed F-104A-10 Starfighter jet plane that rolled on four cast aluminum wheels, Combs was aiming to reach 619 mph or more. She died tragically in a crash on August 27, 2019.
Many friends and fans remember Jessi fondly. I'm one of them. With a degree from WyoTech in custom automotive fabrication, Combs’ career launched in 2004, when she built a show car for SEMA with a classmate. She turned her car-building skills into an amazing television career, serving as host and builder on Overhaulin’, All Girls Garage, Extreme 4x4, Mythbusters, and most recently, Autoblog’s The List—1001 Car Things To Do Before You Die. She quickly became a familiar face in the automotive world, representing women who wrench, fabricate and weld. Combs was determined to bust down the stereotypes, and wanted to make sure she was showing women everywhere that they could be part of the otherwise male dominated world of cars, motorcycles and fabrication. Her mission was to let women know "that it’s okay to get their hands dirty, to go fast, and to have fun,” as she put it.
Aside from being a well known host and TV presence in the automotive world, Jessi spent much of her time racing in multiple high stakes events. She competed for several years at the King of the Hammers off-road race, taking first place in the Spec Class in 2014, earning her the title "Queen of the Hammers." In 2011, Combs finished second place in the Spec 10 class of the Baja 1000, easily one of the most grueling events in off-road racing, where simply finishing is considered a victory. She was one of the first women to drive in The Race of Gentleman, driving a Craftsman Twin-T dual-engine race car; despite losing her steering wheel, she still won her race. She also competed in the Rallye Aicha de Gazelles, racing for 9 days in the desert against over 100 other female competitors, using just a map and a compass—no GPS allowed.
In addition to her impressive resume in the automotive world, Jessi was also a passionate motorcyclist. She and her Real Deal partner, Theresa Contreras, built a custom BMW RNineT for the 2017 Handbuilt motorcycle show in Austin, TX. More recently, Combs filmed with Fox Factory to showcase their V-Twin suspension lineup on her Harley-Davidson. She was the first female Grand Marshal of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for their 77th anniversary, having attended the rally ever since she was a little girl. She was a strong supporter of women in motorcycling, making appearances at Babes Ride Out, Wild Gypsy Tour, Women’s Motorcycle Show, and Biker Belles events. Combs was determined to teach women how to weld, offering workshops to attendees with her Real Deal brand. In 2015 she authored a children’s book, Joey and the Chopper Boys, a story about a girl who loves motorcycles.
Beyond her many accomplishments in the motoring world of two wheels and four, Jessi’s personality was unmatched. She wore her enthusiasm on her sleeve, constantly sporting a big smile, often accompanied by a hearty laugh. While she took her racing and fabrication seriously, Combs knew how to let loose and laugh at herself. During the Race of Gentlemen event, when the steering wheel came off her hot-rod jalopy Model T, she returned to the pits with the steering wheel hanging from her neck, laughing. After her King of the Hammers win, she graciously congratulated her co-driver and Autoblog co-host for a job well done. At a recent charity event, Jessi spoke about possibly delving into the world of voiceover, as she goofed around in a cartoonish voice talking about her favorite safety glasses. She was vibrant, animated, outgoing, generous with her time, eager to teach and encourage others, and determined to help women see themselves as strong, capable, and deserving members of the motoring world. The impression she left on everyone around is deep and everlasting.
It may seem a little crazy to walk directly into the line of fire... those who are willing, are those who achieve great things. . . People say I’m crazy. I say thank you ;) . . . #fastestwomanonearth #almost #fasterthanfast #jetcar #afterburner #landpseed @landspeed763 #iwillgofaster #gottabreak512 #aimingfor619 #currentlyat483 #northamericaneagle #i❤️afterburners
A post shared by Jessi Combs (@thejessicombs) on Aug 24, 2019 at 2:22pm PDT
One of Jessi’s last posts to Instagram showed her walking towards her North American Eagle Jet Car on a prep day for her land speed record attempt. Despite already holding the record for "Fastest Woman on Four Wheels" with a top speed of 483 mph, Jessi was aiming to beat Kitty O’Neil’s 512-mph record for fastest woman on earth.
Some say she died having surpassed that number, but that is yet to be confirmed. What we do know is Jessi gave her life for her passion. "It may seem a little crazy to walk directly into the line of fire," Combs wrote. "Those who are willing, are those who achieve great things. People say I’m crazy. I say thank you."
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