WHILE I never met Jessi Combs, the news of her untimely passing has hit me much harder than I would’ve anticipated. I began following Jessi on social media as inspirational women’s motoring advocate and found her to be a strong role model across the car, bike, racing and fabricating scenes. She proved that gender is not a barrier in the automotive world, and her passing has devastated the wider racing community.
Jessi was best known known for presenting Xtreme4x4 and guest hosting MythBusters, yet I reckon her feat of becoming the fastest woman on four-wheels (392mph, two-way average speed) in the 52,000hp North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger jet-powered streamliner is her greatest achievement. Jessi was attempting to break the outright fastest female record of 512mph (which was set in a three-wheeled vehicle by Kitty O’Neil in 1976) when her fateful crash occurred at the Alvord Desert dry lake bed in Oregon on Tuesday. The cause of the crash, and whether or not Jessi managed to reset her own record, remains unconfirmed.
Late last year she managed to lay down a whopping 483.227mph on a shakedown run, but the engine suffered damage, putting paid any further attempts – until this week.
Beyond land speed record attempts, Jessi also competed in variety of motorsports, with notable results including second place at the 2011 and 2015 Baja 1000 events, winning the 2014 Ultra 4 Spec Class National Championship, and a string of victories in the Ultra 4 series throughout that year. Jessi helped to further break down the gender barrier by being the first woman to place in an Ultra 4 event, and also one of the first females to compete at The Race of Gentlemen. Go girl!
Read: Land Speed Record Heroes
Jessi was also a skilled fabricator working out of a small shop in California, and it’s her ability to both build and race cars that I respect the most, and where I’ve gained the most inspiration from. Jessi graduated top of her class at WyoTech in with a degree in Custom Automotive Fabrication – which included Collision/Refinishing, Chassis Fabrication, Street Rod Fabrication and Trim/Upholstery. The following year, WyoTech hired her and another student to build a car from scratch, over just six months, to debut at SEMA! Her coolness knows no bounds.
Jessi seemed to turn her hand to almost anything, and lived life to the fullest. And by sharing her antics – and her failures as well as her successes – she helped to keep my flame lit even during the most frustrating days and nights out in the shed.
The social media posts from those closest to Jessi tell of a fearless, strong-willed woman who was full of spirit and always had a smile on her face. She was a genuine and endearing person who took the time to chat with others, in-turn spreading her infectious can-do energy which is something that shone through in her online presence.
Jessi Combs exited this world chasing a dream and doing what made her heart sing. I’m inspired by how much she managed to achieve in her less than four decades on earth, and I feel that we should all endeavour to further her legacy in every way possible. You can bet that I will. Jessi truly lived by her motto to ‘be the real deal’, and to ‘grab life by the balls’. So, I’m off to do just that.
Rest in Peace Jessi, and much love to her family and friends.