On August 27, 2019, Jessi Combs met a tragic end when she was killed in a jet-car crash in the Alvord Desert, Oregon, while trying to break her own land speed record. It was at the site of the same place when she first broke the land speed record back in 2013, and became known as “the fastest woman on four wheels.”
It’s important to remember Jessi Combs for the legend that she was. She was an inspiration for women trying to break into the automotive fields—a fabricator, racer, TV personality, mechanic. She not only set the land speed record in 2013 (398 mph), but she broke it again in 2016 (477 mph), and was going for a third run to try to hit 512 mph.
Days before her passing, Jessi posted a photo of the 52,000-hp jet car, where she said “People say I’m crazy. I say thank you.”
In remembrance, here are 17 of Jessi Combs’ greatest achievements.
17 Top Of Her Class At WyoTech
Jessi Combs graduated from WyoTech (formerly the Wyoming Technical Institute) in 2004, majoring in the Collision & Refinishing Core Program. She also graduated from the Street Rod Fabrication and Custom Fabrication and High-Performance Powertrain programs, Chassis Fabrication, and Trim & Upholstery, all at the top of her class, which shows that she knew what she wanted to do at an early age.
16 Hosting Xtreme 4x4
Jessi rose to fame as a co-host of the popular TV show Xtreme 4x4, which she co-anchored with Ian Johnson from 2005 to 2008, starring in more than 90 episodes. Xtreme 4x4 was part of the Powerblock from PowerNation, and it featured hardcore build-ups and off-road truck projects. It’s still a well-respected show, with a good 7.6 rating on IMDb, and a 96% “liked this TV show” from Google.
15 Appearing On MythBusters
Following an on-set accident, Combs announced she would leave Xtreme 4x4 in 2008. From there, however, she was already popular, and needed to get into something new. So, in 2009 she appeared in 12 episodes of the seventh season of MythBusters, while Kari Byron was on maternity leave. Adam Savage, from MythBusters, commented on Jessi’s untimely passing by saying she was “a brilliant & top-notch builder, engineer, driver, fabricator, and science communicator, & strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example.”
14 Her Award-Winning Automotive Adventure Series
Jessi always stayed busy, and she was never quiet for long. In 2011, she began recording an AOL Autoblog Show called The List: 1001 Car Things To Do Before You Die. The vlog was an award-winning automotive adventure series where Combs and co-host Patrick McIntyre would cross off car-related bucket list ideas. Autoblog staff said of Combs, “Jessi had an innate spirit and fight like few people I’ve ever met.”
13 Hosting All Girls Garage
All Girls Garage on the Motor Trend network was a big deal, and it still is. It's now in its eighth season. It was the first time that a group of all-female engineers and mechanics got together to do what guys were doing on other automotive shows. Sarah “Bogi” Lateiner, Cristy Lee, Faye Hadley, and Jessi Combs would approach complex projects to prove that they could rival their male counterparts. Combs was the fabricator and co-host of the show from 2011 to 2014.
12 Co-Hosting Overhaulin’
In May 2012, Jessi Combs became co-host of the sixth season of Overhaulin’, alongside Chris Jacobs. The show’s relaunch took place on Velocity and Discovery, and it was probably the most popular show that Jessi was seen on. The team of ace mechanics and designers would transform junky autos under the eye of auto design legend Chip Foose. She also dated co-host Chris Jacobs for a time.
11 “The Fastest Woman On Four Wheels”
On October 9, 2013, Jessi Combs achieved what she is still most noted for: becoming the “fastest woman on four wheels.” On that day, she drove the North American (NaE) Supersonic Speed Challenger at the Alvord Desert and claimed the women’s 4-wheel land speed record, with an official run of 398.954 mph and a top speed of 440.709 mph. She broke the 48-year women’s land speed record set by Lee Birdlove in 1965, of 308.506 mph. In 2016, Combs set a new top speed of 477.59 mph driving the Other American Eagle.
10 Winning The 2016 King Of The Hammers Off-Road Race
Jessi Combs was known as an amazing racer, having won the 2014 Ultra 4 Spec Class races in King of the Hammers, Western Region Series, and National Championship, as well as the Legend Class in Stampede. In 2016, she finished first place in the King of the Hammers off-road race while with the Savvy Off-Road team. She also completed the Rallye des Gazelle, the only all-female off-road race.
9 Success At SCORE Baja 1000
The Baja 1000 is known as one of the most hardcore endurance races around. People from all over the world compete, and if you even finish the race it’s considered a success. In 2011, not only did Jessi Combs compete in the Class 10 (single or two-seaters to 1650cc), but she finished in second place, with a time of 23:57:14, with Patrick McIntyre with her (from her Autoblog web series). From 2011 to 2016, she participated in 11 races and placed 1st on six occasions.
8 Her Time On “How To Build… Everything”
How to Build… Everything was a half-hour show that broke down some of the processes behind humanity’s greatest modern-day inventions. It was very interesting and captivating, and for someone like Jessi Combs, it was right up her alley. From an apache helicopter to a hovercraft, to a cruise ship or satellite, each episode featured airplane mechanic Alonzo Bodden, science communicator Alie Ward, tech expert Veronica Belmont, mad inventor Eric Gradman, astronaut Leland Melvin, and, for a time, Jessi Combs.
7 Huge Brand Representations
Being such a huge role model for girls and women in the automotive field, it makes sense that companies started seeking Jessi out to represent them. She was brand representative for several companies, such as Bosch, Dodge, Nissan, Mobil 1, XX Chromes All Women’s Bike, Lincoln Electric (manufacturer of welding products), Warn Industries (makers of vehicle recovery equipment), Raw Deal (women-empowering organization about industrial and automotive processes), Industrial Metal Supply Company, Raceline Wheels, Dake, and WyoTech.
6 Built A Car From The Ground Up
Jessi completed her degree program in 2004 in Custom Automotive Fabrication (among others) at WyoTech in Laramie. After standing first in her class in all of her studies, these honors helped her get her first job with the WyoTech marketing department, where she was assigned to build a car from the ground up in six months. She completed the task, and it was then debuted at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) show.
5 Relationship With Terry Madden
Jessi Combs changed boyfriend Terry Madden’s life. Just before her death, she helped reunite Madden with his son—and if that’s not an achievement we don’t know what is. Three weeks before Jessi’s passing, he wrote a beautiful message to her on Instagram, saying that she was “hands down the best friend I could have asked for.” Friends noted the touching message by saying, “I could tell you had an amazing love for one another just by the pics of you both, the looks in both of your eyes is what everyone wants to someday find!”
4 Miraculous Recovery From Her 2008 Accident
In 2008, the accident that caused Jessi to leave Xtreme 4x4 should have left her wheelchair-bound. On her website, Combs said she was “folded in two” by a large piece of machinery that had fallen on her. It fractured her spine’s L3, but thanks to “surgery, therapy, and a little help from God,” she made a full recovery in eight months, and was not relegated to a wheelchair.
3 Representing The American Welding Society
One of Jessi Combs’ biggest sponsorships was with the American Welding Society, which has obviously, historically been male-centric. Not only did she represent the Welding Society, but she even designed a line of women’s welding gear, specifically made for them, including smaller gloves to fit women’s hands, jackets to fit their shoulders and hourglass shapes, women-empowering helmets, and more.
2 A Huge Role Model For Women In Motorsports
Almost everyone Jessi Combs has worked with has described the icon as a huge role model and inspiration for girls and women around the world, to show that they too can do anything a guy can do. They can become engineers or mechanics or fabricators and do just as well as men, if they work hard. Combs was truly an icon in the motorsport world, and we’re much lesser without her.
1 Went Out Doing What She Loved
Finally, we will remark on Jessi Combs as a racer, which she often considered herself first and foremost. She was the fastest woman on four wheels, and she was a bada*s. She lived more in her 39 years than most people do who live twice as long. And, most importantly, she went out doing what she loved, which most of us can only dream of doing. And for that, we will miss her and always remember the contributions she made to automotive endeavors.
References: heavy.com, wikipedia.com, thefamouspeople.com, ultra4racing.com