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In Memoriam: Jessi Combs

The Woman Who Changed the Racing Game

By the 'Wayfarer' Ujjwal Dey
11/8/2019


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Jessica Combs (July 27, 1980 – August 27, 2019) was an American professional racer, television personality, and metal fabricator. She set a women's land speed class record (four wheels) in 2013 and broke her own record in 2016. She was known as "the fastest woman on four wheels."

 

Jessi Combs had more than one job description to her name. She was most famous as a television show host and was equally well-known as a metal fabricator. She was also a popular brand representative.

 

Jessi co-hosted the Spike TV show Xtreme 4x4 for more than 90 episodes from 2005 to 2009. Other television shows she appeared on included Overhaulin', Mythbusters, The List: 1001 Car Things To Do Before You Die, All Girls Garage, and Science Channel's How to Build... Everything in 2016.

 

Jessi died in a crash of a jet-powered high-speed race car in southeastern Oregon while attempting to beat her four-wheel land speed record. She was attempting the record as part of the North American Eagle Project in the Alvord Desert, Oregon. Jessi’s two runs in opposite directions across Oregon’s Alvord Desert on August 27, 2019 averaged 531.89 mph (855.99 km/h), which would break the current women’s land speed record of 512.71 mph (825.13 km/h), set in 1976 by Kitty O’Neil at the same location, and so her fatal land speed record attempt will be sent to Guinness for verification.

 

Jessi Combs’ fatal high-speed crash was caused by “a mechanical failure of the front wheel, most likely caused from striking an object on the desert,” according to the Harney County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon. The front wheel assembly collapsed. Her cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head, which happened before the vehicle was engulfed in flames.

 

Jessi Combs was born in Rockerville, South Dakota, on July 27, 1980, the daughter of Jamie Combs and Nina Darrington. Her family moved to Piedmont, South Dakota, while she was two years old. She had three siblings, Kelly Combs, Austin Darrington, Danielle Theis, and two stepsiblings, Rebekah Hall and Arielle Hall. Jessi graduated from Stevens High School in 1998. Jessi may have had racing in her bloodline. A local publication in Rapid City reported Jessi Combs' great-grandmother was Nina DeBow, a jazz pianist who raced Stanley Steamers.

 

 

Jessi Combs had shown a strong inclination for cars, machines and racing from a tender age. She also had a knack for playing around with metal pieces and creating new stuffs with them. She showed special interest in creating things with metal pieces, photography, and leather craft.

 

Jessi traveled North America before settling in Denver, CO to pursue a career in snowboarding. This proved more painfully demanding on her physically than she had anticipated and so she decided on a career that involved her love for the throttle pedal and showcased her artistic abilities.

 

Efforts taken by her parents to encourage her to study interior decoration became futile as she turned down a scholarship offer. After turning down the school for an interior designing class, she moved to Laramie, Wyoming to attend WyoTech.

 

In 2004, Jessi graduated from WyoTech in the Collision & Refinishing Core Program, as well as the Street Rod Fabrication, Chassis Fabrication, Trim & Upholstery, Custom Fabrication and High Performance Powertrain programs, all at the top of her class. She was briefly seen as a student of WyoTech during the sixth episode of the first season of Overhaulin. Following her graduation, Jessi’s first professional job came after the WyoTech marketing department hired her and another student to build a car from the ground up in six months to debut at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association's (SEMA) show.

 
 

 

Jessi’s expertise as a metal fabricator was well known. She owned a fabrication shop in California. About her own metal fab shop she said, “A place where bad ass hot rods, motorcycles, custom trucks, race vehicles, and anything metal will originate with a feminine touch; where chicks can finally have a place to get dirty, be creative, use their skills, explore talents, go fast, and have fun in a comfortable working environment”.

 

Jessi rose to fame as a co-host of the popular television show ‘Xtreme 4x4’ which she hosted from 2005 to 2008. She co-anchored more than 90 episodes. Together with co-host Ian Johnson, they built everything from race trucks to street trucks and trail rigs to trailers for an audience of millions.

 

In an unexplainable accident in 2007, while working in the studio, Jessi was folded in two by a large piece of machinery that had fallen on her, burst fracturing her spine's L3. The accident should have left her wheelchair bound; but instead, after surgery, bed rest, therapy, eight months and a little help from God, Jessi was granted full medical release. 

 

 

Her on-screen personality was beginning to take shape as she honed her skills as a TV host while maintaining her integrity as a metal fabricator, builder and industrial artist.

 

As a popular television show host, Jessi got selected a brand representative for multiple companies due to her rising fame. Her sponsor companies included: Bosch, Dodge, Nissan, Mobil 1, XX Chromes All Women’s Bike, and Lincoln Electric (manufacturer of welding products) among many others such as, Warn Industries (makers of vehicle recovery equipments), Raw Deal (an organization empowering women about industrial and automotive processes), Industrial Metal Supply Company, WyoTech, Dake, and Raceline Wheels.

 

Jessi Combs first love was fast cars. Jessi was a trained racer as well and excelled in performance racing, stunt driving, evasive driving, and drifting. As a professional driver, Jessi raced in a wide range of events and enjoyed many successes.

 

The training associated with her TV programs had allowed Jessi to become a performance driver for the film and commercial world. She has driven everything from super cars to monster trucks, relics to rally cars, hot rods, two wheels, four wheels and even at times, no wheels. Stunt driving opened a whole new passion into the arena of possibilities between woman and machine for Jessi.

 

Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of Jessi’s career is her success as a racing car driver. Her first success came in 2011 when she stood 2nd in Class 10 of SCORE Baja 1000 competition. From then till 2016, she participated in 11 races and ranked 1st on six occasions. Her greatest achievement came in 2013 when she became the fastest woman on 4-wheels.

 

§ 2018 - Landspeed - NAE - new top speed of 483.227 mph

§ 2018 - Gambler 500 Mini Moto Enduro - 2nd - ironman 100 miles

§ 2018 - Ultra 4 King of the Hammers - 1st - Stock class - 3rd overall Every Man Challenge

§ 2017 - Ultra 4 King of the Hammers - 12th - Ultra4 Unlimited class

§ 2016 - Landspeed - NAE - new top speed of 477.59 mph

§ 2016 – Ultra 4 King of the Hammers - 1st - EMC Modified Class

§ 2015 – Rallye Aicha des Gazelles - 1st - First Participation - 10th overall

§ 2015 – SCORE Baja 1000 - 2nd - Class 7

§ 2014 – Ultra 4 National Championship - 1st - Spec Class

§ 2014 – Ultra 4 Western Region Series - 1st - Spec Class

§ 2014 – Ultra 4 American Rock Sports Challenge - 3rd - Spec Class

§ 2014 – Ultra 4 Glen Helen Grand Prix - 2nd - Spec Class

§ 2014 – Ultra 4 Stampede - 1st - Legends Class

§ 2014 – Ultra 4 King of the Hammers - 1st - Spec Class

§ 2013 – Set world land speed record - Fastest Woman on 4-Wheels - 398 mph with a top speed of 440 mph

§ 2011 – SCORE Baja 1000 - 2nd - Class 10

 

 

On October 9, 2013, Jessi Combs drove the North American Eagle (NaE) Supersonic Speed Challenger at the Alvord desert, claiming the women's 4-wheel land speed record with an official run of 398.954 mph (632 km/h) and a top speed of 440.709 mph (709 km/h). In doing so, she broke the 48-year-old women's land speed record, a 308.506 mph (496.492 km/h) run average set by Lee Breedlove in Spirit of America - Sonic 1 in 1965. On September 7, 2016, Combs set a new top speed of 477.59 mph (768.61 km/h) driving the Other American Eagle.

 

Jessi was also a 2014 Ultra 4 Spec Class National Champion with Falken Tire. In 2016, she took first place in King of the Hammers with the Savvy Off Road team in the EMC Modified Class and a 2017 12th-place finish in the Unlimited Class driving the same Stock Mod car.

 

During Jessi’s stint with 'Xtreme 4x4', she got married to her co-host Ian Johnson. They later separated. Thereafter, she was in a relationship with Chris Jacob, host of the television show ‘Overhaulin’ aired on Discovery Channel.

 

Very few people know about Jessi's career as a public speaker and an author of a motivational book.

 

Empowering people in the automotive and industrial arts industries became a mission in Jessi’s life. By simply doing what she loves best, she quickly learned the impact she had on her fans, both male and female. There was never a pause in her life when it comes to reaching out and showing people, especially women, that they too can get dirty, go fast, and have fun while still being the beautiful, nurturing creatures God created them to be.

 

Jessi’s story is very inspirational to almost anyone who has the pleasure of hearing it. Large and small companies, ranging from manufacturing to medical to automotive to education, would seek her out to speak words of encouragement to the people of their organizations. Her years of experience in performing for the masses allowed her to be a natural in the spotlight when delivering public speeches to groups of all sizes. With an extensive background in building, racing, branding, television, travel/adventure, and demolishing stereotypes, be it stand alone on stage or in a symposium setting, Jessi’s message would leave a lasting impression.

 

After publishing her first book in July of 2015, Jessi became an established author. Titled "Joey and the Chopper Boys", the book follows the story of a little girl who loves motorcycles, yet is uprooted from her small town and has to move into the city. Joey finds herself without friends and the path to make new ones proves difficult.

 

Kayla Kouene's illustrations deliver emotion straight from the page being directly related to the ups and downs of being a girl in a boy's world. The story written by Jessi Combs shares many positive messages about taking life into your own hands and never giving up.

 

 

Many of her fans who followed her meteoric rise in television and racing remember her passionate desire for the thrill of speed. A quote of Jessi Combs on her official website says, “I ask that…all of you celebrate my life and everything I stand for. I ask that you do everything in your power to share my mission, what I put my entire life on the line for. To reveal to this world what they are capable of, by showing them the confidence and abilities they already possess.” Truly, Jessi inspired many women and men in her fast-living life and career.

 

Before her speed attempt on August 27, 2019, Jessi posted about her jet car on Instagram, with the caption, “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 ;)”

 

Living life to the fullest was Jessi’s nature. She did everything with heart and at the same time motivated others around her. She was one of a kind and the vacuum she has left in motorsports and media will be difficult to replace. Her life was an example of triumph against all prejudices and limitations imposed by society. Jessi Combs lived a life at full speed encompassing a wide range of skills and talent.

 

Rest in peace, Jessi.

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