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The Fastest Woman on Four Wheels: Jessi Combs, 1980-2019

Published in blog.hemmings.com

“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.” Jessi Combs wrote this on her Instagram feed two days before a land speed record attempt that ended in a fatal crash. The post sums up her fearless approach to a life filled with adventure and gratitude, much of it on four wheels.

Combs’s accident was confirmed by Terry L. Madden, who noted that the family has drafted a release that will be released soon. We will update this story as soon as it becomes available.

 

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So I don’t know how to say any of this but it all needs said. I have never loved or been loved by anyone as much as this amazing woman @thejessicombs she was truly my unicorn and I enjoyed every single minute that I had with her. She was the most amazing spirit that I have ever or will ever know. Unfortunately we lost her yesterday in a horrific accident, I was the first one there and trust me we did everything humanly possible to save her!! I’m not ok, but she is right here keeping my going-I made her a promise that if this didn’t go well that I would make sure and do good with it, please help me with that, you are all going to see things on news please believe non of them.. we the family have drafted a release and it will come out today with more proper info, but I was just woke up by the media tracking me down and I need everyone of her true friends to do what she would want “take a deep breath, relax” and do good things with this. Please donate to nothing, I know there will be people try, we are finishing the documentary as she wished and the world will know the truth and her foundation will use those funds to do amazing things in this world and make her legacy live on properly. In the coming days her family and I will get the proper channels put together that you can then donate to that foundation but until you hear it from me wait please-I don’t want some asshole profiting off this (all ready had one try to sell us a video)… . . Love you all and thank you all for being such amazing friends to her, she dedicated her life to helping support others dreams and I promise I will continue that.

A post shared by Terry L. Madden (@terry_madden) on

Combs found fame as a television host, most notably on All Girls Garage and Overhaulin’, but her real passion was fabricating and racing. Her pursuits led her to break a 48-year-old women’s land speed record in 2013, and her off-road racing accolades include a class victory in the 2016 King of the Hammers. There was seemingly nothing that could stop Combs from getting behind the wheel, including lingering effects of a 2007 spinal fracture that she seemed to overcome through sheer will.

I met Jessi briefly during my time at Autoblog when she was the host of The List and served as an anchor for our live coverage of the North American International Auto Show. The two things that struck me most was her intensity, supremely focused and prepared for the task at hand, and how any conversation off-camera quickly drifted to her desire to get back into an off-road truck or finish a project in her shop.

Jessi worked and played in male-dominated spaces, handling it all a grace and patience that many didn’t deserve. Her positive attitude was an inspiration, especially to other women in the car world. Automotive journalist and former Roadkill and Hot Rod editor Elana Scherr sums it up better than I ever could:

My first memory of Jessi was an interview I read. The interviewer had asked something super dumb and sexist, I can’t even remember what it was now, a “Can girls weld?,” level of dumbness, and Jessi’s answer was basically, “What a dumb question.” She just called him out and I thought, “Oh, we can do that?” At the time, I was flying pretty solo as a woman in the automotive industry. All my female role models were from the ‘60s and ‘70s so the rules were different when they were coming up. Then here’s Jessi—my age, confident, an active participant in car culture—not a model or a host or even a journalist like myself, I was just bearing witness to people doing cool things. Jessi was there being the person who made cool things and drove cool things and braved the sparks and the speed.

She staked her claim and stood her ground. It just blew me away, and she was so bold both in the things she did and the things she said. I never saw her wilt under the weight of internet criticism or industry machismo, and I often gave myself little pep talks when I felt my own confidence wavering, “WWJD,” What would Jessi do? She’d shake it off and try again. She’d support another newbie in the field. She’d call a dude out on his BS, and so could I. We never got to work together on any big projects, but we saw each other almost everywhere, and she’d always give me a little head nod, “I see you doing good work, sister.” There are a lot more women in the industry now than when Jessi and I started, and I can guarantee they all owe a head nod to Jessi Combs. We saw you doing good work, sister.

Her passing is a loss to all of us in the automotive fellowship. Let’s remember Jessi’s drive and indomitable spirit as an inspiration to always pursue our passions.

Jessie Combs Triumph Bonneville