Jessi Combs Dies In Land-Speed Record Attempt

The 39-year-old fabricator, racer, and TV host crashes jet car

Jessi Combs
Jessi poses with the custom BMW R nineT she designed and built with friend and Real Deal partner, Theresa Contreras, after displaying it in Revival’s 2017 Handbuilt motorcycle show.Julia LaPalme

Jessi Combs passed away in a fatal crash during a land-speed record attempt August 27, 2019, in Oregon’s Alvord Desert. The 39-year-old racer, fabricator, and TV host was piloting the North American Eagle Speed Supersonic Challenger, a car built from a Lockheed F-104A Starfighter, boasting 45,500 hp. Jessi’s latest top speed in the North American Eagle was 483 mph. Her goal was to beat Kitty O’Neil’s 1976 record run of 512 mph, which was set aboard a three-wheeled-vehicle. While Combs implied in a recent Instagram post that she was aiming for 619 mph, the fearless racer retains the current record for being the fastest woman on four wheels at 398 mph. Details of her fatal accident have not yet been released.

Jessi was born in Rapid City, South Dakota, on July 27, 1980. She attended WyoTech in Laramie, Wyoming, where she earned a degree in custom automotive fabrication. Since the launch of her career, building a custom vehicle for SEMA, Jessi raced in King of the Hammers for four separate years, including her 2014 Spec Class win, and took second place in the Baja 1000 Class 10 division in 2011. She also competed in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, and was one of the first women to be invited to drive in The Race of Gentlemen. In addition to her need for speed, Combs was a TV personality, hosting shows such as Overhaulin', Mythbusters, All Girls Garage, Extreme 4x4, and most recently in Autoblog's The List: 1001 Car Things To Do Before You Die. In 2008, she released a line of women's welding gear, as a spokesperson for Lincoln Electric. And in 2015, she released a children's book, Joey and the Chopper Boys, a story about a girl who loves motorcycles.

An avid motorcyclist herself, Jessi was a well-known builder and enthusiast in the world of two wheels. She made appearances at events such as The Handbuilt Show, Women’s Motorcycle Show, Babes Ride Out, Biker Belles, Wild Gypsy Tour, and was the first female grand marshal of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for their 77th anniversary. Combs and her friend and business partner, Theresa Contreras, created The Real Deal, a company designed to empower women by offering workshops in welding and painting. The two women built a custom BMW R nineT for the 2017 Handbuilt Show, in Austin, Texas.

Jessie Combs smiling
Jessi always had a smile on her face, and was often found laughing and being a goof when she wasn’t focused on racing or fabricating.Julia LaPalme

Everyone who knew Jessi spoke highly of her, remarking on her unending enthusiasm, infectious smile, and down-to-earth personality. While she took her competition and fabrication seriously, she was not afraid to let loose and laugh at herself. She was a friend to many in the motorcycle and car world, but aside from her goal to become the fastest woman on earth, Combs aimed to show women that they should not be afraid to get their hands dirty, go fast, and have fun. Jessi is undoubtedly one of the biggest, most positive female role models for women (and men) in the motorsports world on two wheels or four. Her never-ending positivity, friendly demeanor, and fearless ambition have cemented her as a legend in the hearts of countless fans. She will be sorely missed.