Words by Mercedes Lilienthal
We lost one of the world's most influential women in the automotive industry on August 27, 2019: Jessi Combs. Combs was a talented welder, fabricator, and off-road racer. She was the "Queen" of the Hammers, an Ultra4 National Champion, and a Baja 1000 podium finisher. She also was a force on the digital screen, becoming a prominent TV personality on shows like Overhaulin', Xtreme 4×4, and Mythbusters.
Officially the Fastest Woman on Earth, Combs' life tragically ended while shattering her own land speed record of 483 miles per hour and overtaking Kitty O'Neill's 1976 record of 512.7 mph at Oregon's Alvord Desert. Combs' final speed was 522.783 miles per hour.
Although Combs is no longer with us physically, her spirit continues thrive through countless individuals—especially women.
Lana Chrisman , Cora Jokinen, Charlene Bower, and Rebeca Olavarrieta have all been profoundly affected by Combs. It doesn't matter if was a SEMA Gear Up Girl event (hosted by SBN), race day at King of the Hammers, or a decade of various adventures, each woman recounts ways that Combs left an indelible impact on them.
Lana Chrisman first met Combs at the 2016 SEMA Gear Up Girl Event. "Over the years we would occasionally cross paths and begin conversations like we had just seen each other," she said. "Although Jessi had a 'celebrity' status she was always approachable and very down to earth." Chrisman appreciated Combs' dedication to inspire others to seek more, "which she led by example." Chrisman also says Combs' ability to inspire others was genuine. She believes Combs' impact on those she met is everlasting.
Combs is a huge inspiration to Cora Jokinen's life and career. Her last meaningful moment with Combs was at King of the Hammers. It included messy hair and an early morning with race suits on, ready to compete against each other. "I started out ahead, but ST Images caught the moment when she passed me (not a surprise) and went on to win the class!" To her, Combs was a role model: a badass welder and winning racer, a bright ball of energy, a pioneer and teacher, an inspiration—and now a legend.
To Charlene Bower, Combs' spirit was unstoppable. " When you wanted something, you did it. But you only did it if it was smart. You are gold," she said. Bower appreciated everything Combs has done for all women by simply being her, through her organization Real Deal, as well as supporting Ladies Offroad Network. "You made time to be part of our groups and it mattered to so many ladies. I am sad more ladies won't be able to personally feel your presence, but you won't leave the circle ... sorry, your work isn't done yet!"
Rebeca Olavarrieta also met Combs at SBN's Gear Up Girl event. "It was almost surreal to be in the same room with such an industry icon! She was always sporting a contagious smile and always had encouraging words," Olavarrieta said. "I'll never forget her words 'good welding has to sound like you're frying bacon!'" To her, Combs' can-do spirit will live through the actions of all the women in the automotive industry. Combs inspired thousands throughout her short-lived life.
Jessi Combs' legacy is far from over; our work to keep her spirit alive is only getting started.