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Racing Legend, TV Personality Jessi Combs Dies During Attempt to Break Own Land-Speed Record

By Chad Simon

Jessi Combs, 39, was killed on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, in Oregon’s Alvord desert attempting to break her own land-speed record in her jet-powered 52,000hp North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger. Driver, fabricator, TV personality, brand ambassador, public speaker, author and racing legend, Combs was dubbed the “fastest woman on four wheels” in 2013 after she reached 398 mph with a top speed of 440 mph in an attempt to break the 512-mph women’s land-speed world record set in 1976 by Kitty O’Neil. Combs unofficially broke her own record last year, hitting 483.227 mph during a “shakedown run,” but mechanical problems cut the full attempt short.

Jessi CombsJessi Combs
Jessi Combs regularly co-emceed the SEMA Industry Awards Banquet and the SEMA Installation & Gala, as recently as last month.Combs signs autographs in the Warn booth at the SEMA Show.
Jessi CombsJessi Combs
Combs was a crowd favorite appearing as a co-host and award presenter at the SEMA Show's Industry Awards Banquet.In addition to racing and TV, Combs was a fabricator and participated in the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network Mustang Build Powered by Women.

Born into a racing family, Combs launched an accomplished career immediately after graduating from WyoTech in 2004 with a degree in custom automotive fabrication. She and another student were hired to build a car from the ground up in just six months, to debut at the SEMA Show and subsequently auction for charity.

Combs was a strong SEMA supporter and volunteer. Since 2016, she regularly co-emceed the SEMA Industry Awards Banquet, held during the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, and the annual SEMA Installation & Gala as recently as last month. In 2012, she took part in the SEMA Mustang Build Powered by Women—an all-women award-winning vehicle build, which received nationwide coverage and raised awareness for women in the industry.

In 2015, Combs and friend Theresa Contreras of LGE-CTS Motorsports launched the Real Deal—a collaboration of automotive and industrial women who aimed to empower and educate others regarding the positive impact associated with design, speed and passion. Together, Combs and Contreras exhibited a hands-on approach as leaders within the automotive industry. 

“Jessi Combs was a modern-day motorsports hero in the old-school SEMA mold,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting. “She was a shining beacon of leadership, creativity, courage and authenticity. Her spirit, accomplishments and volunteerism made a tremendous positive impact—and will continue to be an inspiration for so many.”

Combs regularly competed in off-road racing events, including Ultra4’s King of the Hammers in 2010, 2012, 2013, taking home a spec class win in 2014 as the first female to ever place at any Ultra4 event. In 2018, she placed first in the stock class. In 2011, she took home a class 10 podium finish in the Baja 1000.

In addition to her racing career, Combs impacted millions with her build skills on TV shows such as “Overhaulin’” and “All Girls Garage.” 

Combs’ family has issued the following statement:

“It is with extreme grief, and in celebration of her life that her family and close friends share that race car driver, and TV personality Jessi Combs, passed away in a fatal crash, where she was pursuing a land-speed record in the North American Eagle on August 27, 2019, on a dry lake bed in Oregon. The details of the crash have not been released at this time.

Jessi was known for her bright smile, positivity and tenacious pursuit of the fulfillment of her dreams. Her drive was infectious, and she served as a role model for young girls and women around the world. People that loved her and followed her became family, all bonded together by adventure and passion. Her fans adored her, and she lived to inspire them. Jessi’s most notable dream was to become the fastest woman on Earth, a dream she had been chasing since 2012. Combs was one of the rare dreamers with the bravery to turn those possibilities into reality, and she left this earth driving faster than any other woman in history.

Surrounded by her family and friends at the time of her passing, Jessi lived fearlessly and her legacy lives on in the countless lives she touched.

Jessi is known for her hosting work on television series including “All Girls Garage”, “Overhaulin’,” “Extreme 4x4” and Autoblog’s “The List.”

Combs is survived by her mother Nina Darrington, father Jamie (Sandy) Combs, as well as family members Kelly Combs, Danielle Theis, Austin Darrington, Kayla Green, Kyrie Darrington, Natasha Darrington, Rebekah Hall, Arielle Hall. Jessi is also survived by her “love” Terry Madden and his son Dalton.

A celebration of Jessi’s life is being planned and a foundation is being created to continue her efforts to empower women and young girls to follow their dreams.”