The Discovery and MotorTrend Family is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Jessi Combs. She was a friend and colleague, an icon in the industry, and an undeniable force of nature who left an indelible mark on the car world. Our thoughts are with her family and loved ones.
Jessi Combs took the wheel for a final time on August 27, 2019, in an attempt to beat her previous land-speed record at the Alvord Desert in Oregon.
Combs has held the title of “fastest woman on four wheels” since 2013, when she clocked an official 398.954 mph run in the North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger and managed a top speed of 440.709 mph. The record was previously held for 48 years, set by Lee Breedlove in 1965.
In an attempt to beat her 2013 record, she managed a 483.227 mph shakedown run before mechanical problems ended the attempt and caused her 52,000-horsepower, jet-powered car to crash.
Combs’ death was confirmed this morning by her team member Terry Madden, who was first on the scene.
The former Discovery star held a trailblazing career of firsts—the first woman to place at an Ultra 4 event and the first woman to compete in The Race of Gentleman. She became an Ultra 4 Spec Class National Champion in 2014 and later took first place in the 2016 King of the Hammers.
Combs was not only a professional racer, but a skilled engineer, fabricator, and science communicator. She appeared alongside Adam Savage in the TV show Mythbusters, serving as Kari Byron’s replacement while the inventor was on pregnancy leave from 2009 through 2010.
The Midwest native received an outpouring of admiration from her television co-stars and the greater motor community. She took the screen alongside master car-designer Chip Foose and host Chris Jacobs in the 2012 re-launch of the television series Overhaulin’.
Foose shared a photo of Combs’ first appearance on the show in season one, where she first met the team as a student at WyoTech.
“So sad to hear of Jessi’s passing. I will miss her and so will our industry,” Foose wrote. “She attacked all her projects with a smile and 110% passion. She chased her dream to be the fastest and she was.”
Co-host Chris Jacobs also expressed his sadness at the loss, sharing a series of personal photos from the crews filming of Overhaulin' and stating, "She was an icon in our industry and she will be missed."
Richard Rawlings of Fast N’ Loud shared a heartfelt statement over the loss of his friend writing, “@TheJessiCombs may have not worked a day at Gas Monkey but I consider her part of our family. She was incredibly talented and had the same drive/mentality I do! At one point I even tried to hire her but she was chasing her dreams and setting records! She may be gone, but she’ll never be forgotten."
Combs’ was a self-described “stereotype breaker” who made her first strides into the automotive world as a metal fabricator and welder. She completed the WyoTech Collision & Refinishing Core Program in 2014 at the top of her class and went on to compete in the SEMA show’s student builder competition. Combs’ continued her strides as female automotive pioneer when she developed her own line of female welding gear.
In one of Combs’ final social posts before her fateful attempt to surpass the land-speed record she wrote, “It may seem a little crazy to walk directly into the line of fire... those who are willing, are those who achieve great things.”
Harney County Sheriff's Office, along with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are currently investigating the crash. "The cause is undetermined at this time," said Brian Needham, lieutenant undersheriff of the Harney County Sheriff's Department. "The race team is currently removing the onboard computers." According to the BLM, there were no adverse weather conditions during the record attempt.