Jessi Combs, a legendary off-road racer, welder, fabricator, and prominent TV personality, died in pursuit of the women’s land speed record—she was only 39 years old when the accident happened.
In a twist of fate, Combs’ attempt was just retroactively recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. She raced a combined average of 522.783 miles per hour (841.338 km/h) after two runs. This earns her the record for “fastest speed on land achieved by a woman,” in the Guinness Book.
Combs pursued her goals and reached them. She accomplished her ultimate dream: to become the fastest woman on earth. Sadly she is no longer on this earth to celebrate this massive accomplishment with us all.
Jessi Combs’ Official Women’s Land Speed Record
Other articles have published incorrect speeds per Combs’ world record attempt, but actual land speed record numbers were supplied to me directly from Les Holm, the Crew Cheif of the race team, the North American Eagle Project.
First Run: top speed 515.346 mph with an average of 503.195 mph
Second Run: top speed 548.432 mph with an average of 542.371 mph
Guinness Book of Records Verified Average Speed: 522.783 mph
Combs’ Land Speed Record Attempts
In 2013, Combs’ became known as the “fastest woman on four wheels.” She set the record at 398.954 mph (632 km/h), with a top speed of 440.709 mph. For this record, she piloted the four-wheeled North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger.
She went on to beat her own record in 2016. She achieved a new top speed on four wheels of 477.59 mph (768.61 km/h) driving the same North American Eagle land speed vehicle.
Tragically, on August 27th, 2019, while attempting to beat the overall women’s land speed record in Oregon’s Alvord Desert, her life ended. Her goal was to topple Kitty O’Neill’s record of 512.7 mph, set all the way back in 1976. Combs did achieve this goal, beating the old record by just over 10 mph, but it took nearly 10 months to be recognized and verified by the record books.
Jessi Combs’ Backstory
“The first time I met Jessi in person was in 2010 in Reno at the Ultra4 stampede,” said Terry Madden, Jessi Combs’ then life partner. “We were racing against each other, and I had no idea who she was … just some girl in contingency row behind us.” They talked that day, exchanged numbers, and started a friendship that grew into much, much more.
Madden, who didn’t know Combs was an integral part of popular TV shows like Xtreme 4×4, Overhaulin’, and Mythbusters at the time, ended up forming a relationship that, “filled a void for me as well as I did for her.” They were lucky enough to work and live in the life they loved. He, along with a team of talented and dedicated individuals set out to help make Combs’ dream to be the fastest woman on Earth a reality.
Why Race in a Man’s World?
Combs long desired to be the fastest woman on Earth. In addition to the land speed record she had her eyes on, Combs raced in many other events. She had an insatiable urge to keep learning, growing, and honing her skills—all while being a mentor to others along the way. Combs was an exemplary figure to help women and children gain self-confidence, too. She spent years teaching them about the automotive and trade industries and engaged with them, just because she loved to share her passions and see others succeed.
“The fact that she lived the life to be this type of role model and example to the world is something I can’t even express how proud of her I am for,” Madden stated. “It was amazing to watch her work and watch the fruits of her work develop.”
Combs was a legend in the automotive industry. Her accolades in that world alone were remarkable. For instance, Combs was the first woman to place at the Ultra4 King of the Hammers off-road race event. Earning her the title “Queen of the Hammers.” She is now crowned the fastest woman on earth, in addition to her many other automotive accolades.
History of Female Land Speed Records
The land speed record is the fastest speed, completed by a person using a vehicle on land, given specific regulations that have been met. Races are usually held on a dry lake bed or salt flats like Oregon’s Alvord Desert or Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.
Starting in 1924, the FIA or the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile was the organization that recognized official speeds achieved by any wheeled vehicle on land, barring motorcycles. Land speed records are set over a course of fixed length, averaging two runs within one hour. Both legs are required and must be made in opposite directions.
In 1906 Dorothy Levitt broke the women’s known world speed record. She piloted a six-cylinder, 100-hp Napier, documenting a speed of 91 mph (146.25 km/h) in Blackpool, England.
Years passed and other women topped Levitt’s best by increasing horsepower and speed. In 1974, Lee Breedlove, the wife of five-time land speed record-holder, Craig Breedlove, confirmed a record. She earned 308.506 mph (496.492 km/h) in his race car, the Spirit of America, in 1965.
A decade later, in 1976, Kitty O’Neil piloted a jet-powered vehicle down Oregon’s Alvord desert flats. She earned herself a long-standing spot in history. While driving a three-wheeled race car, she reached a whopping 512.710 mph (825.127 km/h). This solidified her place in history for over 40 years. That was until Combs rose to the occasion in the four-wheeled North American Eagle to make history.
Remembering Her Spirit
Combs is officially credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest woman on Earth. Her long-sought goal is celebrated by many. But, her death hits hard for family, friends, and fans. Jessi Combs is an inspiration, a mentor, and a teacher, and is forever missed.
“We never watched TV in the evening,” Madden said. “We would sit around and open her fan mail or Instagram messages and look at all the videos of little girls and boys welding/riding/racing as well as [read] the stories from grown women and men saying they had accomplished their goals because of her influence.” Jessi Combs, the fastest woman on Earth, is even so much more to us. She’s a vivacious soul. She will forever share her lust for life, the gift of good, and energy for eternity.
“Jessi’s biggest accomplishments are nowhere close to over,” exclaimed Madden. “She was more important to this world than she ever knew.” Madden goes on to say that in her mind; Combs thought she was just an average woman doing what she believed in. “She had the balls to do it,” Madden says. Jessi Combs is an inspiration to many people. Her spirit will never be forgotten.
Lead image photo credit: Eric Wittler