Jessi Combs knew she wasn’t like most people and embraced her outlook on life in a Twitter post:
“It may seem a little crazy to walk directly into the line of fire … those who are willing are those who achieve great things
People say I’m crazy. I say thank you 😉 ”
Combs, 36, died Tuesday when the jet-powered vehicle she was driving crashed during a run on a dry lake bed in the Alvord Desert, located in the southeastern part of Oregon near the Steens Mountains.
Combs was trying to break the women’s land-speed record for a four-wheeled vehicle she set nearly six years ago. That’s when she drove the North American Eagle to an average speed of 398 mph.
On Tuesday, she was piloting the seven-ton North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger, a 56-foot-long streamliner. In automotive terms, its engine, in full afterburner mode, could generate the equivalent of some 45,000 horsepower.
Combs was reportedly traveling at about 400 mph — in hopes of breaking Kitty O’Neil’s all-time woman’s mark of 512 — when the accident occurred. She had been clocked at 483 mph in a practice run on the same course three years ago.
She was pronounced dead on the scene, and her boyfriend was among the witnesses to the incident. The Harney County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
Combs’ family said in a statement that she “lived fearlessly and her legacy lives on in the countless lives she touched.” Her “most notable dream,” they added, “was to become the fastest woman on Earth …”
Combs’ interest in speed and cars ran deep.
A native of South Dakota, she eventually moved to Laramie, Wyo., and earned a degree in Custom Automotive Fabrication from WyoTech.
Her skill set, good looks and personality helped her launch a TV career as the co-host of the show “The List” and gigs on “Overhaulin’,” “Xtreme 4×4” and “All Girls Garage.” In 2009, she was a guest host on 12 episodes of the popular “Mythbusters” show while Kari Byron was on maternity leave.
She suffered a serious back injury on the set of “Xtreme 4×4” in 2007 that resulted in surgery to fuse four vertebrae in her lower back. In an article on her website, Combs said she had “more good days than bad days” after the surgery and that the fusion “doesn’t seem to slow me down in achieving my goals.”
Combs not only worked on, rebuilt and customized a variety of vehicles, she was a successful off-road racer. She competed in four SCORE Baja 1000 races and earned runner-up showings as a co-driver in Class 10 in 2011 and Class 7 in 2015.
SCORE, which sanctions international off-road racing, said on its website, “We all will carry many, many memories of Jessi with us as we move forward but collectively, we will all remember with a silent toast, our very own special ‘Fastest Woman on Four Wheels.’ ”
Adam Savage, one of the co-hosts of the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters,” posted a tweet that noted, “She was a brilliant and top-notch builder, engineer, driver, fabricator and science communicator, & strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example.”
A statement by the network published by The Hollywood Reporter called Combs “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.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019