By Shannon “Dazzlin” Venturo
Photos provided by Perry Nelson
The “Fastest Woman on Four Wheels” was absolutely flying across the Alvord Desert, in Oregon, attempting to break the land-speed record she had previously set, when something went terribly wrong. This professional driver, Jessi Combs, had no idea that day, that this attempt at a reported 619 mph, would be her final ride. On August 27th, Jessi was traveling at a breathtaking speed, with no indication of trouble for over a minute.
But shortly thereafter, the 56-foot-long, 52,000 horsepower, jet powered car began to come apart, crashed and was destroyed in a horrific accident. Tragically, Jessi Combs was killed as the North American Eagle crashed for what are still reasons unknown. An officer said that “there was a fire involved.” Harney County Sheriff’s Office was not able to offer any additional comments on the investigation. According to the statement signed by Lieutenant Neeham, “Jessi Combs was pronounced dead at the scene.”
Terry Madden, Combs’ boyfriend and a member of her team, posted an emotional tribute on social media. “So, I don’t know how to say any of this but it all needs to be said. I have never loved or been loved by anyone as much as this amazing woman. She was truly my unicorn and I enjoyed every single minute that I had with her.”
She was a bold and brave lady. The community has lost a rock star, who worked to pave the way and trailblaze for women on wheels. I had the pleasure of meeting this icon in the industry in Sturgis, SD, up in the Black Hills where she was born. She had an electric personality that drew you in. She was incredibly approachable with a bright smile that lit up the room. She was a bad ass chick. I asked her why she got into working on cars. She said it “was her passion.” That she “loved to drive, build things and go FAST!” She pushed the limits, earning her the title of “Fasted Woman on Four Wheels” in 2013 when driving a record 398 mph. She went on to break her own record in 2016 with a top speed of 440 mph.
Mythbusters host Adam Savage, who worked with Combs during her time on the show tweeted, “I’m so so sad. She was a brilliant and top-notch builder, engineer, driver, fabricator and science communicator, and strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example.” Jessi Combs appeared on twelve episodes during season seven. In addition she hosted the TV shows Xtreme 4X4, All Girls Garage on Velocity and Overhaulin on Discovery to name a few appearances that made her a true hometown celebrity.
Quick Throttle Magazine Moto-journalist Perry Nelson had the pleasure of photographing Jessi. He was deeply saddened by the heartbreaking news. Perry said, “RIP Jessi. She was such a sweet lady. I remember her being extremely modest for someone with such an incredible career. While I didn’t know her well, when I heard of her passing, I got a sick feeling, the terrible feeling you get when losing someone special. We chatted at an industry party at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip we were both invited to. She posed for a photo of her holding up our magazine where she was featured on the cover, July 2014 modeling for a painting by well-known David Uhl.” She later autographed the magazine for Perry and his wife Traci. The painting was auctioned off for charity, bringing thousands of dollars. Perry is also a fabricator and was encouraged by Jessi to “never give up doing what you love.”
Jessi Combs passed away at age 39 doing what she loved. The family said that a foundation will be established to continue her dreams and efforts “empowering women and young girls” to follow their ambitions. One of those most notable dreams she continued to chase, was becoming the fastest woman on earth. In a Facebook post by the family it read, “Combs was one of the rare dreamers with the bravery to turn those possibilities into reality. She left this earth driving faster than any other woman in history.” She had a lifelong affinity for adrenaline and acceleration. Ride in Peace, beautiful lady.
NEVER GIVE UP: Jessi Combs
By Perry and Traci Nelson
Jessi Combs was a “for-real” fabricator who could keep up with any guy in the field of bike building, not to mention the world’s fastest woman on four wheels, holding several land speed records. We met Jessi Combs in August of 2014 at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. She was participating in a fundraiser for cancer patients at the Buffalo Chip Campground.
Jessi was the cover model on our July 2014 California and Southwest editions of Quick Throttle Magazine. Let me clarify this a little bit; Jessi was actually the model for a painting by David Uhl that we featured on the cover of our magazine. When Traci and I saw her at the Chip we immediately approached her. I remember a young woman who had that Tomboy look; at the same time you could see her at a photo shoot as a very attractive model.
At the event Traci and I noticed paintings and other things that were being auctioned off for the “Cancer charity.” One of the main items being auctioned off was the painting of Jessi featured on the cover of our 2014 July magazine. “Wow Let’s see if we can get a picture of Jessi holding up our magazine next to the painting.”
Of course Jessi agreed to let us take a few shots of her with the painting and the magazine. I also fabricate / build custom motorcycles. We talked for a bit and in the conversation she said “never give up” doing what you love. At the time Traci and I had been doing some moto journalism for Quick Throttle Magazine, something that we love doing, as well as building and working on custom motorcycles… things we still love doing…. Jessi too was doing what she loved for the past five years up until her very untimely death while trying to break her own prior 440 mph land speed record.
We didn’t know each other real well, but when I heard she passed I got a sick feeling. The terrible feeling we get when losing somebody special … when we asked her for an autograph on our July magazine back in 2014; “Never give up” is what Jessi wrote. RIP beautiful lady.