Combs was killed August 27, 2019, at 39 years old in southern Oregon’s Alvord Desert while behind the wheel of a 52,000-hp jet car called the North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger. Tragedy struck when its front tire contacted an unknown object, causing the wheel to fail, and Jessi died of blunt-force trauma while chasing the previous record of 512.7 mph set in 1976 by stuntwoman Kitty O’Neil. Combs had made one run at 515.3 mph and hit an amazing 548.4 mph when the accident occurred. Land-speed records typically consist of a two-way average of two runs that have to be completed within 60 minutes of each other. How Guinness arrived at 522.8 mph when the average is actually 531.9 mph is an open question perhaps answered through complex calculations of distance traveled at speed across the two runs. Whatever the reason, if I were in charge, I’d give her the record at 548.4 and call it a day.
I was lucky enough to meet Jessi a couple of times back when we both worked for Autoblog. I didn’t know her well, but the one time I shot a video with her I was impressed with Jessi’s professionalism and natural talent. So were many other people, as she went on to appear as a host on the shows Mythbusters, All Girls Garage, and Overhaulin’, among others. Speaking of natural talent, Combs also competed in many different forms of off-road racing, from the Baja 1000 to the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles to the King of the Hammers, her efforts in the latter earning her the nickname, “Queen of the Hammers.”
Jessi Combs will now be known as the fastest woman on four wheels, and rightfully so. It’s a title that should stand for quite some time. Godspeed once again, Jessi.