5 Minutes with Jessi Combs
Editor’s note: The Goodguys and Fuel Curve teams were extremely saddened to hear that Jessi Combs died on August 27 while driving a jet-powered land speed car in the Alvord Desert in Oregon. Jessi was planning to break a 398mph record in a four-wheeled vehicle – a record she had previously set. The following interview was conducted earlier this summer and reinforces the enthusiasm, drive, and dedication with which Jessi approached motorsports, fabrication, and life. Our condolences go out to Jessi’s family and her large circle of friends and fans.
Jessi Combs doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
She refused to be deterred by the “boys club” mentality she often encountered as she was growing up, wanting to race. When she couldn’t find anyone to hire her at their shop as a mechanic, she took the rejection and used it get better. “I went to WyoTech to get a better understanding of vehicle dynamics to do it my damn self!” Combs says.
The South Dakota native is still refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer even today, although it’s a word she hears considerably less these days, thanks to her impressive list of accomplishments as a fabricator, racer, author and TV show host.
With new projects on the horizon, and plenty of little girls with a need for speed left to inspire, Combs has no time to slow down; however we were able to snag five minutes with her to chat about her heroes, her quest to become the Fastest Woman on Earth, and how she’s planning to inspire the next generational of gearheads.
Good Guys: Have you always wanted to race? When did you decide you wanted to get behind the wheel, instead of just building and fabricating cars?
Jessi Combs: Between my adventurous great grandmother, my mechanical engineer father, and my ‘large cojones’ mother, it’s in the genes! There has always been this deep urge to drive. In the state of South Dakota, we can start driving at the age of 14, and by then I already had many hours behind the wheel. Before I knew it, speed was an addiction and I was racing everywhere I went!
GG: If you hadn’t gone into the automotive world or racing, what career do you think you’d have right now?
Jessi: I always wanted to be an architect. I have house drawings from when I was six years old with giant garages. As I got older, that morphed into interior design where I could use colors and textures in my designs.
GG: You were – and still are – often the only female driver in the race. How are you treated by the majority of male drivers? Does it seem like they are encouraged to see more females behind the wheel?
Jessi: There are mixed feelings. It’s still a new concept to them. Some of them think I’m just here for fluff, others look at me like a true competitor. I don’t care what they think. I’m there to win.
GG: A lot of young people look up to you. Who are some of your own heroes?
Jessi: Amelia Earhart, Kitty O’Neil, Shirley Muldowney, Lyn St. James, Evel Knievel, Albert Einstein; they are all over the map and my list could go on for days, but they were all inspiring to think and live outside the box.
GG: When you’re not racing, what do you drive?
Jessi: I drive a 2004 full-size Chevy van. It’s as good as the truck without the ability for people to steal stuff out of the back of it! My 2000 Toyota Tundra is probably my baby; it was my graduation gift to myself and we have seen some serious adventures together. It’s now a full-blown prerunner. The 2015 JK was the first place Stock Class finisher at KOH 2017; it has since retired to the best rec wheeler ever! I also have a 1985 FJ60 Landcruiser, a 1974 G-10 Chevy van and a 1957 GM bus in the project lineup. And I can’t forget my four Harleys, one Triumph, one BMW, two mini motos, and two Polaris RZR Turbo S’s…and the need for a bigger garage!
GG: What’s your go-to driving song?
Jessi: “Sail” by AWOLNATION. I have ADDLMNOP, so it resonates with me and my focus becomes more on the drive itself while putting me into a more rhythmic speed.
GG: You have done so many cool things on “The List.” What was your favorite adventure that you had while shooting that TV show?
Jessi: I would have to say my two favorite episodes are “Drive a Lamborghini” and “Gazelle Rally.” Both were life-changing experiences for me. Watch them on autoblog.com/the-list to find out why!
GG: What’s one thing that can always be found in your fridge?
Jessi: Mayonnaise; I put that stuff on everything…and Vlasic pickles.
GG: You’ve worn so many hats in the automotive industry over the course of your career – fabricator, reality TV star, public speaker, driver, host, author. Of all of these roles, which one is your favorite?
Jessi: Truly, they are all amazing and I am blessed to be able to merge them all into one. Without my fabrication skill sets, I would have never had the opportunity to be on TV…which led to the needs and desires and feedback from fans…[which inspired] me to write a children’s story about it and create new shows around those needs…and then getting more in the driver’s seat competitively and adventurously. [That] led to driving super-fast…then to speaking in front of large audiences about my experiences and the messages woven into it all – In reality, it all goes back to my deep desire to drive, and not taking no for an answer.
GG: What’s next for you?
Jessi: So many things! We are about to launch the thrill-chasing “Fastest Woman on Earth” docuseries and, in turn, we are still working on becoming the Fastest Woman on Earth, with big hopes to become the first Queen of the Hammers. My very own 4400 race car is well on the way to race KOH and other big desert races with some really unique support and solid partnerships.
I’m working on opening a shop in Yucca Valley [California], that will actually be open to the public, catering toward their desert adventures, and [will] most likely become the headquarters for my YouTube channel, [which] needs some serious love. I’m keeping the Real Deal Revolution 501c3 alive so we can continue to inspire the next generation of tool users, car builders, industrial artists and technicians to keep the skilled trades alive.