The second-to-last post on Jessi Combs’ Instagram feed reads: “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 ;)”
Strapping yourself into a 52,000-horsepower jet-engine ‘car’ – a wingless Lockheed F-104 Starfighter jet on four solid aluminium billet wheels known as the North American Eagle Supersonic Speed Challenger – takes a certain kind of crazy.
It’s the kind of crazy that is a huge loss to our world.
People like Jessi Combs forge their own path and, along the way, offer inspiration to others to follow their dreams, to face your fears and do it anyway.
A highly-skilled builder and fabricator of cars, among Combs’ many achievements in this realm was to work with the famed designer and fabricator Chip Foose on the automotive reality show Overhaulin’. She enjoyed other TV work on All Girls Garage, Xtreme 4×4 and Mythbusters where her passion, talents, enthusiasm and fantastic smile gained her a strong following.
To be a successful woman in what has been a male-dominated world of custom car fabrication is still notable. Her own Instagram profile includes ‘stereotype breaker’ alongside her other roles of driver, metal fabricator and television host/producer.
A lifelong race car fan, she raced off-roaders in some of the world’s toughest events like the Ultra4 King of the Hammers and the Baja 1000.
Those skills behind the wheel led to Combs becoming part of the North American Eagle land-speed project in 2013 as they attempted to break the 512 mph women’s land-speed world record made in 1976 by Kitty O’Neil. Combs secured the title of being the fastest woman on four-wheels holding a record of 398 mph with a top speed of 440 mph, then in 2016 broke her own record with a new top speed of 477.59 mph (768.61 km/h) driving the Other American Eagle.
What does it take to do this?
Balls, or cojones, is another. The courage to look fear in the eye and say, “Get out of my way!” Self-belief of a magnitude unfamiliar to some of us.
As her family’s statement following her death said: “Jessi lived fearlessly and her legacy lives on in the countless lives she touched.”
It’s that kind of fearlessness that we most admire. A fearlessness that transcends the ordinary and the everyday. A fearlessness we watch with admiration and wonder. How do they dare to dream that big, that high? How do they dare to even try…?
Most of us are fearful of some or many things. We’re afraid to try. We’re afraid to not try. We’re afraid to make a decision. We let fear get in the way of living the best life we can.
I’m not afraid (ha!) to say it – I’m frightened by the very idea of getting into the cockpit of the land-speed jet car, let alone driving it with the goal of beating the land-speed record of 512 mph (823 km/h). I’m okay with being not crazy enough to want to do something like that, truly!
But these are the kinds of challenges that light a fire in people like Combs. To be the fastest. To be the first.
Many New Zealanders felt a special link with Combs, who came here as a special guest at CRC Speedshow in 2015. She was warm, engaging and relatable. We liked her! We were inspired by what she’d achieved then, and we’ve followed her since.
Colleagues talked about how Combs “strove everyday to encourage others by her prodigious example”.
We say thank you to Jessi Combs. For being the woman you were, for showing us that living fearlessly was the only way you knew how, for offering inspiration and motivation to live our own lives with courage and passion, and with a big, beautiful smile that lights up the room.
We will miss your special kind of crazy, Jessi Combs. We will miss you.
With Theresa Contreras, Combs created the Real Deal Revolution to motivate others in a way that breeds self-confidence, breaking stereotypes, healthy decisions, hands-on training, creative development, positive images, community involvement, and grabbing life by the balls.