Jessi Combs' Final Record Attempt To Be Submitted For A Guinness World Record

Illustration for article titled Jessi Combs' Final Record Attempt To Be Submitted For A Guinness World Record
Photo: Frederick M. Brown (Getty)

Jessi Combs died as a result of a crash attempting to set a new speed record at the Alvord Desert in Oregon in late August, but she may be eligible to posthumously hold the title for World’s Fastest Woman. At the opening of the Petersen Automotive Museum exhibition honoring her, it was announced that her times would be submitted for a Guinness World Record.


This news was reported by Autoblog, which was on the scene at the exhibition’s opening.

The current record is held by Kitty O’Neil, who averaged a speed of 512.7 mph in a three-wheeled rocket-powered vehicle called The SMI Motivator. She set her record in the Alvord desert in December of 1976. Prior to that, the record for the world’s fastest woman had barely hit 200 mph.

That record has stood ever since. No one has been able to even come close. But if the Combs submission is verified and accepted, Jessi would posthumously take the honor.

Combs completed two runs at Alvord, the first of which hit 515.346 mph while the second was 548.432 mph. That means her average speed was 531.889 mph—just under 20 mph faster than O’Neil’s time.

There’s a lot of red tape to be cleared, though. Combs must have made two full runs prior to her crash for the times to count—which she is said to have done, according to the video shared by Autoblog.

It would be great to see Jessi take the official title of World’s Fastest Woman as a way to further honor her legacy and further cement her place amongst the list of great, badass women in motorsport and record-breaking.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.



I respect the hell out of Jessi Combs, I think she was an amazing woman, I hold nothing against her whatsoever, and I think she totally deserves that record. I just want to say that up front so that I can ask this question without people, hopefully, immediately jumping down my throat. I’m only asking because I’m not personally sure what the correct answer should be, and want to know what others think. So, the question is:

If you crash while setting a speed record, should it count?

I know at face value that sounds like a shitty question, but hear me out: the most difficult part of setting these kinds of speed records isn’t necessarily finding people like Jessi, with balls of steel, to pilot them, but rather the design of the machine that is supposed to get you there, right? Granted, we have no idea what caused this crash. It could have been a failure of the machine itself, or it could have been a bird strike, or even aliens (I imagine the crash was not a direct result of Jessi simply losing control; she was far too skilled for that, I would imagine.)

However, what line do you draw between a successful attempt, and a failed one? For example, I could build a record-setting car by just boosting the shit out of a Ford Pinto, but if it is only designed to briefly reach that speed before disintegrating, would that actually count? I guess in some ways, it would. Top Fuel dragsters can only do one run before their engines need to be rebuilt, as I understand it. So those machines set records while literally tearing themselves apart.

However, these kinds of speed record runs generally require multiple passes. I know part of that is to account for variations in wind direction, terrain slope, etc... but I always assumed that this was also to require some sort of “repeat-ability” to ensure it wasn’t a one-off, destroy-the-machine-in-the-process thing. Is part of setting a record like this a requirement that you and the machine survive the record attempt intact? By way of another example (something I ALSO don’t know the answer to), can you hold a record for “most overclocked computer” if the computer only reaches that speed briefly before cooking itself? I know that the machine Jessi was piloting was designed to reach that speed without falling apart, obviously, so these aren’t really direct comparisons... but hopefully it helps explain the question I’ve been mulling in my head ever since I’ve heard about this.

So again - if you crash during a speed record attempt, should it count as a successful attempt as long as you reached the speed you were attempting to reach? I mean, you did reach that speed... which is what the record is about. But is part of “the challenge” doing so without things going horribly wrong in the process?