Jessi Combs on what it's like to cohost The List
The Fastest Woman On Four Wheels Goes Full Bore In Everything
Now that this season of The List has wrapped, we decided to check in with Jessi and find out even more about what makes Autoblog's wish-fulfillment video series work.
Autoblog: Thanks for speaking with us, Jessi. For anyone who hasn't followed your career or accomplishments closely, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Jessi Combs: There's so much ... By trade I am a metal fabricator, so I have a degree in custom automotive fabrication. I've been hosting automotive television for about 13 years now, and what got me into cars was that I always wanted to be better, lighter, stronger, faster than the guys. Now that my building career has kind of gone full circle, it's really nice that it's getting back into more of the driving career. Cars are my life. They're my everything, and if it has a motor, I love it.
How would you explain The List to someone who hasn't seen the show before?
Imagine anything you've ever wanted to do with cars, whether it's in the United States or the Autobahn or going on an overland journey, and you've put it on your bucket list. Patrick and I are checking those off together. We go through the whole experience, and we try to share with you the good things, the bad things, and everything that you might experience should you do it on your own.
Even if you can't do it on your own, we are more than happy to have you live vicariously through us.
I know you've won awards and accolades. If you don't mind, can you run us through them?
Off-road is where my specialties are. Everything is in the dirt somehow! I am the fastest woman on four wheels. I hold a land speed record of 398 miles an hour with a top speed of 440 mph. I am an Ultra4 [Unlimited 4-Wheel Drive Racing series] National Champion. I am the first Queen of the Hammers. I am a two-time podium finisher at the Baja 1000. Oh, and I'm a top 10 finisher at the Rally of the Gazelles. We won two awards at the rally, so one of them was we won first participation, so we have a first place at the rally, but I also have a tenth place at the rally.
You mentioned that cars are your life. How old were you when the bug hit? Did you always want to drive and go fast?
Oh, yeah. Always. My playground was my dad's one-ton [truck], and the Blazer. We were always out camping and wheeling and doing something. I remember spending time out in the garage and rebuilding our 1970 GMC pickup truck. Most of my memories are based around vehicles or where those vehicles have taken us. I love cars because they can take you on adventures that you never thought possible.
My parents divorced when I was 11, so those crucial years of learning and being in the garage with him became my existence. For me, I literally find that it was in my genes. This was just by nature who I am supposed to be. Obviously he was a great influence. But heck, my mom went off-roading more than my dad did. My dad is a mechanical engineer, so I'm blessed that I got his mindset, but it goes back to my great-grandmother. She was a very adventurous spirit in her own right, a jazz pianist who traveled all around the States throwing little parties. She put way more miles on tires than they were rated for, and ended up becoming a spokesmodel for Goodrich Tires, long before they became known as BFGoodrich.
For you personally, what's your favorite episode that you've done? It doesn't have to be your favorite experience.
I'm not going to lie. Very difficult to answer this because we have so many good episodes. I would have to say Lamborghini [Episode #0691]. It was one of those trips where, after we showed up in Italy, it seemed like nothing was going right for us. Half of our crew was ridiculously sick, and we were a little behind schedule ... It was just one thing after the other.
We finally got this car, and it was the best gift that could have ever happened to our entire team, because just looking at that car made us all bona fide badasses – we got to drive it and hear it and take it across Italy. We were left giggling like little schoolgirls, and the episode showed all of that. None of it was scripted, none of it was hosted. It was just raw awesomeness.
Can you tell me a little bit about what that relationship is like between you and your co-host?
I am so blessed to be able to work with a crew like this. I don't think a lot of people realize that Patrick is a comedian. He's part owner of an improv comedy shop in Santa Monica, and he's hilarious. It is such a joy to be able to work with him. Patrick is knowledgeable, but he brings this innocence to the show. Patrick and I had that bond I think right from the start. It's funny because we have a role reversal, and I think at first people hated that fact. "Oh, Patrick's supposed to be the man and Jessi's supposed to be the girl," but that's not who we are in real life, so why would we play those roles?
When we're literally thrown into one of the most brutal off-road races in the entire world on our fourth episode, you kind of have to do nothing but trust each other. We're the only thing we got out there. The experiences that we've had together over all of the years, the 40-some episodes that we've done ... We've done some really gnarly stuff. It seems like every time we start filming and we meet up in the morning, we look at each other, Patrick goes, "What the [heck] are we doing? What have they gotten us into this time?"
That's a perfect segue. The single most-viewed episode is the escaping from a car that's sinking in the water. Our readers are going to want to know: Would you ever do that again?
I would totally do it again, especially knowing what works and what doesn't work. It's not very often that people get to just go drive in water, let the car sink, and try and get out of the car.
On the flip side, even though we were in a completely safe and controlled environment, it's still very ... I don't want to say it was scary, because it's not like going in a scary movie. It's just nerve wracking. You never know what's going to go wrong. You're putting yourself in a situation where you could potentially die, and whether we were safe or not ... It was scary. But yes, I would totally do it again. We agreed to this job knowing the dangers and the risks, and I think our entire team hungers for it. We gain so much knowledge and experience from opportunities like this that no matter how scary it might be going into it, what we learn from it is priceless.
All these crazy, intense, scary, fun experiences ... Are those like exercising a muscle that you're then using in the rest of your life?
Oh, you have no idea. My driving style has completely changed over the last four years, solely because of everything that we've learned from all of the pros and the driving schools – and even just driving a monster truck.
Patrick ... God, that guy is like a sponge. He learns so quickly, and his driving skills ... He's getting to the point where he could actually start beating me in certain things. He just becomes a better and better driver every episode we do.
I know [you'll ask if] there's a competition, a friendly rivalry. We always want to do better, and we only have each other to compare how well we've done. He won ice racing fair and square because his foot is not as heavy as mine is, so he was driving on the ice like he was a delicate little flower. I was ending up in snowbanks all over the place. I just go full bore all the time. How fast can I get it? How hard can I hit it? How much g-forces can I get in this turn?
And in some cases, such as when you spun the Formula One car, that can be a problem. What was that like?
I was crushed. I was so disappointed in myself. The one opportunity, and I screwed up in a lap and a half. Granted, we only had three laps, but halfway through it, I screwed it up. That is the Holy Grail. An F1 car is really ... That's tops. You can't get much higher than that. I'm sure 90 percent of our viewers were mad at me too.
Don't get me wrong, when I make errors, it's not like I laugh it off. I know that I have the skills and the talent to be able to overcome a lot of the situations where we do damage the cars, but [stuff] happens, and when we push the limits [that] far something wrong is going to happen.
But it's also part and parcel of doing an extreme thing with a vehicle that you are unfamiliar with. The thing that readers should understand is there's also skill in crashing correctly, right?
I would like to say that the skills and the experience that back us up, especially now after four years of filming this. But in comparison to everything that we've done, there's been such little damage it's really not that big of a deal. I mean, Patrick, obviously, nervous about driving the monster truck and then he goes out and breaks it in the first run, and he's like, "How did I do this?" It happens.
You participated in the all-female Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, an intense off-road rally in Morocco. Tell us a bit about that.
I'm still figuring that one out. Intense is definitely the word that I use. The Gazelle rally really pushes your own personal limits. It was the most unique experience I've ever been through.
Who's to say that if Patrick were able to be my driver, what it would have been like? [There's a] bond that you form with the people in the rally, from the organizers to the competitors to even the media people. They are there at your worst moments, and they're photographing you when you're stuck and the last thing you want to do is be captured doing something wrong ... It was really exhausting. It was really life changing.
You are a woman in motorsports, a racer who happens to be a woman. What is happening right now and where are we going in terms of gender equity in motorsport?
They used to have this phrase that lasted long into the early '90s as far as I recall. "No chicks in the pits." Women were not allowed to be in the cars, around the cars, around the drivers. [It was said that] we're nothing but a distraction to them, we don't know how to drive.
Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I'm not capable. By [seeing] me and other women in the driver's seat, who are able to be some sort of an influence or even just empowering, that we are able to take home trophies... The naysayers [can't] do anything about it.
There's a place for us, whether we're in the driver's seat or we're managing the team or we're fabricating the chassis. We're fully capable. I'm grateful to be one of those [women]. That's the main reason why I love television, because it's like a giant commercial for women in our industry. It's advertising that we are capable of doing anything we want.
Your show always attracts a lot of comments on our site. What do you have to say to the haters, and the fans?
Your nasty comments mean nothing to us! There's something about Autoblog readers that, I swear they just want to pick everything apart. We're just trying to go out there and share what it's like, from the novice to the expert, [to have these] experiences.
Book yourselves a ticket and go and rent a BMW and drive on the Autobahn, and feel what it's like to drive as freely as you possibly want to, you know? In a controlled environment. Where it's legal. Sign up for something. If you want to learn to drive better, there are so many schools out there.
All we want to do is just share these really rad experiences with people, to either get them off their butts and do something that they've always wanted to do, or let them at least have an idea of what's out there. We're not trying to be the best at anything. We're just having a good time to try and share our experiences with the rest of the world.
Instead of leaving a snarky comment, go sign up for a driving school. Get up from behind the keyboard and ...
Yeah. Do something about it instead of telling us how bad we are! We know. We're only human. I mean, my God, but we don't suck that bad. Come on.
Thanks so much. This has been wonderful.
Thanks, Alex. I appreciate it.
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