Sturgis Grand Marshal Jessi Combs
The following article is from Hot Bike.
Pushing limits and breaking stereotypes is what Jessi Combs does. Whether it’s working to break competitive land-speed records or being a sought-after expert in the traditionally male profession of metal fabrication, this woman thrives on risk-taking and blazing new trails.
As she has done so many times, Jessi will claim another first this August for women and motorsports: She will serve as Grand Marshal for the 77th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—the first woman to ever do so.
"I’m honored," Jessi says. "Very, very honored."
While outside-the-box adventure is what trips Jessi’s trigger, it’s the familiarity and ease she looks forward to experiencing once again when she returns to her native Black Hills and to her 31st bike week in Sturgis.
"I love coming home to the Black Hills," she says. "There’s a level of serenity I feel here. I spent my entire life riding and driving these roads. I know them like the back of my hand. There’s nothing like riding a motorcycle in the Hills. The rally to me is the biggest and most beautiful rally in the world because of the untouched land and numerous globally known destinations within a day roundtrip. There is so much to see and do and experience. It’s exactly why it’s the best rally in the world."
And Jessi knows rallies and races. She’s been to a few here and there. Actually, she’s been to a ton. Her dream to become a professional driver started young. Early on she developed a love for speed and machines, and she has harnessed her passion to become one of the most influential female role models in the world of motorsports.
In the past five years she has made her mark as a leader in professional driving and racing, placing in the tops over and over again.
Jessi sheepishly admits, "It’s kind of cool to know that I am one of the top 10 fastest people recorded on earth, have podium finished the Baja 1000 multiple times, and earned an Ultra4 national championship, two King of the Hammers wins, with a third hot on the priority list—though I still have yet to become the Fastest Woman on Earth, ironman Baja, and race Dakar, amongst tackling a handful of other motorsport disciplines. I am ready for them. Driving is what I do, and I’d like to say I do it well. It’s why I became a builder, to become a better racer.”
Racing Carreer Highlights
2017 King of the Hammers – 12th – 4400 class
2016 Sets a new top speed record of 477.59 mph
2016 Ultra4 King of the Hammers – 1st – EMC Modified Class
2015 Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles (9 off-road rally race) – 1st First Participation – 10th overall
2015 SCORE Baja 1000 – 2nd – Class 7
2014 Ultra4 King of the Hammers – 1st – Spec Class
2014 Ultra4 National Championship – 1st – Spec Class
2014 Ultra4 Western Region Series – 1st – Spec Class
2014 Ultra4 American Rock Sports Challenge – 3rd – Spec Class
Metal Works In Her Nature
As a metal fabricator, Jessi has earned a reputation for her unique expertise in the automotive market and has completed many high-profile projects since earning a degree in custom automotive fabrication at Wyotech in Laramie, Wyoming. She was slated to go to interior design school on full scholarship, but five years after graduating high school she decided to pursue her passion for customizing cars.
"It’s in my nature—this work," Jessi says. "It’s a part of who I am and really always has been."
Jessi’s father was a mechanical engineer and owned his own construction company, and she was continually surrounded by building and materials and big projects early on. At 12 years old she began living with her mom exclusively after her parents’ divorce, but her passion for building and creating remained strong.
After completing her training, Jessi launched herself into the automotive market and has completed numerous projects since then—from building cars, motorcycles, and trucks for the iconic SEMA show in Las Vegas, to building them at the SEMA show, on television, and in her own shop.
For her parents’ part, they were somewhat concerned about her choice to pursue automotive fabrication.
"My dad didn’t want me to do this," Jessi says. "And my mom said, ‘You are more talented than this.’ But once they saw how well I did with my grades and began building show cars and getting on television, they knew it was exactly right for me."
Jessi has a small fabrication studio in California, where she continues to fabricate on a regular basis and works with a large number of companies and brands to achieve the highest-quality work, including everything from cars and motorcycles to art and furniture.
Television Host + Girl Power
In addition to fabrication and racing all kinds of four-wheeled things, Jessi has served as a television host and producer on a variety of shows. Her most recent work includes: 1001 Car Things To Do Before You Die (commissioned by AOL), All Girls Garage (Velocity Channel), and Overhaulin’ (Velocity Channel).
If you’ve ever watched any of her television appearances, you’ll agree that on air she is quick-witted and personable. Turns out, she’s just like that in person and even more so. And Jessi’s deeply passionate—not just about the racing and driving but about supporting the trades, especially for women and girls.
What would Jessi say to all the women out there who had hopes of riding their own but hadn’t done so yet, out of fear or insecurity or what-have-you?
Jessi’s response minces no words: "Why don’t you?! What’s holding you back?! You are the only reason that is holding yourself back. We as humans are the only resistance that holds us back from what we really want to do. People are missing out on a whole world of freedom. To all girls and women, I say welcome to the world of liberation. When you ride, all your inhibitions go away. When you accomplish something like that—learning to ride your own motorcycle or even fix your own junk—it gives you a new confidence and inner strength. It opens a whole world of discovering what you are capable of doing.
"I hear women say, ‘I want to race motorcycles,’ " Jessi continues. "And I ask them, ‘Why aren’t you? Let’s go bike shopping!’ Before you know it, they have their own leathers, their own bikes, and they are racing and winning."
Supporting women and girls, "It’s pretty much my life," Jessi says. She deeply enjoys her work teaching girls how to weld, fabricate, and be awesome. "You name it, I teach it," she says.
Jessi receives a lot of emails, noting, "The majority are from fathers thanking me for showing their daughters that anything is possible. Or for showing their sons that girls are created equal. Some have even said I helped save their marriages because now their wives are in the garage doing their own thing!"
sturgis motorcycle rally 2017 grand marshal jessi combs
She’s The Real Deal
To bring enhanced visibility and empowerment to girls and women in motorsports, Jessi helped found Real Deal, a collaboration of "legit automotive and industrial women who crave to empower and educate others regarding the positive influences" of motorsports, according to the organization’s website.
"Real Deal is a lifestyle space where the realest of the real, those who lead with morals and values, can connect and share their passions in a hands-on way to those who strive to be as skilled as possible," Jessi says.
Consistent with her commitment to girls, Jessi published a children’s book in 2015 entitled Joey and the Chopper Boys, which tells the story of a little girl who loves motorcycles but is uprooted from her neighborhood crew and has to move into the city. Joey finds herself without friends, and the path to make new ones proves difficult yet rewarding. The heartfelt story identifies the ups and downs of being a girl in a boy’s world and shares the many positive messages about taking life into your own hands and never giving up.
And that’s really what Jessi has done. In the traditionally male-dominated world of motorsports, Jessi has claimed her own space. She’s created her own unique path to living a life that celebrates everything she’s passionate about—motorsports, building and creating through metal work, adventure, and sharing with others.
Serving as the first female Grand Marshal for the 77th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally seems like a natural place for her. Leading both men and women, showing the way for learning, friendship, and, above all else, a lifelong love of motorsports.