The Jessi Combs Foundation Trailblazers Run Unites The Community

To some, Jessi Combs was a warrior for women and young girls. Combs fought for equality and education in the automotive trade. To others, she was a talented off-road racer who saw no lines of gender and fought her way to the top. The first Jessi Combs Foundation Trailblazers Run was held at this year’s Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah to celebrate Combs’ life and legacy, and to help expand her vision to help others.

Goldie Rocks descends Wipeout Hill in Moab, Utah.

Jessi Combs’ race-winning Goldie Rocks descends Wipeout Hill in Moab, Utah.

Combs was revered as one of the best off-road racers out there. She became America’s “Queen of the Hammers” as the first female to win the grueling Every Man Challenge (EMC) rock-crawling race at King of the Hammers (KOH). She was also posthumously recognized for the “Fastest Speed on Land Achieved by a Woman” at 522.783 miles per hour by the Guinness Book of World Records. Jessi Combs unexpectedly perished on August 27, 2019, in pursuit of the women’s land speed record. Combs was the real deal.

Jessi Comb’s All-Encompassing Life

In addition to racing, Combs was a gifted welder and fabricator. She was also a prominent TV personality who hosted and co-hosted shows like Mythbusters, Overhaulin’, and Xtreme 4×4. Originally from South Dakota, Combs went to school at WyoTech and used her love of the craft to help spread the word to others in every way she could.

Baja Forged-built Ford Bronco descending Wipeout Hill

Baja Forged-built Ford Bronco

In 2015, she, along with Baja Forged’s Theresa Contreras, started the Real Deal Revolution. The nonprofit organization’s goal was to help women and young girls learn about the automotive industry by receiving hands-on training through different workshops and events. The duo, along with other women in the auto trades, taught people how to pinstripe, weld, paint, and more. Collectively, they worked hard to create a sense of community where everyone belonged.

Gladiator climbing down EJS JCF run_credit Mercedes Lilienthal

A Gladiator climbing down EJS JCF obstacle

Combs exemplified dignity, respect, total positivity, and had a diligent work ethic. She was well-respected in the automotive industry and was a mentor to many. Though Combs faced numerous challenges throughout her short 39 years of life, she worked through them with focus and never gave up. Combs thought that anything was possible if she put her mind to it. If she surrounded herself with people who supported her, the journey would become part of the reward.

JCF scholarship winners Kirsten Williams (left) and Taylor Keller (right)

JCF scholarship winners Kirsten Williams (left) and Taylor Keller (right)

The Jessi Combs Foundation

After Combs passed, several people banded together and formed The Jessi Combs Foundation (JCF). This organization was formed as a way to carry on everything Combs was doing for women in the automotive trades, as well as the industry as a whole. JCF’s goal is to empower the next generation of go-getters, or “trailblazers,” as Combs had done when she was alive.

One such way JCF is making a difference is through a robust scholarship program to help women attending trade school. The program was started in 2020, and through generous donations of varying sizes, JCF has given over $100,000 to 21 deserving women. The scholarship curriculum is the backbone of JCF’s mission, and there are plans to expand the program. The group also accepts donations to help the foundation here.

2023 EJS JCF Trailblazers Run trail break

2023 EJS JCF Trailblazers Run trail break

JCF also works in other ways to continue Combs’ legacy and give back to the trade community. They created the first-ever JCF Trailblazers Run, a trail ride in Moab, Utah, that brought together other female trailblazers who loved her, worked with her, and knew her. It was the first run (of many more to come) that celebrated Combs and everything she stood for, as well as everything we need to do to help keep her spirit alive.

Bailey Campbell descending obstacle

Bailey Campbell descending obstacle

The Inaugural Jessi Combs Foundation Trailblazers Run

The first-ever Jessi Combs Foundation Trailblazers Run was held during the 57th annual Easter Jeep Safari on Moab’s famed red rock. People from all over the nation, including some of Combs’ family, assembled for a day of off-roading, winch, and vehicle-recovery education, commemoration, and recollection.

We laughed, told tons of stories, and bonded over one woman, Combs. We united with one common goal: Work together to broaden Combs’ vision of helping others in the industry, and carry on her passion to help future generations.

Goldie Rocks climbing up Wipeout Hill, with spotter Nena Barlow ready to help.

Goldie Rocks climbing up Wipeout Hill, with spotter Nena Barlow ready to help.

Going For Gold

Combs won various classes in a few different race cars during her tenure at King of the Hammers. However, she’s most known for her time in a gold-toned 4×4, Number 18, specifically built for her by Gerald Lee, the president of Savvy Off Road.

Known as “Goldie Rocks,” this vehicle was last raced in 2019’s KOH when it experienced a catastrophic mechanical issue. She dropped out of podium contention and later timed out of the race. Goldie Rocks wasn’t driven on the trails until Lee generously donated the iconic 4×4 to the foundation in 2023. The idea was to give it a new lease on life as a new tool for the foundation.

Hugely customized 4x4 on JCF Trailblazers Run.

Hugely customized 4×4 on JCF Trailblazers Run.

That news went public at this year’s King of the Hammers race. Numerous JCF scholarship winners jumped into action to fix Goldie Rocks before its first Jessi Combs Trailblazers Run during EJS. This included Taylor Keller, Kirsten Williams, and Heather Holler. Others, like Amber Turner and Serena Pruett, along with multiple companies, brought the 4×4 back into trail-ready action.

Goldie Rocks on Rainbow trail section

Goldie Rocks on Rainbow Trail section

Goldie Rocks Runs Again During The First Jessi Combs Trailblazers Run

Nothing was tossed. Detailed photographs were taken and logbooks were written to document Goldie Rocks’ progress. Dana Wilke, JCF’s co-founder and board member, was amazed at how well the women came together to fix Goldie Rocks. She said they were methodical and careful. They dug right in and had a keen sense of understanding their skillsets to help fix the 4×4. Every bolt, part, and weld were attended to as if the women were caring for Combs herself.

In short, Goldie Rocks became a beacon for Combs—a physical memento of everything she was trying to accomplish. It’s up to us, an auto-enthusiast-based collective, to help pay it forward for future generations to come. “Goldie Rocks has turned into this mechanism for bringing the JCF mission to life in a way that I really couldn’t even have dreamed,” Wilke said.

Some of Jessi Combs' family attended the first JCF Trailblazers Run, including her mother, Nina Darrington.

Some of Jessi Combs’ family attended the first JCF Trailblazers Run, including her mother, Nina Darrington.

“That vehicle being out in the same places, doing the same things that [Combs] would be doing, but with the next generation of women that were inspired by her behind the wheel,” Wilke added, “I can’t think of anything that could be more honoring in a way to honor [Combs’] spirit and the impact that she had on the industry.”

Turner, Keller, and Williams took turns piloting Goldie Rocks off-road during the first-ever Jessi Combs Foundation Trailblazers Run. We watched with our hearts full of happiness as Combs’ spirit swirled around us a few dusty tire tracks away.

Photos by Mercedes Lilienthal

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About the author

Mercedes Lilienthal

Mercedes is an avid off-roader, rallier, and gearhead who creates award-winning content for several automotive outlets, including The New York Times. Follow her adventures: Instagram @mercedes_lilienthal and Twitter @writerwithgrit.
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