When the former Virgil Kart Club held one of it’s demonstrations at Merrittville Speedway in the 80’s – long before the infield track of today was even thought of – little did the racing community know what was to become of a young Tammy Willard as she sat in Victory Lane.
Her first feature win at the Thorold Track would actually come in a Go Kart – the first of many that would come in both the Bomber and Sportsmen Divisions in later years. Growing up in Merrittville Speedway’s unofficial first family – Tammy could not help get involved in the sport as her grandfather Bill Willard Senior and father Al have been car owners for a number of drivers since the first years of the Speedway while operating Willard and Son Towing which would later grow to become CAA Niagara.
While Al and Bill had embarked on the Stock Car Scene, Tammy would race into her teen years with her Kart – something that her and her grandfather Bill would do together. After one of her championship seasons – Tammy decided that she too wanted to race Saturday Nights at Merrittville in the former Bomber Division and would purchase a car for the 1987 season. Although she got a late start to that season – within the first complete year had found Victory Lane and before the 1988 season was complete – she made the move to the Sportsmen Division. Tammy would quickly find success with the Sportsmen also as in only her third or fourth night in the car – she would end up in Victory Lane in one of the most emotional celebrations on the front-stretch with family and friends that many fans in the grandstands still remember. “I remember the night clearly,” says older brother Bill, “I had broke and was in the pits and was able to watch her take her first Sportsmen win … I raced myself for 26 years and I’m still known as Tammy Willard’s brother.”
Perhaps the only brother and sister to race together and maybe at any track not just Merrittville – the two would move on to the 358 Modifieds – Bill for the second time – but after two years – they would return to the Sportsmen Division where both had their successes.
The 1998 Season would see Tammy win the Sportsmen Championship at Merrittville Speedway in addition to the same at Ohsweken. Eventually Tammy would step back from her own racing but would still be involved as her nephews Tyler McPherson and BJ Willard and her niece Alicia would embark on their own Kart Racing careers now at Merrittville Tuesday nights – eventually joined by the youngest in the family – Cody and Josh McPherson. She was a big supporter of all of them and today when she’s at the track – Tyler and BJ who now run in the Sportsmen Division themselves and Cody who is in his second Hoosier Stock Season – look forward to walking the track with Aunt Tammy as he shares her experiences with them. Tyler, Cody and Josh are sons of Tammy older sister Lori married Guy McPherson and at one time in the 90’s both Tammy, Bill and Guy had the trademark Willard 77 and 777 in competition in the Sportsmen ranks at the area tracks. “As a racer,” relates Bill, “you’ll probably not find one of us that wouldn’t race wheel to wheel with her … she had the respect of everyone … and as her older brother … none of us couldn’t have done it without dad and grandpa … we owe it all to them.”
Although Tammy has got back behind the wheel a few times since retiring, those trips back to the track have been to help others out. Back in the day it was probably difficult for Tammy Willard to get her start in the traditionally male sport of racing but like any true racer she earned the respect of her peers. Well – to borrow something that always graced her race cars – it’s Hammer Time!
On behalf of the Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee and your fans—enjoy tonight Tammy and your induction into the L. St. Amand Wall of Fame at Merrittville as you join your grandfather Bill Senior and all the other honorees – you definitely have earned it!