Tammy Wolf teams with Mercury to blister the competition.
When world-class tunnel boat racer Tammy Wolf talks about her life, she sounds like a determined woman who found the keys to a toy store when she was a kid and never gave them back.
She’s that happy. All the time!
Wolf entered the male-dominated sport of boat racing as a determined teenager and has racked up success upon success throughout her career. There’s nothing she’d rather do than drive a boat fast.
“I love being on the boat,” said Wolf, who just a few weeks ago finished third at the prestigious Formula-1 Texas Outlaw Challenge in Seabrook near Houston. It was her first competition at the F1 level – the highest level in racing – and it was her first race with a 335hp Mercury S3000 powering her Italian-made BaBa tunnel boat. She had previously raced that boat with a Mercury OptiMax SST 200 XS SST (Formula 2) since 2016.
Speeds at F2 races top out at about 110 mph. At F1 it’s 135 mph on the oval watercourse.
Just about anyone who has witnessed a tunnel boat race will tell you they’re among the most exciting and, said Wolf, most beautiful races on the water.
“Your boat is moving at 135 mph in one direction of an oval; then you make a 180-degree turn and are instantly headed in the opposite direction,” she said. “It’s unique to anything in racing, and you experience three or four Gs in the turn. Fans can’t believe what they’re seeing.”
Wolf said entering the world of high-caliber racing had its challenges, but making the mental leap of driving boats well over 100 mph was natural: Wolf’s father, Fred Wolf, was the service manager for Mercury Marine Canada when Tammy was growing up near Toronto. Boats – especially racing boats – were a huge part of her everyday life.
“I grew up around racing because of my father and because of Mercury Marine,” she said. “When I was a teenager, I thought racing was the coolest thing anyone could do.
“When I was 16 I asked my dad for a race boat and he said, ‘No, girls don’t race.’ But I knew he just said that because he didn’t want me to get hurt. That’s what dads do. So I saved my pennies and when I was 17 I bought my first boat, and at 18 I was ready to race. After my first race, I knew that was what I wanted to do in my life, and I haven’t wanted to stop ever since.”
Wolf’s talent, skills and rapport with race fans – including her constant presence in social media – have made her a favorite on the circuit. That role has proved valuable to Wolf and Mercury, her engine sponsor.
“Tammy has the unique ability to connect not only with both men and women, but also with different age groups, demographics and ethnicities, and is an example of determination regardless of limitation,” said Georges Jalbert, general manager of Mercury Marine Canada.
“Mercury gives our consumers the ability to detach from their routines, to escape from their daily grind and put the fun back into their lives. Tammy Wolf has done a wonderful job of exemplifying this common pursuit with the imagery and content she includes in her online presence and social media platforms. Fun is what we offer; Tammy does a great job selling it.”
But, said Wolf, the path to success wasn’t without obstacles.
“It’s more socially accepted now to be a woman in racing than when I started,” she said. “But it’s been a double-edged sword: When we win, it seems like everyone celebrates. But if I’m not successful, my performance is scrutinized. But I can’t be a hypocrite and want only the good that comes with being a female racer. I’m absolutely thrilled with the way things are.”
Chris Fairchild, a longtime professional driver of tunnel boats, has worked with Mercury Racing in the development of many products – particularly the 200XS SST that Tammy previously raced. He’s recognized as a strong ambassador for the spot, and was a member of the Mercury team that won Rouen 2000 and other events. He’s also had a significant influence on Wolf’s racing career.
“Going to F1 and racing and doing well on maybe the worst water I’ve ever seen in the U.S. enabled Tammy to strengthen her confidence,” said Fairchild of Wolf’s recent success in Seabrook. “She’s a good driver with a lot of confidence, and I think she’s going to be unstoppable.
“She’s also a very genuine person out of the cockpit who always goes the extra mile in everything she does, especially helping others. She’s incredible in social media and marketing, and that’s something we need in racing.”
In 2012, Wolf was invited to compete against the top drivers in the world as a member of the first all-women team to compete at the famed 24 Heures Motonautiques Rouen (24 Hours at Rouen), a leg of the World Long Distance Championship. Wolf and her three international partners shocked the racing world when they finished an impressive fourth in their class and ninth overall – despite faulty radios, a troublesome oil pump and the fact that the four-team members came from four countries and spoke four languages.
“Mercury made it possible for me to go to (Rouen) France,” she said.
“I truly wouldn’t be racing today without Mercury; they made it possible for me to race and to succeed. They’ve supported my team, my career and my ambitions. Mercury is a family that I’ve been part of since 1976.”
A year prior to her historic performance at Rouen, Wolf won a Formula-3 Regional Championship; two years later, she finished second in the 2013 SST 200 World Championships.
Wolf was the first woman in the U.S. to record a podium (top three) finish in the Formula-2 OptiMax Class, and recently became the first woman to record a podium finish in the Formula-1 IOGP Champboat Series.
“At Seabrook, I just wanted to finish so we could look at the boat and engine and determine what we needed to do next,” said Wolf. “Instead, I became the first woman to podium in F1 racing (in the U.S.).”
Wolf said attendance at boat races is growing, and she feels the same about her own skills and her approach to racing.
“We have a new energy right now, and our current goal is to race and represent Mercury Marine in Europe,” she said.
When she’s not tearing up the water, Wolf works as – believe it or not – a dental hygienist. Asked how she can race in Europe for extended periods and still maintain her day job, she didn’t hesitate:
“I have a wonderful employer,” she said. “I’m good at racing and I’m great at my job. I live in a small town and he understood when I started working there that racing is important in my life, and he’s willing to help me attain my goals.”
Wolf, respected as an excellent driver at the highest level of racing, is also proposing and supporting new programs that she says will change racing for the better and will grow the sport.
“Driving the boat is what I love and what I do best,” she said, “but I understand my time is limited, and I want to leave behind a legacy that makes this great sport even better. I want to tell more people about racing, and I want to help them understand what it feels like to race at these speeds and under these conditions.”