Hagerty's Tabetha Hammer Keeps Classic Car Culture Alive with Youth Programs

by Kristin Shaw

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Born and raised in Colorado, Tabetha Hammer grew up in a farming family. She’s the third of three children, and all three of them helped their father keep the machinery in order on the farm. Before she could drive – and really, from the moment she was old enough to hold a wrench – Tabetha was learning about tractor parts and engineering concepts with her father and siblings.

Now, Tabetha is the senior manager of car culture for Hagerty, and her job is to support the collector community through youth and heritage. She manages the communication between Hagerty Insurance Company and the groups through which the company gives back to the classic car community, including the RPM (Reservation Preservation Mentorship) Foundation, which helps kids learn; the Historic Vehicle Association; and Hagerty’s youth programs, which she has been managing for all of her nine years at the company. Based at HQ in Traverse City, Michigan, she helps share stories of student successes, milestones in automotive heritage recognition, and promotes giving teenagers the chance to be an active part of the classic car community.

The youngest of three, Tabetha started working on tractors and antique cars like her brother and sister, and all of them were members of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization. Her brother was struggling in school, and his FFA advisor recommended he enter the Chevron Delo Tractor Restoration Competition in order to get him to focus on school, because he had to keep his grades up to participate. And as he began to learn the art of antique tractor restoration, his little sisters came along for the ride, both as passengers and quick studies of the machines themselves.

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“My grandparents purchased a tractor and each of us restored our own; we’re very into the antique tractor enthusiast side,” Tabatha remembers. “The deal was that when we got our high school diploma, we got the bill of sale to the tractor. It was a good motivator.”

Not long after her brother entered, Tabetha’s sister became the first female to place in the top three in the contest. Motivated, perhaps, by a bit of friendly sibling rivalry, Tabetha entered a couple of years later and became the first female to win the whole thing with her restored 1935 John Deer Model B2003. The following year, Tabetha won a back-to-back title with FFA and made history again as the first consecutive winner with a 1928 John Deere Model D.

“Because of my success with the contest, I did quite a few promotional events with Chevron,” Tabetha says. “They did a phenomenal job of telling the story. Out of the blue, a rep from McPherson College read an article about me and wondered if I’d be interested in restoring cars. I had no clue about the school and was set to go to West Texas A&M for agriculture.” 

The idea piqued her interest, though, and Tabetha scheduled a campus visit. When she arrived, she didn’t necessarily want to work in the shop for her day-to-day career but she had a passion for the history and a love for cars. She took a leap of faith and enrolled, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Automotive Restoration.

Tabatha, 15, meeting Mario Andretti after winning the tractor restoration contest.

Tabatha, 15, meeting Mario Andretti after winning the tractor restoration contest.

Tabetha often gets a surprised look from people when she tells them what she studied in college.

“I guess it’s kind of fun in that aspect in that it helps others be interested,” she says. “When people are flabbergasted I think ‘why?’ There are surprisingly more females in the industry than one might think. There is a strong presence of women both in the aftermarket and classic worlds, and that’s an exciting thing.”

Tabetha still has the tractors that she restored. She also has a 1966 Mustang that has been in her husband’s family since it was new, and a black 1968 MGB. She met her husband at McPherson, incidentally – Adam was a year ahead of Tabatha and they have been together more than a dozen years. Six years ago, they opened a restoration business together: Hammer & Dolly Restorations, LLC.

She’s quite active in the classic car community, as a member of the Board of Directors for the Antique Automobile Club of America; a member of the Northwestern Michigan Region AACA; she has judged at the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance and other events; she has served as a committee member of the Mott Children’s Hospital’s “Caden’s Car Show/Full Throttle Event”; and she facilitates youth automotive education programs.

I attended one of Hagerty’s youth education programs in Austin; three or four classic car and truck owners brought their personal vehicles to a parking lot at the Circuit of the Americas. All of the vehicles were manual transmission from the 50s and 60s, and the teenagers had the opportunity to drive them. (Brave, aren’t they?)

Tabetha keeps in touch with some of her youth participants after the programs are over. Some have reached back out to let her know where they are now. One on Tabetha’s favorite stories is about a young man who is now studying at a design college in Pasadena; he had told her he found his passion through Hagerty’s Young Designers contest. The contest was introduced in 2010 for young people passionate about automotive design and provided them the opportunity to showcase their skills. Designers from13-17 years old are eligible to submit original renderings of what they thought their favorite classic car would look like if designed 50 years in the future. The top five finalists are selected through online voting and are awarded an all-expense-paid trip with a guardian to Monterey, California, during the Monterey Classic Car Week for final judging.

“Our programs are all about giving young people the chance to experience classics. Once they experience one, they have a whole different outlook,” says Tabetha. “‘This thing is cool!’ they say. It’s hard to get that excitement when you walk past a car show. If we want kids to like these old cars, we have to give them a chance experience them.”

It’s a noble initiative. You’ll have to excuse me now - I’m going to go sign my 9-year-old up for some of these education programs, so he can fall in love with the classics the way I did when my dad took me to car shows.


All photos: credit Tabetha Hammer

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Kristin Shaw