I’ve led many tours of Mercury Racing over the past 28 years. People are constantly amazed to see our skilled labor handcrafting outboards, sterndrives, propellers and accessories. Some of the more common questions asked are, “where does your labor comes from and how do they learn their skills?”
Our employees come with a strong skill set and work ethic in place. The only training needed are for things that may be specific to the job at hand. I attribute their strong work ethic to the Midwest culture. In Fond du Lac, it most likely also stems from the rich German ethnic mix and heavy farming influence. I truly believe farming brings with it an inherent mechanical aptitude that has been ingrained within Mercury since the late Carl Kiekhaefer founded the company in 1939.
The education and interests of today’s generation has changed. Millennials grow up using technology – aspiring to play video games and becoming “device” experts from an early age. They are used to instant gratification.
Industries such as ours are beginning to feel the pinch in finding skilled labor with a strong work ethic and passion to build and service the products we manufacture. Many say Millennials don’t want to get their hands dirty or have the desire to actually learn skills to build or repair products. I personally believe they are as interested and as capable as ever. We just need to provide them the education and tools they need to succeed.
Marty Signorelli – owner of Diamond Marine – a Mercury Racing dealer located in Ft. Lauderdale – made me aware of one school that is making a difference when it comes to filling the void in skilled labor. His nephew Michael attends Coral Shores High School in Key Largo, Florida. The school has a dedicated marine vocational program. Students who attend the 4-year program learn skills to service marine engines. Upon graduation they can enter the work force as a marine mechanic or further their education in a vocational tech school. I spoke with instructor Chris Catlett regarding the program. Chris has been teaching for 12 years. He is a 20-year Coast Guard Veteran with over 30 years of marine experience. Over 100 students are currently attending the program.
“Mercury Marine helped launch the Marine Service School program. We have 60 Mercury outboards made up of a mix of 2-stroke and 4-stroke models. The kids learn everything; from rebuilding powerheads and gearcases to diagnosing and repairing hydraulic and electrical systems. We are one of five marine mechanic trade schools in the nation which provide students an alternative to a formal four year college education,” said Chris.
For the past several years, Chris has taken the students to Key West for the annual Super Boat International Offshore World Championships. This past year eight students got to work with the race teams.
“The kids see the boats go past the school on their way down to Key West for the races. I feel it is important for them to see the engines in use – be it the recreational outboards they work on day in and day out or the exotic – high powered race motors they see competing in the extreme race environment. They get to see cutting edge technology in their own backyard, ” Chris said.
Michael Signorelli has mechanical aptitude built into his DNA. His uncle Marty and Joe are legendary in their ability to maximize the performance of our legacy 2.5 EFI 2-stroke competition outboards. A future in marine is his destiny. His father Frank is a private boat captain. Michael, now a sophomore, started the Marine Service School program in 2015. His first project was rebuilding a 2-stroke 9.9 h.p. Mercury. He has since moved on to rebuilding 75 h.p. models and beyond. Michael is very interested in engineering. His particular interest is navel architecture. Like mechanics and engine builders – the marine industry can never have enough navel architects.
We are thankful for instructors such as Chris Catlett and the various vocational programs around the country. I am confident program graduates will provide tech support for Mercury and Mercury Racing products well into the future.
I recently had some awesome discussions with defending Super Boat International (SBI) National and World champs Team CMSOffshore Racing regarding their 2016 race season.
To recap, twin Mercury Racing 1650 competition engines powered Wake Effects, a 48-foot MTI catamaran with boat owner/rookie driver Rusty Rahm behind the wheel and veteran throttleman Jeff Harris on the sticks, to win the 2016 Super Boat International (SBI) Superboat Unlimited class world championship Sunday, Nov. 13. The Wake Effects victory is especially sweet as Rahm/Harris also won the Superboat Unlimited class National Championship in September. The world championship was hard fought. Wake Effects finished sixth after being washed down in fierce competition in the opening race. Sister boat CMS #3 finished second.
Team CMS came back with a 1-2 punch later in the week. CMS #3 enjoyed a convincing win with Wake Effects, placing a close second. Wake Effects won the final round, which counts toward double points. The accumulation of points over three days of competition was enough for Wake Effects to capture the world championship. Wake Effects finished nine points ahead of Team CRC Sunlight Supply, another MTI catamaran powered by Mercury Racing 1650 competition sterndrives. CMS #3 rounded out the Superboat Unlimited World championship podium, finishing third overall.
All but one of the eight-boat Super Boat Unlimited field were powered by Mercury Racing QC4v -based engine packages. The engine has transformed offshore powerboat racing and performance pleasure boating with the transition from 2-valve pushrod big blocks, to the 4-valve – direct overhead camshaft valve train featured on the QC4v.
“Erik Christiansen has done a great job leading the Mercury Racing organization. I appreciate his engineering skills for one – the QC4v he created is a great motor. I own a bunch of them – for race and pleasure,” said Team CMS owner Bob Bull.
“His passion for racing and what he does for a living are contagious. You can see it from the guys building the engines all the way through management. That passion and spirit is why Mercury Racing is head-and-shoulders above the competition,” Bob concluded.
“MTI and Mercury Racing go 1-2-3. Win on Sunday – sell on Monday,” said Marine Technology, Inc. founder/owner Randy Scism.
“In racing, we put the product through much more abuse than what they would ever face in the hands of the consumer. R&D in our world stands for “Reck & Destroy.” And that used to be expected back in the day – prior to the introduction of the Mercury Racing QC4v engine platform. It truly has changed everything,” said Randy.
Today, performance is about so much more than top-speed. It is now defined by reliability, durability and an intuitive design that relates to consumer friendliness – all qualities the Mercury Racing QC4s deliver in spades,” Randy said.
“The QC4vs put the pleasure back into performance boating. Customers – new to the sport and those who have returned from days of old — are blown away at how consumer friendly the engines are. They appreciate all facets of the QC4v experience – from docile docking manners to incredible fuel economy, durability, reliability and overall performance. It is no different than jumping into your Lexus,” Randy concluded.
Randy was instrumental in changing the game for competitor Chris Cox of the Envy race team. Chris and throttleman Herb Stotler pilot Envy, a Mercury Racing 1650 powered 50-foot Mystic catamaran. Chris decided to repower the boat, replacing Stotler race engines with Mercury Racing 1650s after discussions with Randy Scism and Team CMS owner Bob Bull. Randy said Chris was ecstatic with the experience. “He had a permanent smile for the entire week,” Randy said.
“Key West was an extraordinary experience. It was the first time we finished every race. It was a pleasure to not have to wrench on the motors all week,” said Chris.
“It’s a new experience going from full-out racing to idling back to the dock with engine run quality and shifting as smooth as a luxury automobile. Docking the race boat is no different than my Verado-powered pleasure boat. That is something unheard of with our previous propulsion,” Chris said.
“We left Key West for the OPA worlds the following week. We won on Sunday – nearly lapped the field. I would have never been able to leave one site for another without rebuilding the engines in the past. Our investment cost per lap, which includes testing and racing – is way down from our past experiences. We went from a hauler full of spare parts, to fitting all required parts in the trunk of my car,” said Chris.
“In order to finish 1st – first you must finish,” said rookie Superboat Unlimited Competitor Rusty Rahm. Cat Can Do, a Sterling engine powered cat that runs on Ethanol, gave Wake Effects a run for its money in the Superboat Unlimited National championships.
“They ended up failing to finish. The durability and reliability of the Mercury Racing QC4vs reinforced the importance to finish each race you endure,” Rusty said.
An analogy to Rusty’s accomplishment would be a NFL pro football player winning the Super Bowl and being named MVP his rookie year. Rusty is humbled by the comparison.
“All of the credit goes to MTI and Mercury Racing for providing an incredible ride. I’m looking forward to getting back in the boat for the 2017 season,” Rusty concluded.
Jeff Harris’ first race boat was powered by a 175 h.p. Mercury outboard. For 37 years, Jeff’s powerboat racing career has always been tied to Mercury. In the late ‘90s, Jeff approached Super Cat racing with the same methodology he had used in past. Relying on Mercury power at a time when the class was dominated by competitive power.
“My experience was that I could rely on running the engines as is from Mercury. I didn’t touch them. I would focus on things I could tweak, such as props and boat set-up,” said Jeff. He did that with great success, culminating with winning 12 of 14 races during the 2005 Super Cat race season.
“That same process pays off in spades with the 1650s. In the old days, if you tested too long, you usually didn’t finish the race. You had to schedule your run time – knowing the engine durability was limited. Now, with the QC4vs, it is common to have more time in testing than the race itself. This is a huge advantage, enabling us to fully prepare for the race. We don’t have to worry about the engines so we can focus on the boat set-up. This makes my job much easier,” Jeff said.
One of the biggest changes Jeff has experienced since running the QC4v 1650s is the reaction from fans.
“In the past, they would be focused on power and speed. How much power? How fast does it go? Now the common question is, ‘is that a race boat or pleasure boat’? They are amazed how smooth the engines idle and shift into and out of gear as we dock the boat after running 180 mph lap speeds around the race course,” said Jeff.
“Mercury Racing products are backed by passionate – techy individuals who care as much about performance, reliability and winning as much as I do. That hasn’t changed in my 37 years of racing,” Jeff concluded.
As the CMS Offshore Crew Chief, Gene Greber is the one that keeps everything together. He has a monumental task – managing a two boat – two time world champion team.
Gene has a long time relationship with Randy Scsim. He worked with Randy and Gary Stray for eight to nine years when Randy managed the Victory Team in the Middle East. Gene then moved on with Stray as crew chief for the GEICO race team. He did that for 1-1/2-2 years before moving into his current roll with CMS.
“I love the QC4s. Give them air, water and fuel – and they will treat you right. They are highly dependable. In fact, last year we went undefeated on one set of engines. They had full out – high rpm running for 90 miles per race or eight hours of race time plus testing and shoot out runs. We changed them out for Key West- not because we had to but because it was the worlds and we didn’t want to take any chances, Gene said.
“When dialed-in – there really isn’t anything out there that can touch them. They are so dependable and fail safe – it really comes down to human error if something goes wrong.”