UMPBA KileaAnnKleckner

Racing Is All In The Family

Living Wide Open with Mercury Racing power is often family affair, but the sport of powerboat drag racing makes it possible for multiple competitors to share one boat at the same event. At a recent Upper Midwest Power Boat Association (UMPBA) event we met a family who loves to have fun and go fast together.

The Go-Fast Grandfather

Ask Kilea-Ann Kleckner when she got interested in the drag boat racing, and she has to think for a second.

“They tell me I attended my first race when I was two months old,” replied the 16-year-old high school junior. “I can’t remember when I wasn’t interested in drag racing.”

Kleckner kept tagging along with her grandfather, Rick Conklin, who started drag racing in Florida in the 1980s, but makes frequent trips to the Midwest from his home in Kissimmee to compete on the Kentucky Drag Boat Association (KDBA) circuit, and events at Lake Lucas, the purpose-built drag boat racing lake located at the Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri.

UMPBA KileaAnnKleckner

“He’s taught me everything I know about racing,” said Kleckner. “I’ve watched him all my life and I just emulate the way he behaves at the races. Together we’ve watched all the other racers, and I’ve always paid attention to who wins and how they do it.”

Kleckner was ready to start racing when she turned 12, the minimum age to drag race a personal watercraft on the KDBA series, and in 2017 she was high-point champion on the circuit. In 2020 she turned 16, and the minimum age to race a boat, and started sharing a seat with Conklin in a new Full Throttle Powerboat QS1 Mod VP boat powered by a 2.5-liter Mercury Racing outboard. The purple single-seat boat Carbon Copy has a full carbon fiber layup and the hull weighs just 310 pounds, according to Conklin. The motor is tuned to make about 280 horsepower.

The pair started coming to Wisconsin to compete in UMPBA events to get Kleckner more experience in a low-key setting. This is bracket racing based on boat speed – the quickest boat down the 800-foot course wins as long as they don’t exceed the bracket’s top speed. Kleckner signed up for the 95-mph bracket, while Conklin ran in the 105-mph class. Dialing in the boat to nail that speed, but not go faster, requires careful tuning and attention to water and atmospheric conditions.

“Today the difference between 95 mph and 105 mph is about 2 degrees of trim,” said Conklin.

Kleckner is quick but still learning. The UMPBA event was held down a river with a 2 mph current, which meant she had to keep her engine running to keep from drifting downstream and into the course. The class had 17 boats, and by the time she lined up for her third run she’d burning up a enough fuel to lighten the boat just enough to break out of the 95-mph bracket. A big disappointment as she won her first two heats. Later in the season she was the second-fastest qualifier at an event on Lake Lucas, but a strong cross-wind made it challenging to keep her very light boat lined up for the start. She got distracted and was late on the starting light.

“Actually driving the boat came naturally to me,” she said “Right now my biggest challenge is learning to keep my composure when something goes wrong.”

Both Conklin and Kleckner stressed the comradery they enjoy at powerboat drag racing events.

“The people make this fun,” said Conklin. “This is like our summer family. We loan each other parts, and I’ve even seen a racer loan another competitor an entire powerhead. The only time we don’t get along is for those eight seconds it takes to make a run.”

That’s the Wide Open life – eight seconds of pure intensity.

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World’s Finest Skiff Raffle to Benefit Captains of Clean Water

Win This Hell’s Bay Professional™ Orvis Edition Powered by the Mercury Racing 60R

Mercury Racing has teamed up with Orvis and Hell’s Bay Boatworks to create a very special technical flats skiff that will be used by Captains for Clean Water to support its mission to protect and restore water resources for the enjoyment of all. This one-of-a-kind Hell’s Bay Professional™ Orvis Edition boat, and a boat-load of other great gear, could be yours for just the price of a ticket in the World’s Finest Skiff Raffle, a effort to raise funds for the important work being conducted by Captains for Clean Water in Florida and across the globe.


Enter the World’s Finest Skiff Raffle on line. Each entry is $50.00. The raffle closes on July 21, 2021 and the winner will be drawn on July 22. Raffle tickets will also be available from Captains for Clean Water at boat shows, fishing tournaments, and community outreach events. Click here for complete raffle rules and details. Partners in the raffle include Hell’s Bay Boatworks, Mercury Racing, Orvis, Raymarine, Power Pole, Boatmaster and YETI.

“This beautiful boat is much more than a raffle prize,” said Chris Wittman, co-founder and program director of Captains for Clean Water. “Between now and next July we’ll be using the boat to raise awareness among the public, and policy makers that can impact the resource. The boat will be used to take state and federal legislators, agency leaders, and members of the media out onto the water. It’s the most-effective way we know to offer a real perspective on the scale of the resource and our commitment to conservation.”

Captains For Clean Water is a grassroots 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that fights to restore and protect water resources, founded in 2016 by fishing guides fed up with the poor water management practices that were devastating Florida estuaries. The group is focused on raising public awareness of issues, and of known science-based solutions delayed for decades due to lack of political will. Captains for Clean Water has successfully united the outdoor industry, environmental groups, business community and concerned citizens around these important issues, and are seeing more people than ever get involved in the fight for clean water.

The special 17-foot 8-inch Hell’s Bay Professional™ Orvis Edition boat features special hull-side graphics and a custom SeaDek kit on the poling platform and on the cockpit sole depicting the State of Florida and its key waterways. The boat is rigged with a Raymarine Axiom 9 multi-function display and a Power-Pole 6-Foot Pro Series 2 shallow water anchor, and rests on a Boatmaster aluminum trailer. Extras include a Traeger Ranger Portable Grill plus a pair of YETI Trailhead Chairs, a YETI Roadie 20 Cooler, and two YETI Rambler One Gallon Jugs and YETI Rambler 36 oz Bottles.

Of course this special boat requires an exceptional outboard, and the Mercury Racing 60R is a brilliant performance solution for technical flats skiffs. The only outboard in its class with a 15-inch midsection, the Mercury Racing 60R fits perfectly on the transom of this compact performance skiff and offers the added benefits of a high-thrust gearcase. This lightweight, compact outboard is a powerhouse tuned and geared to deliver amazing hole-shot acceleration for instant on-plane performance in skinny water.

Hell’s Bay Boatworks is led by a team of dedicated anglers and adventurers, guided by Capt. Chris Peterson and his wife, Wendi Peterson. The skiff builders at Hell’s Bay facility in Titusville, Fla., only build to order and put their efforts into quality construction, the finest materials, cutting edge design and personal customer service. Founded in 1856, Orvis is the legendary manufacturer of high-quality fly rods and reels, hunting and sporting goods. Orvis’s conservation activism began with the work of founder Charles Orvis in fisheries conservation and management in the late 19th century and has continued since.

For more information, visit Captains for Clean Water.

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