Drag racing may be the easiest motorsport to understand. Two competitors at the starting line. A short, furious sprint to finish line. First one there is the winner. The goal of the Wisconsin-based Upper Midwest Power Boat Association (UMPBA) is to keep powerboat drag racing this uncomplicated, and as much fun as possible. Boats and competitors are required to meet basic safety standards, but beyond that there are very few rules. Racing is open to boats powered by outboards, inboards and jet drives. This is real “run what ya brung” racing, and in the slower classes it’s not uncommon for fast family runabouts and bass boats to enter. Sounds like the perfect way for a Mercury Racing fan to experience the Wide Open lifestyle.
In drag racing, quickness, rather than top speed, often determines the winner. A boat able to out-accelerate a faster competitor – or the driver with quicker reaction time at the start – may end up winning the race. Minimal weight is the key to quick acceleration, and faster UMPBA classes are dominated by 18- to 20-foot hulls produced by brands like Checkmate, Allison, STV and Hydrostream that may weigh less than 400 pounds. Hang a lightweight outboard on the transom, like a modified Mercury Racing 2.5 Drag making 400 hp on alcohol fuel, and you’ve got a real rocket.
UMPBA events do not utilize electronic timing. Boats approach a starting-line buoy together, about 50 feet apart. Racers are then flagged off from a starting boat located 30 feet beyond the start buoy. Judges and a camera are waiting in a finish-line boat at the end of the 800-foot course. Each class runs a double-elimination format.
Ask Kilea-Ann Kleckner when she got interested in the drag boat racing, and she has to think for a second. She’s been tagging along to races with her grandfather, Rick Conklin, since she was two years old. At age 12 Kleckner started drag racing on a personal watercraft. In 2020 she turned 16 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 – a rig that can reach 95 mph in 800 feet.
A tiller steer Mercury Racing 60R outboard powers the UMPBA safety boat, a custom Ambush SS 1756 built by Legendcraft Boats. The 17-foot aluminum boat is equipped with dive tank racks and a step-off transom for rescue divers stationed at each race. The boat is also be used to set the course and as a tow craft for disabled race boats.