About 15 years ago, I walked into the Mercury Racing booth at the Miami Boat Show to talk to company president Fred Kiekhaefer. I didn’t know that he wasn’t pleased with an article that I had written recently about the tactics used by an offshore racing team sponsored by his company. When I extended my hand and said hello, he let me know in no uncertain terms how he felt.
Trying to hide my surprise to being verbally slapped, I stood there, listened, swallowed hard and realized that I was about to rebut one of the most respected members of the high-performance boating world. Getting on his bad side was not a good idea.
I stood my ground, explaining that if he took another look at the article that he would see that I was quoting other competitors who watched the race between the Mercury Racing-backed boat and its primary competitor for the national championship. My opinion was never present in the article. Kiekhaefer listened and said he’d take another look at the article.
When I saw him later during the show, we chatted and reached common ground. I never expected Kiekhaefer to apologize. He listened and we moved on. To this day we enjoy a relationship based on mutual respect. If Kiekhaefer has a question about something I write, all he has to do is pick up the phone and we can talk about it.
I bring up this discussion because in December Kiekhaefer decided to step down from his full-time role as president of Mercury Racing. Kiekhaefer, 65, will continue with Mercury Racing as a consultant. He is being replaced by Erik Christiansen, director of engineering at Mercury Racing, whom Kiekhaefer has been grooming to take over.
The son of Mercury founder Carl Kiekhaefer, Fred took over the family company, Kiekhaefer Aeromarine in 1983, when his father passed away. After his company’s Kiekhaefer stern drive dominated the offshore world championships in Key West in 1988 and 1989, Brunswick asked Kiekhaefer to come back to Mercury to run the high-performance division. He agreed and took over as president of Mercury Performance Products in 1990. Some highlights of Kiekhaefer’s reign over the performance division, which is now called Mercury Racing, include the development of the non-supercharged HP 500EFI and HP 525EFI engines, and the new quad-cam turbocharged fuel-injected 1350. The Kiekhaefer drive, which was renamed the Number Six, remains basically the same robust surfacing drive that shocked the offshore performance world in 1988. Other products that Kiekhaefer brought to Mercury when he rejoined the company included the industry standard K-plane trim tabs and Zero Effort shift and throttle controls, both of which remain the most popular products of their kind in the offshore performance world.
Fred Kiekhaefer has accomplished more than just about anybody in the offshore performance world and he deserves all the praise and accolades. I’ll always appreciate him for giving a young editor the opportunity to present his side of a disagreement and for treating me the same that he would an industry veteran.