Go-Fast Blast From the Past

Rick Mackie interview reflects on 30 years working at Mercury Racing

Go-Fast Blast From the Past: Rick Mackie
Rick Mackie marked his 30th anniversary with Mercury Racing.Courtesy Mercury Racing

Rick Mackie, the Senior Marketing Manager at Mercury Racing, marked his 30th anniversary with Racing on September 26. Mackie started at Merc about the same time I started at Boating Magazine, and for all these years he's been the first and often only person I called when I needed Merc Racing info or a ride in a really fast boat. Mackie told me he had time for "five fast questions," so here we go:

How long have you been playing with boats?
It started with my brother, who is 10 years older and in 1967, when I was six years old, let me help him build a little hydroplane using plans he'd bought. We rebuilt a Mercury outboard to hang on the transom. And then he let me drive it. We grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. He went on to study naval architecture and when I was older he designed a Class B tunnel boat for me, which we powered with a Mercury Mark 55H outboard. A Merc was the only outboard for us, and when other kids were daydreaming about cars or motorcycles, I was thinking about boats.

How did you land the job at Mercury?
When I was a young teenager I started writing letters to Mike Butler at Mercury Hi-Performance on Bowen Street in Oshkosh, sending him pictures I'd drawn of boats and asking him to send me decals and posters. In my junior year of high school I met Mike in person and got a tour of the facility, and he told me to call him about a job after I finished college. I was working for U.S. Steel running supplies by boat out to Great Lakes cargo ships, and out of the blue Butler called in 1988 and said he had some openings if I was still interested. I was 26 years old.

What was that first job like?
I started as a product support specialist, which meant I drove a van loaded with T-shirts and other merchandise to all of the races, all over the U.S. and Canada. I'd get there early in the week and help work with media or set up. After that first summer was over Butler told me he was sending me to a diesel truck driving school, which was three days long. I finished at the top of my class and thought I was quite a hot-shot trucker. Mercury had a beautiful race-support truck, a 1987 Freightliner with a 444 Cummins engine and custom trailer. We'd load it with parts and powerheads and gearcases to take to the races, and now I was the co-driver to a very veteran trucker who really showed me how to drive. Sometimes I'd drive a van and tow the two-seater tunnel boat to events. As the business changed I wanted to learn more about marketing communication and media relations, and Tom Mielke at Mercury kind of took me under his wing.

What's changed the most about the business or the sport in 30 years?
Mercury Hi-Performance was created in 1973 – although Fred Kiekhaefer will always say Mercury started racing in 1939 – and in those early years it was not expected to generate any revenue. Money was no object. Whatever it takes to win races. The goal was to promote the brand and develop new ideas. In 1990 Brunswick Corporation acquired Kiekhaefer Aeromarine and we began a four-year process of merging two previously competing companies into one operation in one location, and Hi-Performance (renamed Mercury Racing in 1999) became a stand-alone business that was expected to make a profit. We had to change the focus from building racing engines and components to building consumer products, and that started with the 1994 Mercury Pro Max/Mariner Super Magnum 150/200 outboards for bass boats, and the HP500 sterndrive engine in 1996. Today 99 percent of Mercury Racing business is to consumers, and only 1 percent is to racers.

I miss the very intense rivalry that used to exist between Mercury and OMC in outboard racing and feel lucky to have been part of that golden era of tunnel boat racing, working with racers like Bill Seebold, Scott Gilman and Steve deSouza. On the other hand, I’d offer kudos to Bill Taylor (Poker Runs America) for creating a type of event that lets Mercury Racing customers get out and enjoy fast boats.

Go-Fast Blast From the Past: Rick Mackie
Rick Mackie fettles his HydroStream in 1988.Courtesy Rick Mackie

What kind of boat do you have?
What's funny is that about 1988 I bought a 18-foot HydroStream V-King YT with a 2.0 liter 175, and I didn't get it on the water until the July 4th weekend because we were always gone at a race. So I sold it because I never got to use it, and I have not owned a boat since until last season. I got a new Sea Ray 240 deck boat with a 300 Verado, and the technology is amazing. It's got DTS and Active Trim and power steering and Vessel View and of course the smooth and quiet four-stroke outboard. So I went from the HydroStream and a two-stroke outboard to this. That kind of puts 30 years in perspective.