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On Board With: Kilea-Ann Kleckner

A teenage girl drag-boat racer.

January 15, 2021
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Kilea-Ann Kleckner standing next to a drag-race boat
Kilea-Ann Kleckner is a pro at running fast boats. Charles Plueddeman

Some girls love horses. Kilea-Ann Kleckner prefers horsepower. A 16-year-old junior at Marquette Academy in Ottawa, Illinois, Kleckner is in her first season of powerboat drag racing competition. Her 310-pound Full Throttle Powerboat QS1 Mod VP hull is powered by a 280 hp two-stroke Mercury Racing drag outboard. It’s a carbon-fiber missile capable of covering 1,000 feet in 8 seconds. We met Kilea-Ann at an Upper Midwest Power Boat Association event near Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where she was dialed in to run 800 feet at 95 mph.

How did you get interested in drag racing?

They say I went to my first race when I was two months old. My grandfather, Rick Conklin, is a racer and he always let me tag along. I started drag racing a Sea-Doo when I was 12 years old and was high-point champ in the Kentucky Drag Boat Association in 2017. This year I moved up to the boat when I turned 16. My grandfather and I are a team, and share the boat at some events.

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What’s the biggest challenge in drag-boat racing?

For me it’s learning to keep my composure when something goes wrong. At one race this summer, the safety boat cut the course and made a wake and I had to let off the throttle. Another time there was a strong cross wind, and our boat is so light I had a hard time getting lined up and was late on the starting light. Actually driving the boat came naturally to me.

Do you enjoy teaming up with your grandfather?

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He’s taught me everything I know about racing. 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.

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