At Mercury Racing, high-tech R&D and hand-assembly create pole-position products for racers and enthusiasts alike.
By Capt. Ken Kreisler — June 2002
"There, see that extra motion in the spring when it decompresses?" says George Craig, Mercury Racing's four-cycle engineering manager, as Rick Mackie, the company's marketing services manager, and I stare at the side-by-side images of the ultra-slow-motion, 2,000-frame-per-second video of a pair of valve springs in action. Our faces are bathed in the glow of a computer screen in a mostly darkened area near the dyno rooms, which are humming with the sound of thousand-horsepower engines being held at almost 6000 rpm.
I'm in the 118,580-square-foot, squeaky-clean plant that makes up Mercury Marine's Racing division. Located in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, it is an amalgam of innovative engineering programs and skunk works that is responsible for the company's line of high-performance products and whose engineers, technicians, and workforce are as laid-back and relaxed as a college library staff during a midsemester break.
The difference between the two springs is startling. The one on the right does a hula as it begins to stretch up around the valve stem, while the left one is far more sedate. "This is the one we're looking at for application," Craig says, pointing to the latter. "It's not there yet but we'll keep testing until we get it just right."
As I continue to watch, I become fascinated with the globs of circulating lube oil slowed down by the high-speed film so as to resemble the floating wax in those 60s-era lava lamps. They seem to be performing a ballet in counterpoint to the spring's hula. Craig seems equally entranced. "I just love this stuff," he says as he smiles and watches two pairs of globules execute a Pas de Quatre. "And just think, what we're seeing here actually happens in a fraction of a second."
From 1973 to 1992 Mercury Racing was located a few miles away in Oshkosh and was the engineering segment of Mercury Marine. The company, known then as Kiekhaefer Aeromarine, was the brainchild of Mercury founder Carl Kiekhaefer. Established in 1970--Kiekhaefer actually started the company in 1946 as an affiliate to Mercury that remained separate when Brunswick bought Mercury Marine--Kiekhaefer Aeromarine focused on the promotion of Mercury's image through racing. It engineered and built high-performance marine engines, as well as stern drives and accessories like trim tabs and indicators, shift and throttle controls, and props. In 1990 the Brunswick Corporation bought the company and named Carl's son Fred--the elder Kiekhaefer passed away on October 5, 1983--as its president. Under Fred's watch Mercury Racing grew and in 1994 centralized its manufacturing and administrative operations into an expanded Plant 36, the former Kiekhaefer Aeromarine building I was now touring.
This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.