Held at Old Hickory Lake outside of Nashville in mid-June 2019, the official introduction of the Mercury Racing 450R outboard engine attracted veteran marine journalists from around the country. Not since the 2010 Miami International Boat Show debut of the 1350 engine—the first offering in its groundbreaking quad-cam four-valve powerplant series—has there been such rabid media interest in a product from the Fond du Lac, Wis., high-performance marine engine and accessories company.
But there was a fresh face among the familiar ones—Kendra Sommer, the charismatic, energetic namesake, on-camera host and producer of the popular “Cruisin’ With Kendra” primarily automotive video series. Sommer was there to chronicle the 450R debut not just for her own portal, but for Mercury Racing itself as part of its fresh digital media marketing strategy.
A breath of fresh air in the high-performance marine media world, Kendra Sommer is the dynamic host of Mercury Racing’s RaceLine series. (click image to enlarge)
The host of the company’s vibrant RaceLine video series, Sommer is a youthful presence in the too-often old-school high-performance marine marketing and reporting world. Far from the standard-issue female hood-ornament hired to drape herself across engines and boat decks and wink at her primarily male audience, she’s smart and fluent in her subject.
Best of all, she’s authentic.
Since the 450R release, Sommer has showcased a variety of Mercury Racing products such as the dual-calibration 1550/1350 and interviewed the likes of Florida Powerboat Club founder and president Stu Jones in the immaculately produced RaceLine programs. More than informative, her segments are just plain fun to watch.
Sommer comes by her passion honestly. The self-described daughter of an “overzealous gearhead,” she grew up boating and wakeboarding in Northern Wisconsin. After studying at the University of Montana and Montana State University, she moved to Los Angeles and became a television reporter.
Earlier this week, I caught up with Sommer—not an easy thing to do as the woman works from morning to night—for a quick interview. Here’s what she had to say.
Sommer was on scene (with the author and Mystic principal John Cosker sitting directly behind her) to cover the Mercury Racing 450R debut, which included a Mystic C3800 catamaran as a demo showcase for the new outboards, for the company’s video series.
Your father was a gearhead and you became one. Beyond his influence, what hooked you into mechanical things?
We had five or six International Scouts in our garage in Green Bay. We would watch television shows on projects for them during the week and then work on them during the weekend. The Scouts came from my grandfather. He worked as an engineer for International Harvester for 40 years. My parents had a home on Legend Lake and I would drive our family’s Wellcraft boat. Sometimes I would wakeboard, sometimes I would drive the boat, my mom would spot and my dad would water-ski. My grandfather had a lake home, too, so boating with my family has been generational. It’s a great way to spend time with family and friends.
Do you still find your own time for boating and wakeboarding?
Not as much as I would like, but when I do get out of the office in Green Bay there are a lot of lakes in the area. When I’m here in North Carolina, where we have an office, there’s a great lake called Lake Norman. I get out as much as I can, but with my travel schedule and production demands it’s not as much as I would like.
When did you first become aware of Mercury Marine?
As you can imagine, every boat in our area had a black motor—Mercury was everywhere. They were the motors that ran the best and lasted the longest.
You spent time in television reporting and have an extensive background in journalism. How does that inform your production work today?
After college, I wanted to hone my production skills. I knew I needed to be involved with a crazy television production schedule, so I moved to Los Angeles. I was lucky enough to get on board with Entertainment Tonight and The Insider television programs. I immersed myself in the world of journalism and reporting. To this day, when I go in front of a camera I always consider it a privilege to convey a message.
But in 2017 you walked away from all of that to start your own production company. That was a bold, if not outright risky move.
To quote Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists, I was running down a dream. I had always dreamed of covering motorsports. I was on a career track in television news—to go from one market to the next bigger market, and then to the next bigger market. I knew I really had to shake it up. To use a motorsports analogy, I had to hit the brakes, do a U-turn and slam on the gas. So I quit my job and headed to the SEMA show.
Did you ever imagine would you be hosting and producing promotional videos for Mercury Racing?
As a lifelong boater, I see Mercury Racing as one of those marquee companies. It’s the pinnacle. Working with Mercury Racing is a blast and hosting the RaceLine series for the company is an adrenaline rush. One day, for example, I’m cruising down the Florida coast at 174 mph—yes, 174 mph—in a catamaran pushed by nine-liter Mercury Racing 1550 engines. The next, we’re working with the new 60R outboards for skiffs.
You covered the 450R outboard introduction for the company’s RaceLine video series. What do you find most compelling about that product?
There’s just so much to say about it, but more horsepower is more horsepower, and more torque is more torque. Bigger is almost always better, and the 450R is the leading edge of outboard performance. Once you slam the throttles, a boat with those engines becomes a machine that makes you smile. But what I found most interesting about the product is how Mercury Racing was able to get so much more power and torque out of same V-8 package that is the foundation of the previous engine, the 300R.
In her video-hosting work with Mercury Racing, Sommer has interviewed Brunswick chief executive officer David Foulkes, Mercury Racing general manager Stuart Halley, Mercury Racing director of marketing, sales and service Steve Miller, Nor-Tech’s Trond Schou and more.
Do have a preference between the high-performance marine and automobile worlds?
Here’s what you find in the performance industry: Gearheads are gearheads. Some prefer pavement, others choose water. But if I could put a trailer hitch on the back of a 428 Mustang, that’s how I’d tow my boat to the lake. (Laughs.) I talk to my SEMA friends about how cool the marine industry is. I talk to my marine industry friends about how cool the automotive world is.
Not only are you the on-camera talent for your production company, you’re the businesswoman running it. How do you find the time to manage all that?
(Laughs) I ask myself that some days. I would say that is really important to be organized and rely heavily on my team. My office is white boards—you can never have too many white boards. You can never have too good of a team. When I’m not traveling, I split my weeks between the business of running a production company and the creative aspects of script writing and voiceovers. It requires both left-brain and right-brain work.
Every day I go into the office, I’m excited. I quit my day job to go to SEMA and start my own production company. I believe you can do whatever you want to do. If anything, I hope that what I do inspires people.
Kendra Sommer: “Gearheads are gearheads. Some prefer pavement, others choose water.”