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Sneak Peek: The Test Drivers

Released in 2020 and 2021, Mercury Racing’s 360-hp V-8 and 200-hp V-6 outboard Apex Series engines designed for top-level tunnel-boat competition didn’t just suddenly appear. Like all engines from the Fond du Lac, Wis., company, their design and engineering took years of brainwork followed by the gritty job of durability testing before the products reached the marketplace.

Chris Fairchild (left) and Mike Makus shared behind-the-wheel duties in the durability testing program for Mercury Racing’s Apex Series tunnel-boat engines.

That means someone talented and trustworthy had to run them on a tunnel boat for hours and hours, lap after lap, at the Lake X testing facility in St. Cloud, Fla. For that job, Mercury Racing turned to Chris Fairchild, an accomplished tunnel-boat racer who also happens to be the president of the American Power Boat Association.

At one point relatively early in the testing program, Fairchild pushed too hard and rolled his tunnel boat. It was far from his first time on his lid, but the incident left him banged up and thinking that maybe a co-driver wouldn’t be a bad idea. So he turned to his friend Mike Makus, a senior engineer on the electronics side of Mercury Racing and an up-and-coming tunnel-boat racer.

Putting them together for a new video series celebrating Mercury Racing’s 50th anniversary was a natural, and their wide-ranging conversation covered everything from turning laps for hours on end, stopping only to refuel and for bathroom breaks, to the uber-competitive world of tunnel-boat racing. Fairchild has been a mentor to Makus, whose talent on and off the racecourse he respects and appreciates. For his part, Makus is grateful to have the attention of a veteran racer of Fairchild’s stature.

On their early week shoot day, Fairchild drove to the makeshift Speed On The Water/Scrapyard Media studio in Fond du Lac from his home in Illinois and then hopped on a flight out of Milwaukee for the APBA annual meetings in Seattle. Makus had a shorter post-video trip—he simply went back work at Mercury Racing’s primary facility when the shoot was complete.

As you’d expect, they had plenty of good-natured “war stories” from competition and the Apex Series outboard testing program. And you’ll get to enjoy all of them when their episode goes live later this year.

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