New Drone Racing League Goes Mainstream With Pod Racing Feel

Vehicles fly around the track at 90 mph, narrowly avoiding walls and each other as fans cheer on their drivers. No, it’s not NASCAR, it’s drone racing. And while it may feel like a pod racing video game, the crashes and explosions are real.

Drones are big money, and the Drone Racing League is one startup hoping to capitalize on the hobby and turn enthusiasm into a sport as popular as online gaming or competitive race car driving.

The sport comes complete with fiery crashes and hairpin turns, which are caught on high definition video and mixed with the first-person view of the drone itself for an amazing video, the league’s founder Nick Horbaczewski told ABC News.

“It’s like a real-life video game, you’re wearing goggles, holding a controller but you are in the middle of a real thing. It’s an e-sport brought to life.”

The Drone Racing League recently took over Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Florida, to film its first race.

Pilots from America joined competitors from Australia and Brazil to pilot their brightly lit drones along the half-mile course at speeds as fast as 70 to 80 miles per hour. The drones are lit with identifying colors that make them easier to see at a distance.

Flying at breakneck speeds, they passed through colorfully lit checkpoints similar to a video game before diving into a dark tunnel, popping out and executing a sharp 180 degree turn to dive into another tunnel for their return to the starting line.

Pilots received points for passing through each checkpoint along with overall course time; racers with the most points at the end of the season will make it into the world championship.

A pit crew was on hand to retrieve crashed drones and supply the racers with new aircraft, enabling the racers to skip the normal hours-long wait time for drone repair.

The Drone Racing League announced the schedule for its first season this week with six challenging courses including abandoned malls, stadiums, and subway tunnels. Pilots will test their skill navigating down hallways, up stairs, and around obstacles, according to Bloomberg.

“We’re creating a whole new form of entertainment that straddles the digital and the real.”

The second race is scheduled for mid-March in the abandoned Hawthorne Mall in Los Angeles.

The Drone Racing League provides the same equipment to each of its racers, similar to professional racing. Racers pilot quadcopters, drones with four propellers, using video game-style joysticks and wearing virtual reality goggles that give a first-person point of view.

Nick Horbaczewski is starting the Drone Racing League, backed by investors including Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and New York venture capital firm Lerer Hippeau Ventures.

Most fans are expected to watch the races online using their phones and computers, much like during other e-sport events. Horbaczewski said he hopes the Drone Racing League will become as popular as NASCAR.

The sport of drone racing isn’t new.

The Drone Racing Association in Michigan was set up to organize competitions and raise awareness of the new sport. Dubai will host the first World Drone Prix with speed and freestyle categories where racers are financed by sponsors.

The Aerial Sports League has eight chapters around the world with weekly competitions, while Drone Worlds is hosting a weeklong championship in October.

One thing is certain: if you’re thinking about entering the Drone Racing League, you’ll need to have nerves of steel along with incredible hand-eye coordination and great reflexes.

[Photo: YouTube screenshot from Drone Racing League video]