Yes, drone racing is now a thing in Charlotte

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You may notice a new sport on ESPN soon.

And that is: Drone racing. Yes, it is a thing. ESPN and the International Drone Racing Association (IDRA) signed a multi-year media deal earlier this year, and two brothers are working to make drone racing big in Charlotte.

Miller and Lacy Morrow are behind this Saturday’s Flymore Invitational Drone Race at the Historic Savona Mill. Racers will compete for two coveted spots at the 2016 National Drone Racing Championships, which will be broadcast on ESPN3 at the beginning of August.

Boogity, boogity, boogity

They’re fast, they’re loud and they crash. Sound familiar? NASCAR may rule racing on land in Charlotte, but drones are taking flight.

Around 400 meters of LED light strips will line the race course in the old mill and outline gates that the drones will fly through Saturday. The 45 pilots who entered the race will compete in the qualifiers starting at 9:30 a.m. The top 16 racers will move on to the elimination round.

Spectators can watch the top 16 compete at 1 p.m. at Blue Blaze Brewing or online at stream.flymore.io.

How it all started

Miller lives in Charlotte and is still a drone novice, but Lacy, who lives in San Francisco, flies every day. Lacy started with a $30 drone from Amazon and discovered a drone group that met at a park nearby in Berkeley. Then he found Game of Drones—props for the name—a popular drone meet up held in a warehouse where pilots knock each other’s drones out of the air. Eventually the Berkeley group merged with Game of Drones and in turn the drone community gained more traction.

The Flymore Invitational Drone Race has been in the works for the past couple months, and while the brothers live on opposite ends of the country, they used their separate locations to their advantage. Drone racing is still new, but Lacy has a lot of drone racing connections out west that helped the duo get the race approved in time for the National Drone Racing Championships. Since Miller lives in Charlotte, he handled the event space logistics and local partnerships.

Drone basics

I had never heard of drone racing before Thursday, but I’m always down to check out new sports. If you’re like me and don’t know a lot about drones, here are some quick tidbits:

Racing drones cost between $300-500 according to Miller, but most pilots build their own so they can customize it.

Each drone has a camera on the front and the pilot wears a headset where they see through goggles.

Drones have a short life. They run on batteries, which generally last around three minutes.

Drone racing has heats. For Saturday’s race, the drones will race three to five laps in each heat.

The Charlotte drone scene

For such a young sport, it has a big following. There are online communities, slack groups, local meetups like CharlotteFPV and even a podcast here in town called QuadTalk.

Trace VanGorden and his co-host, Tony Knittel, started QuadTalk earlier this year, but the drone racing industry doesn’t know the duo by their real names. They know them by their pilot names—VonQuad and KaNoodle.

Most drone racers have a pilot name that they go by. For Lacy it’s Clutzz.

I want a cool pilot name. Maybe something like SwiftSarah32 or DroneBab3.

What’s in store

“Drone racing seems to be the sport of the future,” VonQuad said. “It’s growing leaps and bounds. It’s this thing that has started to spiral out of control.”

The Flymore Invitational Drone Race isn’t a one-off event. The Morrow brothers already have plans for more races and hope Charlotte will catch on to the new sport.

“It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you should still come out,” Lacy said. “You’ll learn more from seeing it in person that watching it on YouTube videos.

Photo: Miller Morrow

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