We have an active and awesome MultiGP chapter here in Dallas, and their field is just a 25-minute drive from my house. I’ve been invited out to their races before, but I never managed to make it out. I know from the days when I used to occasionally take my car out to the local drag strips that organized racing isn’t really my cup of tea.
I don't think I would have attempted to hit this gap on a power loop if @captainvanover wasn't watching. There was no real coercion involved. I just felt like I needed to be at my best! pic.twitter.com/S9Dyu63z4w— Pat Regan (@patsheadcom) September 17, 2019
A few weeks ago, Brian and I drove across town to go flying with Alex Vanover. He convinced us that we should go out to Carrollton for some drone racing. I went out that Friday to spectate, and I decided I should give it a try, so I signed up to race the next week.
Even just spectating was fun
I got to see some fast racing quads, and I had the opportunity to meet some cool people. We told some folks about our favorite, secluded flying spot here in our neighborhood, and we had three or four new friends show up for some freestyle flying with us the next day. That was awesome!
The fine folks at Dallas Drone Racing had a couple of televisions set up along with a projector. The screens were all showing a grid of FPV feeds, so even if you don’t have your own equipment, you can still see what the pilots are seeing.
I brought my Fat Shark goggles. They gave me a better view of the action, but they definitely weren’t required.
I’ve always avoided racing, because I dislike all the organization that is required. You’re always waiting for your turn. Everyone flies in a certain order. When your next turn comes up, you had better be ready; you can’t just let someone go ahead of you and just take the next spot.
Half of the participants were just there to have some fun flying and hang out with their friends. They’re doing exactly what my friends and I do when we fly at a park, except they get called up to run a few laps every once in a while. It’s not that much different than what I’m already doing!
Racing isn’t quite like I expected!
In the past, my friends and I have set up children’s soccer goals with the nets cut out and used them as drone racing gates. They’re not much higher than your waist, and not all that much wider than they are tall. The MultiGP gates are huge. I bet you could drive a Miata through them.
My brain didn’t want to understand the scale of the track. Compared to the places where we usually fly freestyle, the entire track was tiny. Something about the length of the track combined with these big, honking gates just doesn’t compute for me.
I broke my first quad before finishing a lap!
There’s more than a little hyperbole in that statement, and it was totally my fault due to lack of testing. A few days before the race, I broke the Immortal T antenna on my favorite quad’s Crossfire Nano module; that poor thing has taken such a beating over the last 15 months!
When I got home that day, I replaced the antenna. I put the quad in one corner of the house, and I wandered around the house with my radio. I had perfect signal all throughout the house, so I figured I’d be in good shape. I figured wrong.
I bumped one of the inflatable gates during my first lap, and I fell out of the sky. I tried to use turtle mode to flip back over, but I just couldn’t arm the quad. I noticed that my link quality was reading 7. The antenna wasn’t the only problem with that Crossfire Nano!
No big deal. I had two more quads in my bag. It was just a bummer that I missed out on my first three practice laps.
I need way more practice
I knew my fingers were shaky the entire time. I didn’t think they were shaking as much as the first time I flew down in our little creek near the house, but listening to my GoPro footage makes me think otherwise. I wonder how many times I’d have to go out racing before that will stop?!
Speaking of GoPros, I’m pretty sure I was the only goofus flying a heavy freestyle quad with smooth, gentle freestyle props, and carrying a GoPro. I was also the only pilot with GPS. The best I managed was 57 MPH on the long straight through the finish line. I’m curious how fast the really fast pilots were going!
The gates are big, and once I got used to the scale of the track, they weren’t too hard to hit. The problem I had was with puzzling out which gate to aim for next. There were two parts of the track that I miscalculated almost every time.
At one of the two-story gates, you were supposed to go through the top part, S-turn and reverse through the bottom, then do about a 180-degree turn to the right to line up for the next gate. My eye liked to catch one of the inflatable flags, and I would accidentally aim for that flag instead of the gate.
I had a similar problem at one of the other double-decker gates. By the time I realized my mistake, I’d be way out of line for hitting the next gate. That isn’t so bad, because I could still manage to make it through the right gate. The problem is that the weird line I was on would leave me going in mostly the wrong angle when coming out of that next gate.
I did better and worse than I expected
That first night when I went out to spectate, I formulated some opinions. It looked like those big gates would be easy to fly through, and I anticipated that I would be able to compete with 1/3 to ½ of the pilots that I saw flying that night.
The gates were easy to hit, though I did bump into more than my fair share. The race I competed in was the final race of the Mission Food series, and I get the feeling that things were a little more competitive than the race I spectated. I think the course was a little meaner, too.
I had several laps around 45 or 46 seconds, and my best lap was just over 42 seconds. I had some laps at just over 60 seconds even when I crashed and had to flip back over. The lap timer failed to call out my times pretty often, too.
I even did better than I thought!
I was going to tell you that I failed to string together three of those 45-second laps into a single race, but I’ve learned that that isn’t even true!
On my final race, the robot that announces lap times read out 1:36 for my first lap. I remember thinking that this sounded awfully high, but I just pushed ahead. I crashed on my last lap, and I bent a prop badly enough that I couldn’t take off.
As it so happens, that lap reading was incorrect. According to my GoPro footage, I did complete three laps at 0:48, 0:45, and 0:42. I crashed on my fourth lap. That’s the lap I wasn’t supposed to be taking!
I’m much more proud of this run than I thought I was!
Just because I was finished doesn’t mean everyone else was done!
I got knocked out rather quickly. I believe I got to squeeze in three practice runs that should have been about three laps each. When I moved on to the heat I was actually competing in, I didn’t really fly any differently. As far as I was concerned, I was still practicing!
There was plenty of racing to watch after I got knocked out of the competition, and it seemed like every race was over faster than the one before.
Would I do it again?
Sure! I don’t think I’d want to race every week, but it’d definitely be fun to do on occasion. Drone racing is something I should get better at. I’m certain that if I were a better racer, then I would also be a better freestyle pilot.
I’d definitely be willing to go out to spectate more often. There are a lot interesting and friendly people at the local drone races. It is fun to see what sort of quads they’re flying, what sort of hardware they choose, and just generally see what they’re all up to!
If you’re flying FPV, you should find your local MultiGP chapter and stop by to see what they’re up to! I had a lot of fun, they’re a great community, and there’s a lot to learn from them, especially if you’re new to the hobby!
Are you already participating in drone races? How do you think I did on my first time out? Are you an FPV pilot somewhere in the vicinity of Dallas, TX? Let me know in the comments, or stop by the Butter, What?! Discord server to chat with me about it. Rarely a week goes by that we don’t organize a small flying meet-up in Discord. Maybe you’d want to join us?!