Drone racing is the newest, fastest sport you’ve never heard of

Drone pilot Jason Eaton on the most adrenalin-jacked sector of the UAV phenomenon

Drone racing is the newest, fastest sport you've never heard of
Photograph courtesy Jason Eaton

How’d you start flying drones? In 2011, I worked for a financial investment company, and the CEO asked me to find a drone that could take bird’s-eye images of our real estate developments. I did about two months of research, checked forums to find the right parts and got a company to write up a quote—$25,000. My boss got cold feet, but after all that research, I was hooked. I found a private investor, purchased the unit myself and quit my job six months later.

To do what? Well, I’ve flown all over the world to film television commercials and extreme sports like surfing, motocross, skiing and snowboarding. Now, it’s mostly industrial work. I’ll conduct building inspections and instruct new pilots.

Drones racing through an obstacle.
Drones racing through an obstacle. Photograph by Yuri Tereshyn/Ontaerial

Where does drone racing fit in? I got into racing in December 2014 through a guy I’d flown a couple of commercial jobs with. I organized the first sanctioned indoor race in Canada, in an equestrian barn in Clinton, Ontario. There were probably 20 racers in the GTA then. Now we’re about 400.

How do the races work? The pilots are usually sitting down, holding controllers and wearing goggles that display a first-person-view feed from a camera in the drone. They follow pylons and dodge obstacles. The Canadian nationals were in a historic village, so we used a bunch of old farming equipment and machinery as obstacles. There were about 6,000 people there. My racer name is Hammer Down, and you’ve got guys out there like Mr. Steele and MattyStuntz.

How much have you spent on drones since this all began? More than $100,000. But for racing, you can get a drone for $1,000 all in: radio, goggles, batteries, charger, the unit itself. And you can beat the crap out of it. Crash all you want, and odds are the most you’re going to do is break two dollars’ worth of propellers.

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