‘NASCAR of Drones’: PTC hosts race this weekend

Photo by Justin Beaupre

Imagine wearing virtual reality goggles, piloting an unmanned aerial vehicle with a controller through a race track in an open field against competitors all with the same goal: reaching the finish line first. Ten years ago, that thought would sound futuristic, even outlandish. But today, it’s happening in Fayette County’s backyard.

The MultiGP Peachtree Cup that began Friday and continues throughout the weekend at Riley Field is a final racing qualifier for the MultiGP National Drone Racing Championship, which will be held in Reno, Nevada, from Sept. 13-17. The Peachtree Cup encompasses Region 2A, which brings racers from around the Southeast to compete for a chance to make it to the championship.

Half sport, half video game, First-person view (FPV) drone racing hasn’t been around for long—only an estimated three to four years—but it’s quickly collected its fair share of avid racers. With 78,000 registered drone racing enthusiasts and roughly 500 competitive Atlanta-based racers, the sport, still in its infancy, is expected to continue growing as more people find out about it.

Gerrie Van Zyl, organizer of the Peachtree Cup, calls drone racing the “NASCAR of drones,” a way to take the thrill of flying a drone—still a new and exciting concept to many—to the next level. He said he enjoys it, in part, because it allows kids to learn and have fun without being stuck on a couch playing video games or on their phone.

There are two McIntosh High School students who will be participating in the events at Riley Field, including Van Zyl’s son Robbie. While the playing field this weekend consists mostly of adults, Van Zyl said some of the best in the sport are under 20 years old. Similar to how a teenager might dominate a video game tournament, there are plenty of similarities in the hand-eye coordination skills it takes to manipulate a drone through a race course.

But racing a drone is much more complicated than plugging in a game console and turning on a television screen. It “isn’t your traditional video game,” Van Zyl said.

It’s also far from a traditional sport. While helmets and pads are not needed in commanding a drone through a race course, eyewear is required. The pilots wear virtual reality goggles, which gives them the ability to see their drone’s course as they control the drone’s speed and direction with their controller (each drone has a video camera attached to it).

“It’s like a whole set of some of the most interesting and relevant technologies all integrated into a vehicle that you have to race,” Van Zyl said.

The Peachtree Cup is free to attend.

Look for coverage of this weekend’s FPV drone racing in Wednesday’s edition of the Fayette County News and Peachtree City Today.




Justin Fedich is a reporter for the Fayette County News. He has been a reporter for various papers around the Southeast, including the Athens Banner-Herald and the Selma Times-Journal. Justin is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in digital and broadcast journalism and a sports media certificate.

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