2017-08-11 / Front Page

Drone Racing Creates a Buzz

Quadcopters soar as county club hosts qualifying race for national competition
By Jessica Waite

IN THE COCKPIT —Andy Marachilian, 14, of Glendale took first place in a regional final for drone racing in Oxnard on Aug. 6. The event was hosted by Ventura County FPV Racers, a local club for drone racers, and qualified the two top finishers to compete in the Multi GP Drone Racing national finals next month in Reno. The other qualifier was 12-year-old Ashton Gamble of the San Fernando Valley. Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers IN THE COCKPIT —Andy Marachilian, 14, of Glendale took first place in a regional final for drone racing in Oxnard on Aug. 6. The event was hosted by Ventura County FPV Racers, a local club for drone racers, and qualified the two top finishers to compete in the Multi GP Drone Racing national finals next month in Reno. The other qualifier was 12-year-old Ashton Gamble of the San Fernando Valley. Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers The cluster of five racing drones ripped through the air, buzzing like a swarm of locusts.

Weaving through an obstacle course of flags and gates set up across a dirt clearing near Rio Mesa High School, the quadcopters sped through five laps in a race that seemed to go by in the blink of an eye.

Now and then one of the racers would hit the dust or bounce off another drone, then quickly regain altitude and zip back into the air. The 41 pilots had no time to waste—they were each competing for one of two spots in the MultiGP Drone Racing national finals.


FOCUSED ON OBSTACLES—Above, Ricky Martinez of Camarillo participates in the drone race last weekend. Below is a section of the course. FOCUSED ON OBSTACLES—Above, Ricky Martinez of Camarillo participates in the drone race last weekend. Below is a section of the course. The regional final for MultiGP region 6B, which covers Southern California and parts of Nevada, was held Aug. 6 at Open Grove Raceway, a drone racetrack nestled in between orchards off Santa Clara Avenue in Oxnard.

Five at a time, pilots lined up their drones on the track before stepping away, sitting down and sliding on a pair of goggles, which gave each pilot the view seen from a miniature camera lens affixed to the front of their drone.

“You put on goggles and you see what the drone sees. It’s like being in the cockpit,” said Ricky Martinez, a Camarillo resident who competed in the race.

Sitting just behind a chainlink fence, pilots sat in camping chairs, staring intently into their goggles as they sped their drones around the track. They had two minutes to complete as many laps as possible. The more laps racers completed, the more points they received.

“Five laps is good, six laps is the best,” said Joe Friedrich, owner of Open Grove Raceway.

He opened the track in September. He and his nephew had been flying quadcopters around the family ranch with no real place to practice when a piece of land on the property became available. Friedrich snatched up the chance to lease the land from his brother to expand his hobby and welcome other drone racers.

“Everybody’s welcome to come out. We welcome new pilots,” said Friedrich, who charges $10 a day for use of the racecourse.

Friedrich and Martinez are both part of Ventura County FPV Racers, a local club for drone racers. FPV stands for “first-person viewing” and refers to the drone’s-eye view the pilots have through their goggles. Club members, who range in age from 12 to mid-40, build their own drones.

QUICK AS A BEE—A quadcopter racing drone hovers above the ground. 
 BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn NewspapersQUICK AS A BEE—A quadcopter racing drone hovers above the ground. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers“You don’t have to be a genius to get into it,” Martinez said. “Just because it’s technology doesn’t mean you should shy away if you’re not familiar with it. Anyone can do it.”

Open Grove Raceway is open seven days a week. When pilots can’t get out to the field, some practice at home on computer simulation programs. Practice makes perfect, but it’s racing that provides the real rush, they say.

“I like the adrenaline. I mean, it’s fun watching (races), but when you put the goggles on and you’re in that quad, it’s a whole different experience,” Friedrich said.

Like any other extreme sport, racers are in it for the adrenaline rush, Martinez said.

“The biggest challenge is your nerves. The flying is easy,” he said.

The top two racers of the day, Andy “DolmaFPV” Marachilian, 14, and Ashton “Drobot Racer” Gamble, 12, will head to Reno for the championship race in September.

For now, Friedrich wants to see the sport expand in Ventura County and across the nation. It’s difficult, he said, due to regulations that local governments place on drones.

But the sport is certainly growing in popularity.

This year marks the second season of the Drone Racing League on ESPN, which features the top drone racers in a racing circuit that culminated in a world championship in London on July 28. The DRL attracts major sponsors, including Bud Light, the U.S. Air Force, Disney XD and Swatch.

“(Drone racing) is growing,” Friedrich said. “How fast it grows, I don’t know. All we can do here at Open Grove is try to make things a little easier on the pilots.”

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