When Paul Nurkkala received a drone from his in-laws for Christmas, he immediately started challenging himself. He flew his drones through and around obstacles for as long as he could.
“In that process, I broke it,” he says with a laugh. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m an engineer. I should be able to put this back together.”
He went online and, through YouTube University, he learned about fixing drones and came across drone racing.
Now “NURK,” as he’s known, is the 2018 DRL Allianz World Champion pilot. He’ll be part of the Drone Racing League’s first official live U.S.-based DRL race—2019 DRL Allianz World Championship Season Level 5: Chase Field—to the ballpark at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 8.
“It’s a new brand-new event for us in Phoenix,” says Ryan Holmstedt, Chase Field’s vice president of ticket sales and events.
“This is the first live show they’ve done in a stadium environment. The best way we’ve heard it described is ‘NASCAR in the air.’ The drones are going upward of 90 to 100 miles per hour. There are going to be collisions and crashes, which is what makes it so unique.”
The drones will race at various elevations, Holmstedt says. The seating area will be contained behind home plate on the first level.
“All spectators will be protected with netting all around them,” Holmstedt says. “The race is going to be vertical and all over the ballpark. The drones will race right over the tops of their heads.”
Holmstedt and Nurkkala stress that it’s important to see it live.
“The appreciation of seeing it live is pretty exciting,” Holmstedt says. “You get a whole new sense of how fast those things are really going, and the skill set of the drivers to maneuver the different turns just around the ballpark in general going 90 miles per hour is pretty impressive.”
DRL is the global, professional drone racing circuit for elite FPV (first-person view) pilots. Recognized internationally as the sport of the future, DRL combines world-class media and proprietary technology to create thrilling 3D drone racing content with mass appeal.
DRL pilots will race using a transmitter and pair of FPV goggles, which showcase a live video feed from a camera mounted on the drone, as the crowd experiences the immersive sensation of FPV flight through the same projected drone’s-eye footage on the jumbotrons.
“Our drones are the highest-quality-possible speed drones you’re going to see live,” says Nurkkala, who threw out the first pitch at Chase Field earlier this summer.
“They go 0 to 90 in less than a second. We have fan zones, where fans can meet pilots and try a simulator. You’ll want to come for every bit of it. We’re looking forward to this more than any other race. It’s a party but it’s a serious competition as well.”
The drivers will compete in different heats, four drones at a time, until it narrows down to one final race.
“The unique thing about the drivers is they come from all over the world,” Nurkkala says. “They have a variety of backgrounds.”
Holmstedt is excited to bring the event to Chase Field.
“I don’t think Phoenix has seen an event quite like this before,” he says. “In some ways, it’s a look into the future, not just for us as a building, but for sports and entertainment in general.”
2019 DRL Allianz World Championship Season Level 5: Phoenix
Chase Field, 401 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix, 1.800.745.3000, 602.514.8400, ticketmaster.com, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 8, $15.