Drones to fill the air at Dover International Speedway during June NASCAR races

DOVER — Racing in the future could look a lot more like Star Wars than Days of Thunder.

With that in mind, Dover International Speedway has become the first NASCAR race track to try and find a way to capitalize on it.

While there won’t be a crystal ball placed in the FanZone at Dover, the track just might actually be presenting fans with a sneak peek into the future of racing during its NASCAR tripleheader June 2-4 when it hosts the International Drone Racing Association.

The Monster Mile, which has hosted motorsports and harness racing since its opening in 1969, will be partnering with the IDRA to hold a free event that will serve as the first race of the 2017 IDRA Drone Racing Series.

TJ Redefer, broker/owner of Rehoboth Bay Realty, is excited he’ll get the chance to see the drones in person.

TJ Redefer, broker/owner of Rehoboth Bay Realty, is excited he’ll get the chance to see the drones in person. (Submitted photo)

“I am licensed by the FAA to use my drones commercially and I am thrilled to hear that drone racing is coming into its own,” Mr. Redefer said. “The June 2-4 dates are now marked on my calendar for sure. Sports of all kinds finding their way from a hobby to a game and on to something more is always remarkable.

“Often it is because of the spectacular nature of the sport itself, and drone racing is no different. Inspiring young minds and hands to reach new levels is also why I think drone racing deserves a chance to make it in the world of sports.”

“Dover International Speedway is an incredible opportunity for IDRA,” said Justin Haggerty, the founder and CEO of IDRA, a competitive drone racing organization. “Showcasing the sport, during a major NASCAR weekend, to over tens of thousands of motorsports fans is the best opportunity that IDRA could ask for.

“To IDRA, the drone racing community is the sport’s most valuable asset and it is set to grow after the Dover race.”

A 150-foot-by-150-foot course, which will be fully enclosed with a 16-foot ceiling net, will be constructed in Dover’s FanZone, which is located behind the fourth-turn grandstands on the southeast side of the race track.

The IDRA Drone Racing Series weekend schedule at Dover will look a lot like the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ schedules of the past.

Drone racing pilots wear goggles that allow them to see the competition from FPV, which stands for First Person View. The goggles display a real-time video feed from an onboard camera. (Submitted photo/IDRA Drone Racing)

Practice will take place from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Friday, June, 2; qualifying to determine heats for elimination day will be held from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 3; with championship eliminations being held from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Sunday, June 4.

While the NASCAR teams will be circling the high-banked, one-mile oval at around 150 mph all weekend, the drones will be zooming around their tight course from between 60 to 80 mph.

“The drones are about the size of a laptop,” Mr. Haggerty said. “We run an open class and our regulations just state that the drones have to be battery powered, rotary propelled and piloted by a pilot. We keep it open just to push and allow for innovation and allow teams and sponsors to push technology.”

Mike Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, believes drone racing will be a win-win scenario for traditional NASCAR race fans.

“We’re excited to host an IDRA event in Dover,” he said. “The Monster Mile provides race fans in the mid-Atlantic with a chance to experience NASCAR in person, and we’re looking forward to introducing those same passionate fans to a different kind of racing during our June 2-4 event.”

The 2017 IDRA Drone Racing Series is a professional series of six international events. The season will begin with the race in Dover and concludes with the IDRA Finals in Amsterdam.

This is what the drones that race in the International Drone Racing Association events look like. They are about as big as a laptop and race at speeds up to 80 mph. (Submitted photo/IDRA Drone Racing)

Contestants compete for the IDRA Drone Racing World Championship on the basis of total points earned at IDRA international events, which will also take place in Portugal, South Korea, Russia and China in 2017.

Last year’s IDRA champion was a 15-year-old from the United Kingdom who pocketed a $1 million prize following the World Drone Prix in Dubai.

The drone race at Dover will feature 16 professional teams from around the world, including four pilots on each team, who will be competing to earn points toward this year’s world championship.

Like NASCAR, each team will have a pit crew to maintain its drone.

Mr. Haggerty said the drone course at Dover will be a rather short, but technical one — think Martinsville Speedway or Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR fans.

“We’ve kind of concentrated the track to 150-by-150 feet so it’s going to be a tight, more technical, track than usual,” Mr. Haggerty said. “The drones have great high weight to thrust ratio … they’re just so agile.

“That helps to make a tight course like (Dover) very doable and exciting. The pilots will be flying through some gates and around pillars and other obstacles. It’s going to be almost like an obstacle course.”

UAS/Drone racing is a worldwide sport that utilizes unmanned aircraft systems and virtual reality technology to allow a new breed of innovators to compete on the international stage.

There are roughly 100 drone competitions in the U.S. annually and 200 worldwide competitions.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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