Jump in! The water is cold!!
Event: Multi GP Regional Finals
Date: August 2016
Location: St. John’s AMA Club Flying Site – Bakersfield, CA
Team Hitec Attendees: Billy Tompkins
By: Billy Tompkins
“Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet!” This saying has so much meaning and is often times how I approach many things in life. This would hold especially true in my new venture into RC Drone Racing. I am not a new comer to the world of RC and RC racing but when I first started looking into FPV Drones, it was like I had to learn a whole new language. After a week of research, I couldn’t help but think that only guys wearing pocket protectors were involved in this side of the hobby. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Fast forward five months – I can’t get enough of this adrenaline filled, pocket protector wearing, Jedi mind trick hobby known as FPV Drone Racing.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you know that FPV Drone Racing has quickly become one of the largest spectacles in RC. For those of you that need to get caught up on FPV racing 101, here are the basics: https://fpvracing.tv/guides/beginners
In the five months of doing this “sport”, I’ve learned how to build, tune, and fly FPV racing drones to the point of being able to get around a course with a bit of confidence. At this point, I have a few local races under my belt and quite a few “underground” races with some buds that I fly with. As challenging as the local scene is here in Southern California, I felt as though I was not progressing fast enough. At this point you must be wondering, “Where is he going with all of this?”… I’ll get to that shortly.
A friend of mine once told me, “If you want to be one of the fast guys you have to race with the fast guys.” With those words echoing in the back of my head, I decided to sign up for my first big FPV Drone Racing event hosted by the Bakersfield Multirotor Club called the Multi GP Regional Finals held in Bakersfield, California. Event qualifying consisted of finishing in the top 5 in the Multi GP regional chapter qualifiers. I, however, was absent on the day of our regional qualifier and was not able to qualify. Had I made the attempt, I probably wouldn’t have qualified due to my lack of speed. With that said, I saw some banter on the inter webs about the upcoming regional finals and thought I would comment on how I was going to show up and try to race, jokingly of course. The next day, I received a private message from the race Coordinator, Mathew Stevensen, asking if I wanted to enter the race on the waiting list. Being the “both feet in” kind of guy, I absolutely said, “yes”. Long story longer, a week later I received an email from Matthew telling me I was in and was stoked to be attending a Multi GP Regional Final.
In preparation of the event, I tried to burn as many battery packs as possible. The cool thing about Multi GP is they give you an exact map of the course layout all the way down to the measurements. They even have a CGI showing you what flying the course is going to look like. You can see the course here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YggR0zEIrp4 You would think that if I really wanted to be prepared for this event, I would set up a practice track and really try to hone in my skills. You guessed it…FAIL! However, even though I didn’t prepare for this event, I still felt confident in my abilities to perform.
I arrived in beautiful Bakersfield the night before, got a good night sleep and showed up to the field bright and early the following morning. The race day schedule consisted of going to two scheduled rounds of practice, followed by five race heats. Scoring was done by IR transponders which would keep track of how many laps each pilot accomplished in the heat and how long it took the pilot to finish each heat. The pilot with the highest total amount of laps at the end of five heats would be the winner. The tiebreaker would fall to the times.
Five minutes before the first round of practice and the butterflies in my stomach began to flutter. My group’s turn to hit the track for practice had arrived. We were all plugged in and positioned at the starting grid ready for take off. The countdown begins, and as soon as the tone sounds, it’s time to take off. Now mind you, this is supposed to be practice. It’s a chance to get a feel for the course; no scoring is taking place at this point in the day. The tone sounds, I take off from the launch pad and race towards the first gate…. WHAMO!! My first attempt comes to a screeching halt as I crash before making it through the first gate. Now for those that don’t know, once you crash on course, you cannot retrieve your drone until the entire heat is over which means practice session round 1 was a wrap. I told myself going into practice round 2, “Don’t crash before gate one, don’t crash before GATE NUMBER ONE!” So once again, I find myself on the starting grid, butterflies, sweaty hands and fingers that feel hesitant to work. Once again, the tone sounds, I take off from the launch pad, race towards gate one, and to my surprise I make it through. As I’m heading towards the first turn, I encounter another drone in midair and both of us crash out. There goes practice session number 2.
Now that practice is over without a single lap complete, my mind is all over the place thinking of how to move forward with the heat races. How do I approach the race? Do I let it all hang out in hopes that I figure out the track? Do I play it conservative and just try to fly slower than normal? At that moment, the not so “both feet in” guy in me shows up and decides to try to take it easy and learn the track slowly and progressively. Well, this is how that approach went for me. Round 1 of the five heat races, I was able to finish one lap before crashing. In round 2, I was able to finish two laps before crashing. Round 3 allowed me to finish, you guessed it, three laps before crashing. Frustrated and at a loss for a game plan, the “both feet in” guy shows up and decides to let it all hang out. I have nothing to lose. Round 4 begins and not only did I finish the heat race, I actually bettered my lap count by 2. I ran five laps crash free and was able to duplicate it again in round 5.
At the end of the day, I realized that I probably didn’t belong at the Regional Finals competing with guys that had earned the right to be there. But at the same time, I would not have had the chance to learn as much as I did, in the short amount of time that I did had I not. Will I do it again…ABSOLUTELY! You have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations if you want to learn how to deal with them. “Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet!”