A FIRST TIME RACER'S EXPERIENCE
As a developer, I try to push the boundaries of my frames in flying, crashing, and innovation. Having come from a fixed and rotary wing background I have always dreamed of competing with flying aircraft and this naturally lead me into the quadcopter hobby to begin with. I remember my RC-10T days as a truck racer, and how much fun I had with it! As my confidence has improved with FPV flying through stick time and even sim time (not the real thing, but sometimes it's all I have time for), I finally figured it was time for the "The Mad Scientist" to get out there and try racing at an actual event.
I have had a lot of input from racers, developers, and hobbyists which I depend on for improving my frames and innovations, but it's quite a different story to go from developing for racing to actually racing. I do not consider myself a hard core racer, but with time and a lot more practice I'm sure I can hold my own with friendly competition. If I had a lot of time (and extra spending money) I could learn the skills needed to become competitive. But, this is what I wanted to blog about, for those who are considering getting into an actual race event but aren't sure just yet.
Bottom line, to be a competitive racer, you need to spend a LOT of time flying. Getting in 10+ packs A DAY shouldn't be out of the ordinary. I fly at least 8 packs when I go out. But again, my goals are a little different. Get as much stick time as you can possibly get. You'll develop those eye-hand skills that only flight time will give you.
NOT THE NIGHT BEFORE
So, my original goal was to have my quads race ready at least a week before the track date. As it was, I felt confident that my rigs were ready but I wanted to fly them at least once before I went to the track. I wish I had spent more time in this phase than I did. It cost me big time. I had managed to get some flights in the night before and discovered some issues that I thought I had fixed. Unfortunately, those fixes weren't able to be verified until it was too late and I missed my first practice heat. The new iLap transponder I had thought was working, just stopped working all together at the track. No real reason seemed to be apparent, but it's dead. So, that was just one of a few things that went wrong that day. A 4-in-1 ESC crapped out, had severed a signal wire from my Rx to the FC and I discovered it too late, I had a VTX fail, bent a motor bell in a crash, and just seemed to have hardware issues a plenty. SO, all this to say, from now on, I will have everything prepped and tested at least a week before and then do another test about 2-3 days ahead of the race to verify that everything is working. All bugs, vibrations, etc.. all worked out. Don't leave it to the night before. Seems obvious, but you can't imagine how busy life will be in that last week and it can cost you.
GETTING OVER THE JITTERS
As a first time race competitor there were plenty of nervous jitters. And, it showed. My practice run went just fine, but when it came time for my first heat my nerves revealed themselves and I was all over the track. I went the wrong way, overshot my gates, etc.. I can say that the time I spent doing some basic drills did help in having some hand eye coordination for part of the track, but I needed a lot more stick time to make any kind of difference for my performance. Tracks can be very tricky and technical. It's not always about who has the fastest rig, but who can complete the track smoothly and fast. Some of the best runs of the day were by pilots who looked and sounded just butter smooth on their runs. They knew their pacing and visual cues and could hit the gates with minimal corrections. All this translates to faster times and winning. But, I would encourage anyone who wants to get into racing to break the ice and try a race to get a feel for what it is. The typical hobby race at your local clubs are a great way to get started, but nothing feels the same as actual lap times and experience of the real thing. Don't worry about making mistakes or looking bad. You will, and the people around you are usually very friendly and happy to help you get to where you need to be. Once you've broken the ice, it begins to be a lot of fun!
BEING ON THE BALL
It's been many years since I had put myself under pressure by competing. When things go wrong, and time is short, you're still expected to participate in the races and be an active member outside your own pitting area. As my race concluded, I quickly got up from my chair and grabbed my quad. Before I took it back to the bench, I held on to it and returned to the pilot station where I would spot for another pilot in the next heat. In the car days, we'd call it being a corner marshal. We'd flip cars over if they landed on their roof's and keep the race going. In drone racing, it's best to be on the ball and helping wherever it's needed. You'll have time for your own stuff afterwards, but it helps keep things going when everyone pitches in for the better of the group. When gates were destroyed in the races, others would pitch in and quickly replace the flags after the field was cleared of quads, repair / replace the broken flags and then get things moving. 40 pilots in one event is a lot of flying, and we managed to get through it all from about 10am - 4pm. Not bad huh? But it wouldn't have gone nearly as smooth if people weren't helping and making sure their gear was ready to go.
ENJOYING THE DAY
Despite a lot of things going wrong and not having any resemblance of a good performance, I still had fun with the entire day. And why not?! I was outside, flying FPV, among great pilots all having a good time, with good food, good friends, yah.. what's not to like? This is an attitude I hope you can take with you to the field no matter when or where you fly. It's important to have fun, otherwise, why would you want to be in this stressful hobby?! When things go wrong, and they will, let it go folks. Get out there and be part of it. If you can't fly, find out how you can help out. Talk to others and find out how you can learn, troubleshoot, or just help the community overall. You'll still have a great time if you want to.
So, it might be a little while before I do another MultiGP event. However, I do plan on being more active in the local racing scene for a few reasons. First, it's important to building my skills. Next, it's more important to have a good time and be around those who feel the same. It's one thing to enjoy a fun day at the park zipping over trees and having fun with tricks, but for me, spending time around friends and fellow hobbyists makes my FPV world go-round.
Next on my list is stepping up my gear game and replacing some of my out-dated gear to find more consistent stuff. I have a number of quads so this will take a little time, but in the end it will be worth the investment. I'm also continuing on my own studies into features, innovations, and new concepts in technology that will drive the industry forward. It's nearly impossible to know everything, but it's very important to have at least a basic understanding of as much as you can. People like Joshua Bardwell and Painless360 are great resources for information!
When I do make it out to my next race, I will be prepped at least a week in advance with a check list to avoid problems and minimize exposure to field disasters. You can't avoid them all, but a little prep work goes a long way in an enjoyable day at the field.
Well, I'll be going over a list of things to check for your first racing adventure! Stay tuned!