By Maria Medina

OAKLAND (CBS SF) — In an East Bay warehouse a group of maverick pilots are moving the underground drone racing scene to a whole new level.

This group of 60 pilots are vying for a chance to compete at the National Drone Racing Championships in Washington D.C. Each will race at break neck speeds, 60 miles an hour, making multiple laps around a pre-set course, dodging tent-like structures, wooden pallets and other drones.

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“Huge amount of adrenaline, your heart beats really fast, you might sweat a little,” explained Drone Racer Larry Davis. “Going around the track and going around the flags and through the gates is hard. Doing it fast, really hard.”


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For the spectators and the pilots, it’s fast and fun.  And It’s a very new sport. Most of the pilots competing have been racing less than a year. Only five will qualify for the Nationals. The invitation-only competition is intense but friendly. Pilots help each other out with drone repair and racing advice.

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The drones are custom made and are expensive. The price point for a basic racing setup starts at around $1,300. Each is equipped with a small camera which transmits a video signal to specialized goggles worn by each pilot. In essence, the view is just like it would be if the pilot was actually riding on the drone.

Huge nets installed along the track keep the 250-gram drones from flying into the crowd and runners use shields to keep from getting pelted by the flying machines. And even though the drones fly fast, in the end speed counts but so do the rules. Pilots must make every turn and clear every marker on tracks that change from race to race. There is one judge for every pilot, watching every second of the race.

“Each pilot has one judge watching their flight,” said race judge Micheal Quan. “We are actually seeing the same feed that the pilots are seeing and we are making sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.”

The winner of this race was Colby Curtola. His racing strategy was simple.

“I just tried to keep my lines nice and tight, nice and smooth, not swinging out too far or going too fast,” explained Curtola.

But Curtola insists he shares this win with his fellow pilots. Since they are all helping to push this new sport forward.

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“It’s just a really tight community. And you really learn a lot, from building and from tuning and you can fly! You’re like a super hero,” said Curtola.