Skip to main content

At National Drone Racing Championship, signs of a growing sport

Thanks to sponsors like GoPro and to live-streaming on ESPN, drone racing is gaining momentum as a sport.

Read about the latest sports tech news, innovations, ideas and products that impact players, fans and the sports industry at

Drone racing as a sport is gaining in popularity all over the world. Last weekend, pilots from all over the country gathered at New York’s Governors Island for the US National Drone Racing Championship. Zachry (A_Nub) Thayer was crowned the winner on Sunday.


The event, sponsored by GoPro, began with 1,400 pilots who attempted to qualify at regional events for the 150 spots in New York. After elimination rounds the finals consisted of four pilots who competed in a three-lap race. The races were based on speed and the route included checkpoints and obstacles. Each pilot wore first-person-view goggles that showed the course of the drone, which is outfitted with a small camera, in real time. To succeed at racing, pilots need to have quick reflexes to navigate the course.

Image placeholder title

SI Recommends

Subscribe to the
SportTechie Newsletter


The pilots at the race varied in age and background, the youngest racer being 12 years old. This race is also a qualifier event for the United States for the World Drone Race Championship in October in Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii.

Most races construct their own drones, so that they can outfit them with new technology when possible. The championship race included an area where technology and drone companies could showcase their new products for drone racing.

What makes this drone race different from the rest is that ESPN was live-streaming it online, which was the first ever drone race to be covered by the network. Having ESPN produce coverage of the race brings drone racing to a larger audience, as most people have never seen or heard of it before. Having GoPro be a sponsor of this event shows that the company is investing in the future of drones and technology, while also bringing in a lager audience of racers or fans who may like GoPro but not know about drone racing. Other big sponsors of the event like Ernst and Young and AIG also help grow the drone racing audience.