Drone racing gaining popularity as worldwide sport

HOUSTON – It sounds like a racetrack and looks like one too, but these aren’t cars crossing the finish line.

Drone racing is an emerging sport with big competitions happening in stadiums around the world. The prize money is growing and so is the popularity.

In drone racing, the fastest pilot may not necessarily win. Drones have to be agile and have to negotiate turns.

"I've seen guys win flying the slowest (drone)," one fan said.

Neil Rivera is a member of a drone racing club. There are several in Houston. He's been hooked ever since his first flight.

Pilots sync their quads up with trackers and take off.

The race itself is more like an obstacle course, with gates to fly through and flags to fly around. Pilots do as many laps as they can in the designated time.

The pilots themselves sit just outside the safety netting. All they need for quad racing are quick thumbs and a video feed to their goggles.

"With this, it totally isolates you," Rivera said. "It makes you feel like you're on board the machine. It's like an out-of-body experience. You're out there flying 80 mph, two inches off the ground, going through courses or around trees and it's, it's just amazing."

The technology is brand new.

"Like two, three years ago, we didn't have this technology," Rivera said. "People were making their own stuff with a small tablet, enclosed with cardboard, whatever. That's how everything started."

Now it's a worldwide sport.

"We just had the world grand prix in Dubai and the guy who won is a 15-year-old and he won a quarter-million dollars," Rivera said.

How much does it cost to get in on the fun?

"You can get a quad, ready to fly with goggles and everything, radio -- it's about $1,000," Rivera said.

Once pilots pick up their own quad, they can find a club and get up to speed.

"We actually help you guys or anyone learn how to fly, how to tune, how to build," club president Sarai Almaguer said. "We teach the safety for it."

All pilots have to be registered with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, and must have insurance in the event of an accident. All drones also have to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.