Drones Race Into Grand Rapids for Championship

Meet "Whitenoise" from Park Ridge, IL. He's looking forward to arena racing!

Aunique event that brings drone operators and spectators together is coming to Grand Rapids next weekend.

The Great Lakes Drone Racing Championships are being held at Van Andel Arena Sept. 22 – 24. The event was created through a partnership between Van Andel Arena and Great Lakes Drone Company.

Reyna Price, of the Great Lakes Drone Company, said most of the time drone race events are held outdoors with limited opportunities for spectators. The Great Lakes Cup bridges that gap by allowing space for competitors and spectators.

“The question was how could we get drone racers and spectators together,” Price said. “Now, with this partnership, we have an opportunity to bring the two together at a large scale venue.

“Ready Made RC, one of the largest vendors in the drone racing world, came on board as our title sponsor for this event because this is something that has never really been done yet at this level. It’s very new and exciting for all of us.”

Price said thanks to higher visibility from things like the Drone Racing League series on ESPN, interest in drone racing is growing. She said drone race events are seeing increased spectators and racers. She noted in Michigan alone there are hundreds of drone racers.

“There are actually several events held locally, regionally, nationally and worldwide through several different organizations,” she said. “MultiGP is probably one of the largest and has local chapters here in Grand Rapids.”

Price said another thing that makes drone racing appealing is that anyone can do it.

“Unlike many sports, there are hardly any limitations to compete. This sport does not discriminate, everyone is likely to start at the same ability,” she said, noting that doesn’t mean a lot of skill isn’t involved.

“Competitors not only have to have great hand/eye coordination, they have to understand they will be utilizing their knowledge or learning more about mechanics, electrical, communications, flight dynamics, computer programming, and audio/visual integration.

“This is why so many schools and STEM programs are encouraging involvement in this high tech, high speed sport. What better way to build your tech knowledge and have some fun in the process?”

There are three race series’ included in the Great Lakes Cup. “We will have an amateur and pro competition on Friday and Saturday and an open competition on Sunday,” Price said. “The finals for the amateur and pro series will be battled out after the competition on Sunday for the overall Grand Finale winners.

“Everything is based on heat times, the quicker you make it through the course gates, the better your times, the higher are your chances of winning.

“The course itself is LED lit and custom made for this venue, so all drones will have LED’s on them as well. We look forward to providing the audience an amazing visual experience with racers hitting nearly 80 mph in the arena.”

To participate in the Great Lakes Cup, competitors had to pre-register and will run through qualifying rounds to gain poll positions to make it into the final races.

“Another part to add to the pot for our racers is that it is also a qualifier for the MegaDrone X Race in the caves of Kentucky,” Price said.

Along with the races, there will be live performances, freestyle drone demonstrations and other entertainment for spectators and racers.

“Saturday night will feature a celebrity drone race so we can see how some local celebrities do behind the controls,” Price said.

The Great Lakes Cup was originally scheduled for July, but had to be postponed and Price said the postponement worked in the events favor, because it allowed the championships to tie in with ArtPrize, which is also taking place this weekend.

“The ability to tie our race into opening weekend of ArtPrize has been very fortunate for all of us and the community,” Price said. “We have been working with ArtPrize to integrate into their events and bring some art into our event. We are still finalizing all the details, which we will announce shortly.”

According to the Great Lakes Cup website, one tie in includes drone light shows that will be held on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights at dusk, “lighting up the downtown Grand Rapids skyline.”

Price said admission to the competition has been tailored with ArtPrize in mind.

“Upon entry, you exchange your ticket for an arm bracelet. This will allow you to come in and out throughout the day,” she said. “We want people to be able to come and go at their leisure and enjoy the city of Grand Rapids, ArtPrize and our event.”

Great Lakes Cup runs all weekend from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.

*Photo by Paul Park

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