Joe Scully is the Race Director at FPV Racing Events, a race events company which is based in Toronto. Scully and his team are hired by leagues and organizers to come in and plan, set up, and run races.
We spoke to Joe about how they established themselves in the FPV racing scene, the Dubai World Prix, what’s important in putting on race events and how he wants to see more LEDs and an increase in size to make the sport more spectator friendly.
Hi Joe, and thanks for talking with us. For starters could we delve into your personal background and how you got into the FPV scene with FPV Racing Events?
Joe Scully: My first job was to be a rodeo clown which I carried on with through my college years. Put simply I love entertainment which led me into radio broadcasting and announcing rodeos which I still do to this day. This role led to monster trucks and RC racing which saw me become a Race Director. At an event in Canada a video of a race I commentated on went viral, David French who’s the brother of Fat Shark’s Greg French clocked this and this was my entrance into the world of drone racing. I haven’t looked back since!
This was back in December 2014 where FPV Racing was very much in its infancy. The videos were popular but the race infrastructure was barely there, this led us to putting together a test event in February 2015 which just so happened to be in the worst snow storm of the year meaning only 15 pilots showed up! Despite this it was a great event. Motherboard came along to film and we hit over 100,000 views. This provided the springboard for the next event; the Canadian Drone Nationals in August. Anthony Cake from Immersion RC was here, and was involved in the Worlds [World Drone Racing Championships] at the time with RotorSports alongside Scot Refsland, which led to my own involvement in the Worlds.
The floodgates had opened so to speak and every event led to the next. We’ve now done a number of events across North America, and later this year I’ll be heading to France for one of the European cup events. I’m on track to do around 30 races in 2016.
Thoughts on the upcoming Dubai World Drone Prix?
Joe: The event has been rather disorganized to put it lightly. Aerial Grand Prix reached out to us back in December in regard to holding qualifiers for the Dubai Drone Prix but the details were never sent through. Next thing we knew they’d decided on video qualifiers to select the pilots, as their goal was that anybody in the world could qualify and they wanted the fastest pilots.
On February 1 they released the video qualifier information and informed us that we were doing a meet, greet and fly but this was then pulled within a day with them stating that they wanted it to be standalone and not affiliated with another race. In late February pre-qualification letters were sent out confirming that pilots could come, but they wouldn’t be reimbursed until later and moreover, that this was not definite. This led to more uproar and the response was a new set of letters sent to 32 teams which confirmed that their airfare would be paid for in advance.
This wasn’t the end of the issues though. The expectations in terms of technology and gear that the pilots wouldn’t ordinarily run has been another major bone of contention.
It’s all been left very last minute, and everything keeps changing. Too many variables are being added and all it does is cause problems. We hope it works out well but it’s concerning.
What are the most important aspects of putting on a successful FPV Racing event?
Joe: There’s two components, the first of which is making sure you have great video. We have the best ground stations in the industry right now. We use a pair of duo diversity receivers which we run through an Oracle box which gives the best video for the pilot. We’re compatible with any headset, and we race an above industry average eight at a time with an eight frame display which we show everywhere. This boosts efficiency, which is integral to hosting a successful event.
The second component is management of the heats themselves. In this regard we use RC Scoring Pro which does the frequency assignments, we go with raceband and we print off our heats before every round which ensures everybody knows which channel they’re supposed to be tuned in to well in advance. This ensures less downtime between heats. Basically I’d say strong software, and good management and understand of said software is vital in FPV Racing events.
How are you going about making the sport more spectator friendly? What are the challenges in this regard and how can it be enhanced?
Joe: The biggest issue is the size. There’s a trend in the industry to try and go smaller with the drones, the smallest wingspan not so long ago was 180mm, now it’s 130mm. The pilots prefer this as they’re more responsive and faster but, unfortunately, this makes it an issue for spectators following along. Moving forward bigger will be better. In Australia they’re looking at a freedom class which’ll see considerably bigger drones. It’s going to be like go-karts in the air which may be a little too far but they have the right idea!
Getting up into the high 300 and 400 wheelbase, and coating them in LEDs, is the answer to spectator issues. LEDs are a huge component in making it a better viewing experience and being able to identify the leaders and the losers. One thing I’d love to see is for interchangeable colors for 1st, 2nd and 3rd placed in the races, and for this to be made an industry standard.
As such knowing that red equals the leader and second is yellow for example, could add a lot to FPV Racing. A good commentator is also very important, to have someone commentating accurately, passionately and well on the intricacies of the race as it happens throughout the race. This isn’t an easy skill.
Course design is another point to consider. As a race organizer we build gates as big as possible. We use them to keep pilots low and honest, rather than as eliminators. Bigger gates will lead to more blade to blade battles, with drones entering at the same time. Whilst using the diamonds and smaller gates, that are gaining popularity, detracts from this. We want to see racing, not survival of the fittest.
Any advice for those starting out as pilots and those looking to host their own events?
Joe: The key to starting out as a pilot is research. There are some excellent videos available online. Shaun ‘Nytfury’ Taylor, who is the fastest pilot on the planet right now, released a review of a sky pack and in it he shows everything that he takes to a race.
In the near future we’ll be releasing some content ourselves with a view to ensuring pilots come to events fully prepared, so watch this space. Turning up with the right gear tested goes a long way. One piece of advice would be don’t be shy. Compared to any other racing that I’ve seen, everybody in FPV is incredibly welcoming. My advice would be to use this. Go to events and talk to experienced pilots. They’ll mostly be more than happy for you to pick their brains.
From a race organizer’s standpoint, there are so many variables which opens up a huge amount of room for error. I’ve never seen an FPV event start and finish on time. But the important thing is we’re learning and improving all the time as a community. We’ve learnt something from every event we’ve been involved in.
The key thing is the schedule. Sticking to it as religiously as possible is vital and preparation is everything. Test, test then test again. If one thing goes wrong it’s like dominoes but it’s also incredibly important not to panic. In a sport which is as new as ours, and as technological as ours, things are going to go wrong but damage limitation is key. Be organized, cross your t’s and dot your i’s and with the right team behind you it will all come together.