Zionsville Man Earns Spot on The Drone Racing League
Local man featured on ESPN series
Writer // Rebecca Wood Photography // Julie Curry Photography
Drone racing is the newest hit in the racing world. In competitions, pilots maneuver two-pound drones at speeds upward of 85 mph through obstacle courses and other interesting venues. The winner walks away with a generous prize. Networks have taken notice of its popularity; race broadcasts rake in millions of viewers.
ESPN telecasts The Drone Racing League, a series that shows 16 drone pilots competing at locations all over the world and vying for a generous cash prize. The pilots hail from many places around the globe, but this season, a Zionsville man was part of the cast.
Jake Schneider’s arrival on the show was unexpected. He wasn’t one of the 15 pilots originally cast by the show; he earned a spot on the program by winning a competition. The fact that he won was remarkable as he had only discovered the sport two years earlier.
Two years ago, Schneider stumbled upon YouTube videos of drone racers. He was captivated by the images and quickly downloaded a simulator on his computer that uses the same controllers as real drones. After logging 40-plus hours playing the game, he purchased an FPV (first-person view) drone and headed out to an open field in Zionsville to embark on his first flight.
“It was a little scary because drones are not cheap, but it went well,” Schneider asserts.
Building on his initial success, Schneider began to set up makeshift obstacle courses, and he connected online with other local drone racers. He met up with his newfound friends and kept up with these experienced drone racers. The idea of racing drones began to surface in his mind.
Caleb Schneider knew his brother had a future in drone racing. “Drone racing is not just about being fast, but it is also an ability to focus and stay calm and collected when everything comes down to that one choice moment. These factors are what make Jake stand out. They give him the competitive edge he needs to thrive in competitive drone racing,” says Caleb.
The next few months, Schneider entered local drone racing competitions, but his eye was on a much bigger prize: winning a spot on The Drone Racing League.
The Drone Racing League has run for two seasons with almost 30 million viewers and major sponsors like Bud Light. In the show, 16 pilots compete for a six-figure prize. Fifteen of the pilots are handpicked for the show. The winner of the Bud Light tryout competition fills the remaining slot.
Schneider hoped to land a spot on the show by winning the competition. For the months leading up to the tournament, he trained for hours a day. He stopped working to focus on practice for two weeks prior to the event.
For the competition, anyone can download the DRL simulator onto their computer and enter the tournament. According to the DRL, 100,000 people downloaded it in the first three months. The top 24 finishers advanced to the Bud Light 2017 tryouts in New York City.
Schneider, who goes by the nickname Jawz, earned a spot among the top finishers and a trip to NYC.
“I knew that racing nerves can destroy you,” Schneider admits. “I had to practice slowing down for the competition.”
Among the 24 pilots, Schneider won the competition, walking away with a $75,000 professional DRL contract and a spot on the show. “It was unbelievable,” Schneider gushes. “It was the most exciting moment of my life. I got to be a TV celebrity. Within 10 months, I had achieved my final goal of being a drone pilot.”
Schneider returned to Zionsville, and the show sent him a drone. He continued to practice until filming the first episode in Atlanta. He admits to facing nerves during the first taping.
“I had never had cameras on me,” Schneider confesses. “I was nervous because the only thing that most of these pilots and the world knew about me was that I had won a simulator contest. They didn’t really know if I could actually fly a real drone. I had to prove to everyone that I could actually compete with the real thing.”
Schneider walked away with a fourth place finish and a renewed sense of confidence.
The show continued to film in New Orleans and Boston. The top 12 pilots from the first four episodes earned a spot in the playoffs in Munich, Germany. Schneider secured a position in the playoffs, held in June.
In Munich, he continued to perform well. “I was feeling less nervous, but it was getting very real. I wanted to win it all,” Schneider says of his time in Germany.
Again, Schneider shined in competition and earned a spot among the top eight pilots and a trip to the World Championship in London.
Schneider recalls not having a good day in London due to several mid-air collisions. “It’s one of the biggest challenges of the sport,” Schneider says. “Most of the time, neither pilot can see it is going to happen. You are sitting beside each other, and you can’t look around like you can with a car.”
Schneider was disappointed by the results but felt proud of how far he advanced in a short amount of time.
Since the show, he continues to compete in local and national races. His next big race is the Drone Racing MultiGP Nationals in Reno this month.
Caleb thinks the future is bright for his brother. “Jake will continue to become a better pilot every battery pack he runs. I think there is a spot for him in the highest level of drone racers in the world, and I think he is excited for what his future brings. “