“I’m a gamer, and I’ve been playing video games all my life,” D’Agostino says. “I’ve always liked racing games and everything like that. To me, it’s just a video game with real-life physics. Since I have the goggles on, it’s pretty much like being in virtual reality, but it’s the world around you.”
D’Agostino and his business partner, Steve Zorn, founded the Denver Drone Company, which hosts drone events for private parties, including races and other types of games. But the two also noticed a lack of organized drone racing events around Denver, so they started hosting Denver Drone Night last year. The races are held weekly at the Venue in northwest Denver, as well as McCarthy Sports Bar and Grille in Aurora. They have plans to open a third event at a Denver GameStop location on February 18, and are working with a company on an app that will allow spectators to bet on race winners.
D'Agostino says the events, which started in September, have been drawing around a dozen pilots a week. Pilots usually bring their own racing drones, but organizers generally have an entry-level drone for people who want to give it a whirl.
“It’s more stable,” he says. “It basically hovers until you tell it to move. We have those available for patrons who want to try flying a drone. The racing ones, you want to bring your own. The ones we have available don’t compete. At all our events, we also bring a simulator setup as well. It’s a computer simulation of what it’s like to fly a drone.”
The organizers set up tracks inside the bars that have a series of obstacles, like illuminated gates, that pilots must take their drones through, D'Agostino explains. Organizers change the courses every week to keep things interesting, and they use the radio signal the drones emit to track who is winning.
For anyone concerned about propeller-driven aircraft races inside a bar, D’Agostino says that the races are safe because the drones are small, weigh less than an ounce and aren’t very powerful. Many of the hobbyists also try to shave the weight down even more, as customization is a big part of the hobby.
“The drones we use fit in the palm of your hand, so they're safe to fly indoors,” he says. “The worst case, if you get hit, is it gets caught in your hair and might get tangled up. It doesn’t hurt.”
The events have been drawing serious hobbyists to the bars for the weekly events, but D’Agostino promises that the drone races are also fun for the casual observer who might just be coming in to the bar to throw back a few beers and hang out.
“The people walking into the bars are always super-interested,” he says. “They always want to know, 'How does it work? What’s the purpose?' It’s all just for fun.”
Join Denver Drone Night at the Venue, 1451 Cortez Street, on Monday nights through April 20; FPV (First Person View) Thursdays are set for McCarthy's Sports Bar and Grill, 15350 East Smoky Hill Road in Aurora, every Thursday through April 23. A third series begins Tuesday, February 18, at the GameStop at 7950 Northfield Boulevard. There is a $10 registration fee for pilots; registration begins at 6 p.m., with racing from 7 to 10 p.m. at all three venues. For more information, visit denverdrone.co.