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Indiana’s Very Own: Hoosier becomes part of Drone Racing League

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Paul Nurkkaala pilots a merge of tech and sport – you can fit in a backpack.

He goes by the name "Nurk."  And he’s a professional racer of drones.

Frank Mickens: “So how do you know you’re not going to hit those branches?”

Nurk: “I don’t. It’s kind of a calculated risk.”

The Drone Racing League or DRL has become an international phenomenon now airing on ESPN.

Pro flyers like Nurk customize and maneuver their miniature aircraft around obstacles at speeds up to 80 miles an hour, competing around the world, from Miami and Boston to London and Munich.

And they race in anything from abandoned buildings to football stadiums – where neon lights point the way to the finish line.

“With Formula One, NASCAR, Indy 500, whatever you see, we’re making those same kinds of decisions, just in three dimensions,” said Nurk.

“We set up almost obstacle courses. But obstacle courses that feel like a racetrack.”

I met Nurk at one of his favorite training grounds, Sahm Park in Castleton.

Frank: “How high can it go?”

Nurk: “As high as I want. But legally we’re supposed to stay under 400 feet, which we do.“

I got the view from a GoPro camera mounted on board which allowed me to watch through the goggles as Nurk took flight and showed off.

Frank: “Whoa! Wow! Oh, don’t do that too much. He’s flipping!”

In a matter of months, drones went from a hobby, to an obsession and eventually a career.

“For me it started when my in-laws gave me a little toy drone for Christmas,” Nurk said.

He says a rookie in the DRL can land a contract worth $75,000.

Frank: “What do you say to the person who says get a real job?”

Nurk: “No one says that to me. I think everybody’s sitting around thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a cool job.’”