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A promo video of NBC Sports' one-hour special about the Reno National Championship Air Races that will be broadcast on March 27, 2016. RARA/Special to the RGJ

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Got $40 and a small drone?

Then you’re pretty much set to join the first ever micro-drone races at the 53rd National Championship Air Races in Reno.

The Reno Air Racing Association is adding the event for the first time as part of efforts to boost interest in the races as it aims to attract up to 175,000 visitors this year.

“Right now, we’re 10 percent over last year, which is really good,” said Mike Crowell, president and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association. “Attendance has been pretty stagnant the last four to five years locally so a lot of the increase is coming from outside the area.”

Getting to know the technology

The logistics for the micro-drone racing is being handled by the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center (NAASIC), a business development arm of the University of Nevada, Reno. NAASIC, which also oversees the Reno Air Races Drone Zone exhibit, was created by the state to leverage its designation as one of six federally mandated sites for unmanned aerial systems testing by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Last year’s Reno Air Races featured a Drone Zone display but this is the first year that micro-drone racing will be included in the event.

“This is the first race so it’s a trial to get to know the technology,” said Warren “Bum” Rapp, NAASIC business director. “What this is, really, is an opportunity to introduce the technology and other applications of drones to the public.”

The micro-drone races, which are being done in partnership with CKRC Hobbies, will be held for three days from Sept. 15 to 17 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Participants must be at least 16 years old and have their own micro-drone. The race’s micro classification is for drones up to 150 millimeters with 3-minute heat races and 5-minute main events featuring three racers per race. The entry fee is $40.

The Reno Air Racing Association also tried to include races for larger drones this year but new FAA rules that were finalized in late August provided a limited amount of time to prepare. Rapp says the event is all but certain to have races for larger drones next year.

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The Drone Zone, meanwhile, will have 15 professional vendors, which include NASA and drone delivery service company Flirtey, which made the first commercial drone delivery earlier this year as well as the first drone pizza delivery in August. Rapp expects 7,000 to 12,000 visitors at this year’s Drone Zone.

Rapp says he is especially excited about the addition of micro-drone racing at the event. Just don’t expect the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, to take part in it.

“I fly the big drones really well but I’m an absolute crash expert when it comes to the small ones,” Rapp said with a chuckle.

Entering the micro-drone race

To take part in the micro-drone race at the Reno Air Races, contact CKRC Hobbies at info@ckrchobbies.com or by phone at 775-786-7733. For more details about the 53rd Annual National Championship Air Races, including volunteer opportunities, visit http://airrace.org.

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