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Alumnus flies into world championship

Alumnus wins world championship in drone racing

By Cheri Stutzman

Three years ago, Paul Nurkkala (’13) received a drone for Christmas and now, after a lot of hard work and perseverance, holds a world championship in drone racing.

Alumnus Paul Nurkkala, now the 2018 DRL Allianz World Champion, has been flying drones since 2013.

Alumnus Paul Nurkkala, now the 2018 DRL Allianz World Champion, has been flying drones since 2013.

Nurkkala was announced as the 2018 DRL Allianz World Champion, after beating the best drone racers in the world including the two-time World champion.

The Drone Racing League (DRL) holds six races and one championship per year. The winners of the first six move onto the final championship.

This year’s championship took place in Saudi Arabia in 100 degree weather. The course involved nose dives, archway loops and steep turns which competitors maneuvered through while flying at speeds of 90 mph.

Nurkkala said performing in that setting with the heat, and the camera’s pointing at him, all in front of an audience of about 4,000 created a lot of pressure.  He had to learn how to focus on what mattered.

Darci Nurkkala, coordinator of tutoring services, and mother of Nurkkala, said while he was in school, he played several sports. They taught him how to handle pressure and deal with losing and having to push through loss and trials.

“We’re going to lose more often than we win in life, and I think he kind of managed to figure that out a little bit through just kind of regular sports,” Darci Nurkkala said.

Nurkkala’s strategy throughout the race was simple: to fly his own race.  

While racing, Nurkkala said the temptation is to focus on others and the drones around you rather than focusing on your own race. He likes to make sure he’s flying to the best of his ability, not worrying how other people are doing around him.

“‘Fly your own race’ has really almost become a mantra to me,” Nurkkala said. “It’s my way of reminding myself, ‘Hey calm down, get in the in the zone, do the best that you can do, don’t worry about what others are doing and that will drive you to success.’”

This philosophy, along with a lot of hard work, got him to where he’s at. After getting second place in the nation and then going on to get second in a world competition, he was able to do some networking and eventually get into the DRL.

Now that he is the world champion, Nurkkala doesn’t see himself quitting racing. Drone racing has given him a platform and he wants to use that to influence others.

“I love racing, and I don’t ever see myself stopping racing, but I’ve also earned an opportunity and a platform and a chance to influence something that I care a lot about,” Nurkkala said.

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