Is it really possible to make a living as a professional drone racer? Jordan Temkin is living proof that you can.
Temkin, aka “Jet,” was the original Drone Racing League world champion, after winning the inaugural season in 2016. And he will attempt to defend his title — a pursuit that beings in the opening round of the DRL Playoffs in Munich, airing Tuesday, July 18 at 8 p.m. ET (on ESPN2).
The 25-year-old Seattle native still can hardly believe he’s supporting himself by flying drones or that it led him all the way to Europe for the first time in his life.
“I started this as just a passion,” Temkin said. “Originally it was because I was working too much, and I needed a mental break. So I took up drone racing just for a minute, and to have that become the reason I’m in Europe traveling for two weeks, it’s a dream come true.”
Temkin first discovered drones, and drone racing, three and a half years ago. “I stumbled upon it on the Internet, like so many people have,” he said. “And I was like, wow, that’s really cool, I want to learn how that works.”
He eventually built his own drone, and it was love at first sight. “The first time I threw the goggles on, I was just kind of blown away,” he said. “You get this external out-of-body experience when you put these goggles on and fly for the first time.”
He’d been working three jobs — in a photography dark room, at a sandwich shop and at a library. Two years ago, with enough money saved up to live off of for one year, he quit all three jobs to dedicate himself to drone racing full-time.
Temkin started to make a name for himself at various competitions, which led to the Drone Racing League approaching him about joining DRL.
“By the time the [DRL] championships last year came around, I was at the end of my runway,” Temkin said. “[But] I ended up winning, which allowed DRL to give me a salary, good pay, to continue doing what I love. And that’s what DRL has really done for me — let me keep racing.”
It’s something Temkin does every single day.
“When I was skiing a lot, every day I was going up the mountain and skiing,” he said. “And this is the same kind of thing to me, as with other sports that I played. You gotta just put in the time. You gotta practice, you gotta fly.”
Temkin now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with two roommates — both fellow drone racers. One, Zach Thayer (aka “A_Nub”), is a fellow competitor in Season 2. The other, Travis McIntyre (aka “M0ke”) competed in Season 1.
“I needed a roommate to help out with rent, and Zach was looking for a place as well, so he moved out to Colorado,” Temkin said. “We are each other’s biggest competition. We said, ‘how can we both become better racers, and kind of dominate the field as best we can?’ And it was by pushing each other.”
This season didn’t start the way Temkin wanted — he failed to make the podium in either of the first two events, in Miami and Atlanta. (Thayer finished second in Miami.)
But Temkin found his form at the third event in New Orleans, rising above the rest of the field to take home first place. Whatever the sport, the fact remains it’s hard to defend a title.
“I know from my previous background — I used to ski race when I was younger — when you have to prove something, or when you’re trying too hard to beat a goal, it normally ends badly, just because you tend to overthink,” Temkin said. “I overthought it in those first two races. And I just kinda had to get back into competing in each race.”
He had a bye in the fourth and final regular season event in Boston, and is one of 12 semifinalists in Munich.
It’s not just the pressure that was different this year. Temkin said Season 2 has been more competitive.
“It was a more refined field of racers,” he said. “Last year it was a learning process, you’ve gotta filter out people who might be good racers but maybe not under pressure. Because DRL is very, very much unlike other races that we compete in, [because of the] cameras, lights, TV.”
Jet is a proven commodity when it comes to the spotlight though, and we’ll see how it pans out in Munich, followed by the finals in London.
In the meantime, he’s adjusting to some level of celebrity — new territory for drone racers, that’s for sure.
“I do get recognized here and there,” Temkin said. “I was at a pub with my friends [recently], and someone came up and was like, ‘I saw you on TV, you’re that drone racer guy that won last year.’ It has happened, and it caught me off guard, ’cause I’m not ready for that yet.”