Racing in the Sky

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WINTERSET, Iowa  --  It’s the big race of the year.  But instead of tires screeching or hooves galloping, it will be feathers flying at the Topeka Classic.  Pigeon racers from across the Midwest will flock to Kansas for the Super Bowl for birds.

John Shaw is making his return to competition after a two year break.

“I just feed them and water them and tell them to come home,” said Shaw.

Nestled among the trees and farm fields in Winterset, his pigeons rule the roost.  Leading up to race day, he takes his old birds out to stretch their wings.

“OK boys, let’s put on a good show now.  I want you guys to go straight home,”  he instructed.

After a few flaps of freedom, his released birds get their bearings and head for him.  Some days, they beat him home.

Today wasn’t one of them.

“Just three out of 20. Evidently a hawk hit them and they scattered,” said Shaw.

He has plenty of time to wait for the rest of the flock to return to the coop.  Like many of the members of the Des Moines Invitational Racing Pigeon Club, he’s retired.  Finding someone to take under his wing, hasn’t been easy.

“Nobody, nobody. There's nobody that crazy,” he joked.

“The younger generation just doesn't have time for it.  They all have their cell phone and they're always playing on them,”  added Shaw.

A different kind of winged racer is competing for the younger generation’s attention.

“Drone racing is definitely up and coming.  Over the past couple of years, the hobby has really exploded with popularity,” explained Will Dobbins.

Dobbins is the president of 515 FPV, the local drone racing club.

“It is a lot of fun.  It is a huge adrenaline rush.  I liken it to riding a motorcycle absolutely crazy on the curvy windy roads but when you crash it only hurts your wallet,” Dobbins said.

Goggled racers battle it out on the course with their motorized birds that can go from zero to 70 almost immediately.  In this hobby, a typical race only lasts a few minutes and younger flyers have the advantage behind the controls.

“It's like a video game in that you're just doing hand-eye coordination on a screen,” said Dobbins.

Shaw’s high flying stakes have been around for centuries and races are measured in hours and hundreds of miles.

“The best part is when you're sitting out here waiting and you look at your clock- and think- if that bird is flying 50 miles an hour, or 65 miles an hour, and you look and here he comes,” he said.

This seasoned bird racer doesn’t care if he wins.  The best part is having his pigeons fly home.

“There's something special about them,” said Shaw.

For more information:

Des Moines Invitational Pigeon Racing Association

515 FPV Drone Racing Club


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