Travis Shumake strives to become NHRA’s first openly gay funny car driver

  • Travis Shumake is the son of former NHRA Funny Car driver Tripp Shumake, who was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1999.
  • At 36, Travis Shumake hopes to become the first openly gay driver in the NHRA Funny Car class.
  • Shumake plans to hit the circuit by the end of the season, commemorating his father’s last NHRA Funny Car victory 40 years ago in the final.

    Travis Shumake was just 15 when his father, Tripp Shumake, a popular NHRA Funny Car driver, was killed in November 1999 when his motorcycle was hit by a hit-and-run driver driving on the wrong side of the road near their home in Chandler, Arizona.

    Father and son bonded through the go-kart and spent seemingly endless days on the drag track. And Travis Shumake has said he believes his connection to drag racing has been severed.

    Now 36 and well established as a development officer for a New York-based global nonprofit, Travis Shumake is preparing to dive into the world of Funny Car at the 330 mph he observed. from the margins – perhaps tackling the last frontier in the already diverse National Hot Rod Association.

    Shumake plans to hit the racetrack by the end of the season, commemorating his father’s last NHRA Funny Car victory 40 years ago in the final and thus becoming the first openly gay driver in the season. Camping World Drag Racing Series.

    On June 15, Shumake obtained his Nostalgia Funny Car license from Frank Hawley Drag Racing School Florida. He still has to get his Nitro Funny Car license.

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    What sets him apart has played a big part in what has held him back for so many years but now motivates him to move forward with his dream.

    “I’ve been planning this for a very long time. I was waiting to pull the trigger, ”said Shumake. “As everyone would say, going through COVID kind of helped me realign my priorities, just let me take that chance. For me, it’s always been Funny Car. This is where I belong. I want this for my dad, and I want this for our sport. And I’m only getting old, so let’s try.

    “All of the interactions I have with sports people are very positive. And I have to believe it wasn’t just because people knew my dad. One thing I’ve always heard from most people about my dad is that he and my mom were the nicest people on the tour, that my dad was always so nice. And I just want to continue that too. That jovial spirit in the pits would be something I really want to keep going and (get others to say) “You remind me of Tripp” – and not just my big nose, but the way I act. But they don’t blame me for being gay because my dad was awesome or whatever. I’m sure there will be hiccups along the way and people who will be challenged by my sexuality. And I certainly don’t want to impose anything on them, ”he said.

    “But I also think it’s a very good thing for the sport. It brings a new conversation to the table and more eyes on the sport when the sport could definitely use additional eyes, ”said Shumake. He hopes to take advantage of his situation “to elevate the sport” in terms of audience, FOX-TV package, new fans and additional corporate involvement.

    He said that “July and even the last week of June are going to be all in trying to get a license (in a Nitro Funny Car) by US nationals (Holiday weekend. Work) and if not, test on Tuesday after the race. I would love to be seated before the final. My dad won the race 40 years ago, and it would be a cool experience to be in my first race start which he won four decades ago. So these are kind of my next steps, but ideally these next three to four weeks are going to be pretty aggressive. “He’s planning some influential meetings this week” and then it’s really great go-time fooling. “

    “It brings a new conversation to the table and more eyes on the sport …”

    Obtaining sponsorship has always been a challenge, for the experienced runner or newcomer to the sport, for the garden variety runner or for the one with a marketing advantage, before or after the pandemic. But Shumake said, “I always shake hands and ask for big checks” in his job. He is therefore less afraid than most of the financing aspect of starting a career as a pilot.

    If he were to say his chances of getting sponsorships would be harder or easier, he said, “I really think this is the last one. None of this will be easy, so I’m certainly not trying to paint a rosy picture. But I think the sponsors who engage with me are going to have a firm stance on this subject.

    “And I think it’s going to open up more doors for me, but not just for me – for sport. And that’s the kind of conversations I have with the NHRA, ”Shumake said. “I’m not just going to take sponsorship (from another runner). Ideally, I will bring fresh money to the sport and new eyes that are interested in being a part of this first waters test in this area. Maybe that will get in the way of me in sport, with existing sponsors, but in terms of getting new dollars, I think it will be a great tool.

    “Business support for the LGBTQ + community should also be represented on the racetrack,” he said. “Bringing new fans and sponsors to the world’s fastest growing motorsport is a win-win situation for everyone involved. Someone will be the first. It’s just a matter of time.”

    Oddly enough, he received opposing advice from mentors on whether to trade off being gay. Ultimately, he knows that performance on the track is what matters. “It’s a lot of pressure.” One of them said to him, basically, “You have to be good too, Travis, if you can make this happen. You don’t want to be the guy who was gay and terrible.

    He understands that. Shumake said, “So I’m playing the gay card, but I think it’s a good business model.” Someone told him he didn’t need to stress it because “it’s 2021”. But he played devil’s advocate, “Yeah, but I kinda do. I don’t know if you would talk to me right now (if not). Hopefully after one or two races it’s a non-runner. And I think it will. “

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    The NHRA community is conservative, but Shumake said, “I’m very confident about the percentage of the drag racing world that will accept me and cheer me on. . . if and when i have these challenges, i hope to bring people together. One of my biggest goals is to show people that this happened in drag racing and that it is the first sport to do so, at least in the modern age. I don’t want to just prove a point to the NHRA folks. I want an NHRA to prove itself in other sports, as we have been doing for decades.

    “I always knew that would be the hard part, the supposed demographics of the sport. I’m sure there are going to be some hiccups, but just knowing that as I go through this more and more people are saying to me, “This is great”, you build that confidence in yourself so that when I run into a negative crossroads problem or I meet resilience or someone tells me something on the start line or in the pits, I will have that confidence. It’s kind of built by this inner circle of people who believe in me, ”he said.

    Yet he said: “It is absolutely terrifying. I am losing so much sleep. I’m losing a lot of sleep right now. My sister calls me often to calm me down. She (says) ‘I think you might be stressful.’ I’m like, ‘I just got over there a long way away. I am a little on my skis and I cannot fall. Now. I just have to lean into it and make it happen. But it’s that internal stress and pressure that becomes a thing pretty quickly. I’m just trying to stay on top and not back down. Oh my God, this is terrifying. Like, wow, what did I get myself into? Oh my God. There is so much pressure that I put myself because now it’s over there. And you know, when you’ve asked Larry Dixon, Justin Ashley, and Matt Hagan to be your trusted brains, you can’t really let them down and change your mind.

    Shumake said he and his father “never had this conversation.” But he said he learned from a close friend of his father that they “had several conversations during my teenage years on the subject. And he was very aware, but we had never had that conversation. So I know he knew it but not out of my mouth.

    Tripp Shumake didn’t live long enough to see his son become a foster parent and advocate for homeless gay teens through his work in Arizona with one • n • ten, a nonprofit dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth aged 14 to 24. But the younger Shumake said, “I know my dad would be proud of me for breaking that barrier. Now is the time to show the world that there is a place for gay competitors and fans in motorsport.

    “This is Pride Month, and I’m sure there are a lot of riders who feel held back from pursuing their passion for motorsports because these waters haven’t been tested,” he said. he declares.

    “There are current pilots, even in the ranks of sportsmen. I know a few of them. I affectionately call us the Gay Mafia. There are about 10 people I know in sport who are gay who haven’t taken the action I’m taking just because of this fear, ”Shumake said. “I think there are more people who would be interested in getting into the sport, those who are more comfortable being themselves in the sport – not trying to denounce anyone in the sport. saying that.

    “There have been so many more homosexuals, but we are not talking. I mean, they just don’t, nobody talks about it. I think there is a lot more, but there is no comfort level. I put it there, if necessary, to make people more comfortable and break that wall for a second, ”he said. “Maybe if for some reason someone is able to come out of the closet or get into sports – gay, lesbian, transgender – because of my attempts, that would certainly be quite rewarding for me.

    “The sports pilots I am referring to have husbands,” he said. “I’m like, how don’t people know you’re gay?” “Like, we’re just not talking about it.” I’m like, ‘Wait, what? So I’ll get all the credit, but you’ve been here forever? And they’re like, ‘Yeah, but do it, bro, do it.’ I’m like ‘OK, I’ll do it for you.’ “

    Devon Rouse, 22, a veteran of track sprint cars from West Burlington, Iowa, is a friend of Shumake’s, and they cheer each other on as Rouse embarks on his NASCAR journey as the first Camping World Truck driver. Openly gay series. Rouse was tested in an ARCA Menards series car and in a NASCAR truck driveway, but his plans were put on hold during the pandemic. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis, who stepped up last year to sponsor the NHRA Pro Series, is sponsoring Rouse for the July 9 Truck Series event in Knoxville, Iowa Raceway.

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