Second-generation Funny Car driver Travis Shumake, 36, is charting a quick path to being the first openly gay driver of an 11,000-horsepower Funny Car in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). Already a licensed Super Comp racer, Shumake made a major move towards fulfilling his dream on June 15, earning his Nostalgia Funny Car license at the Frank Hawley Driving School in Bradenton, Florida. The New York City resident, who ironically does not own a passenger vehicle, is one step away from securing his professional Funny Car license and stepping into the history books as the first openly gay driver in the sport.
“Someone will be the first; it’s only a matter of time,” Shumake said. “I know my dad would be proud of me for breaking that barrier.”
Shumake grew up in drag racing as the son of the late Funny Car champion Tripp Shumake.
His father was a dominant force in the 70s and 80s, winning multiple NHRA national events as a member of both the 5-second and the 250-mph clubs. Additionally, his mother Susie was a staple on the circuit and was recently inducted into the Arizona Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2018.
Throughout his life Shumake has always felt the pull to get behind the wheel and compete at the highest level like his father. “I was 15 when my father passed,” he said. “We were racing shifter karts together at the time and I thought my days in racing were over. For me, it’s always been Funny Car. That’s where I belong. I want this for my dad, and I want this for our sport.”
Drag racing has a long history of being a leader in diversity with female, African-American, and Hispanic world champions. “Now is the time to show the world there is a place for gay competitors and fans in motorsports,” Shumake said.
Comparing it to NASCAR Shumake says: “Attending a Drag Race is a visceral experience. NASCAR is loud and exciting, but in Drag Racing, even if you’re 1000 ft away from the track it shakes your entire body and the nitro burns your nose because these engines are just so big. It’s an exciting 4 seconds to watch. And there’s a lot to it. The fires and crashes are intense and when a Funny Car explodes, they explode real big.”
Shumake says that “since this is so new for my sport, and with my licensing happening the same time as Carl’s coming out in the NFL I’ve gotten several messages from people who have been in racing their whole lives and are feeling more comfortable now having visibility and representation at the highest level in the sport. That’s been one of the coolest part. Hearing someone say ‘For 30 years I’ve been doing this Travis and it’s about time someone was open about it because I never thought I could be.’ That certainly have made some of the negative feedback worth it.”
Recognized as a “Future Gay Leader of America” by the Advocate Magazine in 2005 and a Phoenix Business Journal’s 40 under 40 awardee, Shumake is an accomplished community and business leader.
As a former foster parent and longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ homeless youth, he moved to New York City to continue his career as a non-profit executive in 2018. “It’s Pride Month and I’m sure there are plenty of drivers out there who feel restrained to pursue their passion for motorsports because these waters haven’t been tested,” he said. “Corporate support of the LGBTQ+ community should be represented on the racetrack as well. Bringing new fans and sponsors to the fastest growing motorsport in the world is a win win for everyone involved.”
His immediate racing plans include meeting with prospective sponsors to help secure seat time and pin down a championship caliber team. The goal for Shumake will be to finalize immediate sponsorship opportunities, earn his nitro Funny Car license and compete in a national event this year before making his full-time professional debut during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
But, Shumake concludes, “I worked with LGBTQ+ homeless youth in Arizona full time before moving to New York. I was also a foster parent and had a 7-year-old as a single dad for a year. Young folks are important to me. I see a lot of opportunities to bring awareness to these issues and I have a platform within a conservative sport to educate and bring a different view and lived experience to the fan base. I think that is a big opportunity I don’t want to squander.”