Second generation drag racer and out and proud Phoenix native Travis Shumake has been busy blazing a trail as the world's first ever openly gay drag racer. He’s also the former development director at LGBTQ youth nonprofit, one n ten and is continuing his mission to support Phoenix LGBTQ+ organizations as he takes on the world of racing.
But along with the excitement and exhilaration can come danger. We caught up with Travis to catch up with the thrills...and the spills.
Travis, we heard you recently had a crash: Are you okay?
Travis: I’m doing much better now! My broken ribs are feeling much better. This was my first racing accident. It came at such a bittersweet moment as just an hour earlier I had completed all the steps and requirements needed to earn my professional license with an unheard of 3.96 second pass. Typically you wait years to have a sub-four-second pass, so to do it on your licensing attempt put me over the moon.
Tell us how it happened.
Travis: It was a day of ultimate highs and lows. I was doing a “moderate” testing run, meaning not all the way to the finish line under power. I got out of the groove (the groove is the sweet spot 6ft wide in the center of the 30ft lane) and I over-corrected to get back in the middle. I crossed over the centerline and a timing device on the track got into the steering of the car and put me into the opposite wall at 298 mph. I sheared off the front left tire and destroyed the carbon fiber shell of the car before it ultimately came to rest on fire at the end of the track. I broke two ribs on impact and the G force meter in the car recorded a swing in lateral G forces of 18 Gs. The safety equipment in these cars is amazing making me very lucky to have walked away with such minor injuries.
Travis as a kid, with his dad Tripp Shumake
When did you come out and how did that go with your family and your dad, Tripp Shumake, in particular?
Travis: I came out to my friends in high school and my mom early in college. I was always the token gay of my teen years. I never had the chance to talk with my father about it before he passed away but several have confirmed he knew and that while he loved me it was a struggle given our family's strong Southern Baptist beliefs. My dad was my biggest cheerleader in life and I know we would have been okay, but I never had the chance to show him my authentic self before he died when I was 15.
Was there ever a time you had difficulty balancing your sexual orientation with the racing profession?
Travis: It’s an ongoing struggle. While my sexuality doesn't define me, it’s an important piece of the story given the lack of representation in motorsports. When I am strapped into an 11,000 HP rocket no one cares about who I date, but when it comes to sponsorship conversations and marketing opportunities to help get me on the track it is a differentiator that is important to embrace and highlight.
Racing is a fairly conservative and heteronormative sport — have you had any blowback from being out and proud and now the fastest gay on earth?
Travis: I really haven’t had any major pushback. The NHRA, its fans and drivers have welcomed me with open arms. I use to joke that I hoped soon we would be talking about me being a crappy driver more than me being gay...and now that I have wrecked a race car at 300 mph my dreams have come true (laughs). The talk isn’t about my sexuality, now I am just one of the bonafide boneheads who has crashed someone else’s race car. It’s not my favorite look, but it’s a new piece of my story.
How did growing up in Arizona shape who you are?
Travis: Arizona will always be home. I am a CenPho boy through and through. I think of these 3 years I’ve been in NYC as an exchange program. I am here sharpening my skills and life experiences so I can come back someday to make our state and city a better place. Arizona shaped me as a leader through programs like Valley Leadership, Suns Charities 88, and the opportunities I was afforded working at one-n-ten.
Phoenix recently had its Pride festival for the first time in two years — did you attend and how do you normally celebrate?
Travis: I was so excited to attend Pride this year since it was just a few days after the testing I was doing in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, because of the accident and my need to rest/recover we didn’t make it down. I was thinking about it the other day and because of the timing of my move and then quarantine this was actually the first Phoenix Pride I have missed since 2005. My first PHX Pride I rode on the Flagstaff Pride float, in a speedo, with gold body paint from head to toe...I take Pride very seriously (laughs).
Where do you find and how do you connect with your LGBTQ community?
Travis: One-n-ten is my forever home and family. Starting as a volunteer, then as a board member, and finally as the director of development not only did it shape my experience in Phoenix, it completely changed the trajectory of my life. One of my goals in racing is to use space on my car to feature/highlight LGBTQ+ non-profits in each of the 22 cities we race in over the season.
How did you spend the holidays, Christmas and the New Year?
Travis: My partner Daryl and I split the holiday between Phoenix and Sun Valley. We love coming home to the West to be with our families.
What's coming up for you in terms of racing?
Travis: I am deep into the hunt for sponsorship now. With all my licensing complete the only thing keeping me off the track is cash. I am turning over every rock looking for opportunities. The reach of the sport is huge and LGBTQ+ marketers and companies could do a lot in the space. Depending on the type of car and the number of races I do next season, sponsorships could range from $15,000-$3MM...that’s a big range and a lot to tackle, but I am not worried!
To keep up with the fastest gay on Earth, visit travisshumake.com.