By: Daniel P’Lopez
Travis Shumake, the first openly gay drag race driver, tells us a little about racing and about his personal life. In case you are wondering, drag racing has nothing to do with men in drag, although Travis loves clothes too. Drag racing is a form of car racing, of which there are different types. There’s NASCAR, Circle Track, IndyCar, drag racing and so on. The reason Travis chose drag racing is because of the sheer intensity.
Travis was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizonia to a religious, Baptist family, and grew up around motor sports because of his father, NHRA (National Hod Rod Association) title-winning racer, Tripp Shumake. Tripp was a drag racer in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Travis grew up adjacent to his father and it made him fall in love with motor sports, being his passion since childhood. Everything he received as a kid had an engine; airplanes and sand rails, and dirt bikes. Travis says, “I always knew I was going to be a drag racer.”
Travis’s father died when Travis was a teenager, so he stopped his racecar dream for a while, and got into cheerleading, theater, and dance. That led into the extroverted gay guy that he is. Travis explains that he is a privileged gay man, and that he came out at fifteen. Even though Travis’s father influenced him, it was also his own drive and passion that he had for it since a kid. As a teen, he got his start with competitive shifter carts, influenced by his father.
Travis described, “There are 12 Formula One engines in my one engine, there are 24 NASCAR engines in my one engine.” A dragster, the kind of car that Travis owns and drives, is the fastest accelerating machine on the planet; it’s faster accelerating than the space shuttle, or a fighter jet, Travis says. Travis has that job of racing, fifteen feet away from someone else in front of 70,000 people, and hoping they don’t blow up, which half of the time they do! A very high-risk job!
Being on a race track and going as fast as he can go, Travis explains it’s like a tunnel vision effect, like in Star Wars. Travis says it actually happens. Everything can be a blur as he slams on the brakes at negative 6G’s. Travis has been hurt in accidents, and has broken ribs after a major impact in the wall. He was reaching for the parachute, and suddenly the car disintegrated and ended in fire. Although everything is happening so fast, inside, Travis say’s “It feels like slow motion.” It will take Travis one hundred passes going over 300 hundred miles an hour for his brain to catch up with what is happening.
Travis’s peers, who used to be his idols, drivers who had come up to him and said they are glad he is at the race track, and opening the door to a new fan base of the 75-year-old sport. John Force, a legend in the racecar world, was a friend of his father’s. Travis has one of his trophies, after Tripp’s passing.
Most people, and experiences, have been great for Travis, and well supported, despite a few anti-gay protestors, but no one says anything to Travis’s face; as a tall man, he can intimidate others. But Travis holds his flag high, and also gives back with profits and charity boards, and brings as many gay kids as he can to the race track.
“There’s 30 million American drag racing fans and there’s never been an openly gay driver,” currently, Travis is the out and proud gay driver at the top level at any motor sport in the world. As much as he is excited to be winning races, he’s excited to be holding that space, and feels proud of that. Judith Light is the name he gave one of his dragsters, because of being a golden globe winning actress and a gay advocate.
Travis is a risk taker. After crashing a racecar, he’s not worried about death, more so for his clothes. He wants to live his life to the fullest, “no time for fear”. Travis has a partner named Darrel, a book-worm, and they have been together for six years, and he is very supportive of Travis’s career. May Travis’s career and life thrive and soar like he does on the track!
You can follow Travis at