The first openly gay driver in the National Hot Rod Association, long-time supporter of the Human Rights Campaign and one of the fastest people on the planet, Travis Shumake is an original drag racer who fights for equality.
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Shumake comes from a drag racing family. His father, Tripp Shumake, was a popular and successful drag racer and only the fourth man in history to drive a “funny car” over 250 miles an hour.
Shumake has now been an active member of Team HRC for 20 years. He’s served the organization in a number of different capacities, from steering committee member to fundraising dinner table captain and silent auction co-chair.
Shumake credits the Human Rights Campaign for inspiring him to return to drag racing after a long hiatus: “I was empowered by my peers in HRC not just to pursue my childhood dream of racing again but also to open doors and new opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community in motorsports.”
Shumake can step back into the cockpit today, because he has the resources, the knowledge and the opportunity as a second-generation driver, whom fans and drivers in this traditionally conservative sport like and accept because of his dad — and as a person who has been involved with organizations like HRC.
Anyone can get a free sticker by texting “sticker” to 472472 (message and data rates apply). Put one on your bike, your laptop, your scooter or your dragster — and show the world that you support equality, too!
Now based in New York City, Shumake is back in motorsports as a drag racer like his dad — and he races proudly with HRC’s iconic equality logo sticker on his dragster, helmet and tracksuit. And American motorsports and the LGBTQ+ community are taking notice.
There is a significant barrier to entry, however, which makes LGBTQ+ visibility and representation in motorsports difficult: Most racers have to bank on corporate sponsorships which are difficult for queer drivers to obtain in a field as conservative as motorsports.
According to Shumake, “just being gay makes it hard to get sponsors. I’m a big risk.” While they might think that Shumake is ultimately good for the sport, whether sponsors would risk losing fans and shoppers by putting their logo on his car is still sensitive.
And bringing in LGBTQ+ fans in motorsports has been a slow process — but with heartwarming moments. Last year, for example, Shumake met a 15-year-old lesbian whose parents had just dropped her off at the gate of the Heartland Motorsports Park in Topeka, Kansas, because, she told him, “I love cars and gay people — and I wanted you to know that I love that you’re here.” Shumake took his first selfie with a fan and signed her arm. “I had never signed someone’s skin before,” he laughs.
Shumake also loves to connect with established fans from the LGBTQ+ community. Last year, at the Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pennsylvania, he met an older gay couple who have been drag racing fans forever. “They told me they were so excited to finally have a gay driver to cheer for,” Shumake recalls. “They were already in this space and now have someone like them in the space, too.” Visibility and representation also matter on the racing circuit.
As the number of LGBTQ+ fans slowly grows, the sport sees the value. Television viewership spikes when Shumake races, and the social media stories on Shumake get thousands of likes, shares and follows. “There are potentially tons of motorsports enthusiasts in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Shumake, “so breaking down these walls is huge.”
In addition to HRC’s logo, Shumake has also had the logos of One-n-Ten and True Colors United, which serve LGBTQ+ youth, on his racecar. He was also sponsored by Pride Kansas, DE&I consulting firm Envision Rise, and the GPS-based social networking app, Grindr.
It’s not easy to be a pioneer, but of course, success helps. According to the National Hot Rod Association, last year, Shumake “made a full pass under power in 3.96 seconds at 319.62 mph, speeding into the record books as the fasted LGBTQ+ driver across all professional motorsports.”
Shumake has ambitious plans for bridging the motorsports and the LGBTQ+ communities. He hopes to bring more drivers and corporate partners into the fold to support other LGBTQ+ drivers and causes and to educate them on what HRC does. He’d also love to see more HRC logos on race cars.
In addition, Shumake says, when companies are ready to partner with Shumake and put their logos on his racecar, they will have to score at least 85 out of 100 in HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index, which is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits pertaining to LGBTQ+ employees and a driving force for LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion. And if they don’t score that high, then Shumake will help them get there: “That’s part of the deal.”
Shumake also wants to help educate the 30 million American drag racing fans about HRC and its vital work. The fan base skews conservative, but Shumake is a patient and happy warrior. He knows that this effort will take time and a lot of hard work.
Lastly, Shumake wants to organize other LGBTQ+ drivers across motorsports. “I’m currently the only one in drag racing,” he explains, “but maybe there are two in NASCAR, one in Indy car, one in monster trucks and one in dirt racing. We need to get everyone involved from different areas of motorsports and amplify our voice.”
Forces of reaction and discrimination have also taken notice of Shumake and his ambitions. Last year at his debut national race in Topeka, Kansas, where Shumake was sponsored by Pride Kansas, the Westboro Baptist Church protested him and his team. In a twisted sense, you know you’re succeeding when you’re protested by the Westboro Baptist Church. “Oh my God,” Shumake thought, “I’m really making it in the world!”
One of the gratifying consequences of that protest was the uplifting support that Shumake got from powerful drivers and owners in the sport. “They would come up to me,” Shumake recalls, “and say, ‘Hey, I’m on Team Travis — you good? We’re on your side!’”
Shumake has been surprised at the number of people for whom his being openly gay is a total non-issue. Other drivers and owners would tell him, “Thank you for doing this on behalf of my niece. Thank you for doing this on behalf of our son. Thank you for doing this on behalf of my dad who never came out. Thank you for doing this for my crew member who is gay but won’t tell anyone.”
But there have been setbacks as well. Coming into the 2023 season, Shumake was prepared to double his schedule of races to 10 events but was only offered driver duties for 3 by his team owner. With restrictions on the types of companies and organizations that he could bring on as sponsors — and the recent notable absence of his signature rainbow parachutes — Shumake announced in February that he is starting his own team.
And, so, Shumake is ready to set another record: he’s about to become the first openly gay owner of a professional touring race team in all of America’s major motorsports leagues. As of now, he’s the proud owner of a 24’ metal and carbon fiber frame with four wheels and no engine, but he sees the green light ahead. And he’ll be able to use those rainbow parachutes again, too.
Shumake has a message for the members and supporters of HRC:
As LGBTQ+ people,” he declares, “we have a place in motorsports. We need better representation on the track and in the stands. We are fighting for equality in the courtroom, in the classroom, in our communities and doing it on the racetrack now, too. Whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, non-binary or queer, the race car doesn’t know the difference. It’s the ultimate equalizer in a fascinating world that more of us should be a part of.”
Shumake is a champion of HRC who is driving the torch of equality across the finish line.