Pro Racer Travis Shumake: Seeing Rainbows in the Winner’s Circle

Earlier this year, Travis Shumake made history as the first out gay driver to compete in a televised national event in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) racing circuit. As the current fastest LGBTQI+ driver across all global motorsports, he was named the “future of gay America” in college by Advocate Magazine and is one of the Phoenix Business Journal’s 40 under 40. Travis is dedicated to using his platform to help pave the way for LGBTQI+ athletes to come, and we’re thrilled to welcome him aboard as an Athlete Ally Ambassador! Learn more about Travis and why he’s excited to join the team.

Athlete Ally: As a second-generation drag racer and the first openly gay driver to compete in the highest level of the sport, what does legacy mean to you? 

Travis: Legacy to me is honoring my parent’s fifty-year-history in racing while showing up as my authentic self. It’s trying to emulate my late father’s storied career while creating new space of LGBTQI+ motorsports enthusiasts. I grew up with women race car drivers’ posters on my walls because there was no one like me in a race car. I want my legacy to be that of one who ripped off a bandaid (or two) in the ongoing fight for representation in sports. Every athlete plays a role in writing LGBTQI+ sports history, no matter the league or the speed. 

Throughout your career, how has LGBTQI+ inclusion shifted in racing?

In just the past 2 years, we’ve seen drivers like myself unite through organizations like Athlete Ally. Our voices are unifying. We see each other. It reminds us that we’re not alone, nor the first. I think I’m the 30th openly LGBTQI+ driver in motorsports. Something feels different now in the motorsports space. We’re on the verge. I believe someone in my generation of openly LGBTQI+ drivers will be the first to win a major championship, an ESPY, and most importantly, corporate support. I want to get one of us over the finish line. Change takes time, and the more we are out at the track having tough conversations, the easier it will get. I never thought that I’d be driving a 300 mph race car with rainbow parachutes on the back. I know I’ll be around to see rainbows in the winner’s circle. 

How can LGBTQI+ inclusion be furthered in the world of motorsports?

I am being accepted in an unexpected space known for conservative values when I have the opportunity to race. In a 190 billion dollar industry, corporate support of drivers is what will change the narrative and get us a seat on the track. It’s the final piece, and what has always been lacking. The 30+ LGBTQI+ drivers before me didn’t reach the pinnacle of their sport due simply to lack of sponsorship. The over 30 million American drag racing fans, my fellow drivers, and the league are all evolving with society but the marketing dollars aren’t. Racing fans are as loyal as the LGBTQI+ community when it comes to spending dollars where they feel seen and supported. When companies see LGBTQI+ drivers as an opportunity, not a risk, the game will change. 

Outside of racing, you’ve been an advocate for youth experiencing homelessness and LGBTQI+ foster parenting. How has this work informed your goals as a driver and as a person?

Working with LGBTQI+ disenfranchised youth changes the lens in which I look at families out at the race track. Opening an unknowing parent’s eyes to the conversation through LGBTQI+ representation in traditionally conversative spaces doesn’t just give hope for the future, it provides knowledge for the present. I always strive to provide opportunities for youth to come to the track at no expense. At every race this past season, I found support to provide tickets to LGBTQI+ families. Drag racing is the most intense, ground-shaking, explosive motorsport on the planet. Once you get a kid to the track, they’re addicted for life. 

We’re thrilled to see you at the Eighth Annual Action Awards on October 25th, where we’ll be honoring athlete, advocate and model CeCe Telfer, Dallas Mavericks’ Reggie Bullock, Gotham FC’s Imani Dorsey, and the Athlete Ally Campus Chapter at Columbia University/Barnard College. What most excites you about the opportunity to meet and celebrate other professional LGBTQI+ athletes?

I’m excited for the camaraderie. To be in a room full of game-changing athletes is something I’ve always dreamed of. It will certainly inspire and recharge my batteries as I prepare for the 2023 drag racing season. 

What would be your message to LGBTQI+ kids in sports? 

Find the helpers and be authentic. Identify your allies and don’t be afraid to ask them for help. I’m gettin’ where I’m goin’ by embracing unexpected allies to help me navigate untested waters. Being an LGBTQI+ athlete may be a differentiator but it does not have to be a disadvantage. Leverage more than your physical talent when you show up on the field or at the track. Use your unique personality and life experiences to better your team, league, and community.