Second-generation Funny Car driver Travis Shumake completed all the steps necessary to earn his NHRA Funny Car license during runs Monday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. If his paperwork is approved by NHRA, Shumake, 37, will become the first openly gay racer licensed by the NHRA.
Shumake began the licensing process at the Texas Motorplex in mid-October, posting an impressive 4.009-second, 319.62-mph run. The New York City resident needed one more run within the NHRA performance parameters to make the process official. His first run on Monday of 3.963 seconds at 304.05 mph was enough to meet the licensing requirements.
“The self-imposed pressure I was under in Dallas was intense. Coming into today I knew I had to relax to make this happen” said Shumake, moments after he returned to his pit area after his first pass. “As soon as I strapped in, I knew this was going to be the run. To make it happen with a sub-four-second pass and having Force, DeJoria, Hagan, Worsham, and Pedregon sign my license application made it that much more special.”
On his second pass, running the right lane, Shumake’s Funny Car crossed the centerline and made hard contact with the left guardwall. The left side of the race car absorbed the brunt of the damage, and Shumake immediately exited through the roof hatch under his own power. Following the incident, Shumake went to University Medical Center and was evaluated before being discharged after five hours of observation with only two cracked ribs on his left side.
“I got out of the groove and over corrected to the left. I should have lifted sooner. I clipped the centerline cone which damaged the body and got into the steering. I tried to pull it back but hit the left wall at 298 mph,” said Shumake. "The impact caused a small fire but the car and my safety gear did their job. My first priority is getting the car repaired. A few broken ribs don’t compare to the pain and embarrassment I feel for damaging Del’s car and letting down the team and people who have done so much for me.”
The aspiring Funny Car driver will be back in the seat making additional passes with Frank Hawley in his nostalgia Funny Car as soon as he is cleared by the NHRA’s medical team.
“As a completely unsponsored Funny Car driver, I need to find funding” said Shumake. “I plan on spending the off-season working on deals that will help me develop both my team and my skills as a driver behind the wheel of a Nostalgia or Alcohol Funny Car. I just need a company or person to believe in me to keep this dream alive.”
Travis’ father, Tripp, began drag racing in the late 1960s but became a national star in the late 1970s and early 1980s, driving one of Johnny Loper's Funny Cars. He earned a spot in the Cragar Five-Second Club and the Crane Cams Funny Car 250-mph Club. Tripp appeared in three Funny Car finals and won two, at the 1981 Southern Nationals in Atlanta and the 1982 World Finals in Orange County, Calif., driving for Billy Meyer. With the first major goal accomplished, the younger Shumake reflected on what his late father would have thought of his effort.
Shumake’s sister, Heather, was in attendance at the track and connected Travis and his mother Susie via FaceTime following his license-clinching run. His family’s support has been critical to the progression of Shumake’s early racing career.
“Not having my family around was one of the downsides of Dallas. It was tough to not have a support system there” confessed Shumake. “I knew I was going to get it done in Vegas so I wanted my sister and my partner here to celebrate with me. I was fortune they were here after the incident to help coordinate things and just to hold my hand in the hospital. This is a family sport, and we are racing family.”
NHRA drag racing has a long history of being a leader in diversity with female, African American, and Hispanic world champions. Once his license is approved Shumake will be the first openly-gay driver to compete at the highest level of any professional motorsport.
“I can’t do it without funding. That’s the biggest piece of the puzzle I need to solve. 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. Now is the time to show the world there is a place for gay competitors and fans in motorsports,” Shumake said.
Shumake continues to meet with prospective sponsors to help secure seat time and pin down a championship caliber team. The goal now is to finalize immediate sponsorship opportunities and make his professional debut during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.