dishin' it

Gay drag racer Travis Shumake on tight suits, his intense car accident, and his ‘Housewives’ tagline

Travis Shumake

This weekend, a drag racer is making queer herstory. And, for perhaps the first time, we’re not talking about a drag queen, but an actual race car driver—we’re surprised too!

His name’s Travis Shumake and, with his debut at the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Nationals in Topeka, Kansas, that makes him the first openly gay professional drag racer. Considering the sport’s reputation for a more conservative-leaning audience, Shumake’s presence on the track is nothing short of groundbreaking.

The son of late NHRA title-winning racer Tripp Shumake, the younger Shuamke’s journey has been long in the making. Though he’s been around racing his entire life, he decided to fully commit himself to the sport just last year. After a few attempts at qualifying races—and one harrowing crash where he cracked two ribs—he’s ready to hit the pavement with the mission of bringing visibility to the wider LGBTQ racing community.

Thankfully, he’s got the perfect vehicle to do it: With sponsorship Visit Topeka and Pride Kansas—the home of this weekend’s races—Shumake will be debuting his pride-themed dragster, a 24-foot rocket emblazoned with a rainbow hood and parachutes to match. It’s a slay on wheels.

Ahead of the NHRA Nationals in Topeka, Queerty has the opportunity to run Shumake through a different kind of race: our rapid-fire Q&A series, Dishin’ It. Like most gays, Shumake is obsessed with Drag Race and The Real Housewives, so he touched on his favorites from both franchises. The racer also opened up about that aforementioned crash, told us about the movie character that changed his life, and revealed why he’ll also be a “’90s country music girl.”

Travis Shumake with his dragster in front of the Kansas State Capitol building

1. For you, racing is the family business. In a world where you hadn’t followed in your parents’ footsteps, what career would you have hypothetically pursued instead?

I wish drag racing could be a full-time career for me. Someday! My parents worked several jobs to keep my dad on the racetrack. Without a sponsor, I need to work two jobs to self-fund this dream. Visit Topeka and Pride Kansas are my first real sponsors. Everyone else spent their LGBTQ+ marketing budgets on rainbow Instagram posts in June. Monday through Friday I am a nonprofit fundraiser. My second gig, the one that really keeps the racing dream alive, is as a wedding planner. I sometimes live two very different lives on the same weekend. Nothing adds excitement to a high-end NYC wedding weekend like your planner racing at 300+ MPH on the other side of the country 12 hours before family photos.

 

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2. Is there a piece of pop-culture—whether a movie, TV series, book, album, etc…—that you consider a big part of your coming-out journey? Why does it stand out to you?

Bring It On and Legally Blonde. I was a competitive cheerleader most of my life and seeing gay male cheerleading characters helped normalize that journey for me. Just like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, I had moments in high school when I felt like I was in a Playboy bunny costume with everyone laughing at me. Elle using that negativity as fuel to exceed expectations always inspired me. To this day, when I feel underestimated, I say, “I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be,” and I stomp out of the room to buy an orange iMac. I’ve heard comments and felt underestimated by other racers and can’t help but hear Elle saying, “Am I on glue, or did we not get into the same law school?’” I’ve had to remind a few haters that I have three of the top NHRA licenses and have covered the racetrack in 3.96 seconds at 319 MPH. It’s not Harvard, but I’m not some “stinky old Vanderbilt.”

3. What would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions about the sport of drag racing?

That it’s easy to drive straight. Trying to tame an 11,000-horsepower rocket at 300 MPH is scary as hell! They say it takes 100 passes going 300+ MPH for your brain to start processing things at that speed. All four wheels are rarely on the ground at the same time, and I’m turning the steering wheel hard left and hard right to try and stay in the center of my lane. I know everyone is secretly waiting for the gay guy to crash into a wall but…oh wait…I’ve already done that! (said in the tone of Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality). Last November, I hit the wall just before the finish line at over 300 MPH, absorbing 18 lateral G’s, breaking my ribs and ripping my mentor’s car in half. Not a cute look. Another testament to how difficult this sport is and how quickly things can escalate when you’re “just going straight.”

 

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4. If you’re on a road trip, what’s on your ideal playlist? What genres might be included, or what overall vibe are you going for? What are some songs that have to be included?

I’m a 90’s country music girl. I wear a Reba [McEntire] shirt under my fire suit at the track. George Straight, Garth Brooks and Clint Black are must haves for a good road trip. I twerk in the shower to Lizzo. At the track, my pump-up songs while I’m suiting up are Republica’s “Ready To Go,” David Guetta’s “Get Up” and the full original Jock Jams album.

5. You worked with drag queen Shari Turner earlier this year in a Pride Month video for Sheetz; in what ways would you say being a drag queen and being a drag racer are similar?

Shari and I were together for 18 hours straight making that video and I didn’t want it to end. Let’s see…hmm…we both wear flashy bold patterned outfits that are tight in the crotch. Truth: I ordered a new fire suit for Topeka that’s tighter so you can see my butt! It’s about to be thick-thirty at the racetrack. We are both performers. When I pull up to the starting line it’s all 40,000+ eyes on me and there is only one winner. Each round of racing is like lip-syncing for my life.

BONUS: Are you a Drag Race fan? If so, who are some of your favorite queens from the show?

As an Arizona native, I love me some Joey Jay. Lady Camden in that “Moulin Ru” number gave me life. Oh, and I wear a Tina Burner trucker hat at the racetrack. I’m planning for an epic crossover where I bring Ru and the girls to the track.

 

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6. Who is the most famous person you’ve ever met, and what was your experience like meeting them? Did they live up to your expectations?

I moved to New York to work for the Clintons at the Clinton Foundation. Working for the former leader of the free world was memorable. President Clinton is sharp as an M.F. tack and remembers everything. I geeked out most about Chelsea. I wrote a paper about her and her cat Socks in the 5th grade and suddenly we’re hosting Zooms together and she is calling me Travie… B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

 

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7. From the looks of your Instagram, it seems like you might be a Real Housewives fan! So, we’re dying to know: What would your Housewives tagline be and why?

I’ve been waiting my whole life for someone to ask this question! (I’m only doing this whole race car thing so I can be a bartender on Watch What Happens Live and meet Dorinda.) My tagline would be: “When you’re the fastest gay on the earth, the only thing that can slow you down is a stiff martini or a pair of rainbow parachutes” because it’s a funny, obnoxiously Housewife thing to say. I like that it makes me roll my own eyes!

8. If you could have any fictional or famous vehicle be your everyday method of transportation, what would it be and why?

I’d drive to all 22 races on the circuit in a 1976 Hino RC320. I’d call her Priscilla, and attach my rainbow drag racing parachutes (yes, I have rainbow parachutes on my dragster) to the top.

 

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