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Shumake Enters NHRA Route 66 Nationals Without Sponsors, Fueled By Unrelenting Determination

Travis Shumake is entering his second professional start in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series, competing in bootstrap fashion at this weekend’s Gerber Collision & Glass NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by PEAK Performance. The Top Fuel newcomer is racing sans sponsors among a packed field of heavy hitters at the iconic Route 66 Raceway, just outside of Chicago.

Shumake’s decision to enter this national event without major sponsor support is a testament to his unwavering drive to compete at the highest level. After experiencing a taste of Top Fuel competition earlier this season in Phoenix, the second-generation racer is more confident than ever that his place is behind the wheel of the powerful 12,000-horsepower, nitro-fueled dragster he’s affectionately named Judith Light. He and his team, led by Gerda and Lex Joon, are eager to apply what they’ve learned from that first event as they work to establish the natural rhythm and cohesiveness necessary to be successful at this level. The unsponsored team doesn’t have the budget for extensive testing, so the most economical way to gain valuable seat time is by learning the ropes on a national stage, with throngs of people watching, a strategy that Shumake hopes will create a strong sense of camaraderie among his burgeoning fan base. 

“I am unsponsored and unfazed,” Shumake remarked, referencing a sentiment he shared via social media earlier this week. “I’m committed to this team and my dream. I want our program to grow, so we are doing Chicago. No shame in admitting my sponsorship dance card is empty. I’ve been the odd man out most of my life, forced to find unconventional and creative ways to make things happen. The outcome of three out of our four passes in Phoenix can be attributed to driver errors. I want to show folks that this car and this crew slay. Sometimes this big dumb animal behind the wheel (me) gets in the way of the team’s success. We are better than that.”

To save funds, Shumake and some of his crew will be sleeping in the race trailer at the track, with a few crew members bunking at a nearby Motel 6. The crew has traded in their heavily logoed uniform shirts for plain $5 t-shirts as they tune Shumake’s gorgeous pearl-white dragster bearing only the name of their synthetics partner, Red Line Oil. Shumake sees this as an opportunity to recognize his consistent supporters and perhaps forge new partnerships in the process with his “if you build it, they will come” mentality. 

“I’m coming into Route 66 Raceway with nothing but a free barrel of that liquid gold from Red Line,” said Shumake. “The folks at Phillips 66 and Red Line Oil have had my back from day one. This weekend is a great opportunity to shed some light on the people who have been silent supporters, most notably, the Napoliello family from Englishtown. David Napp and his brothers have supported me for years and never asked for anything in return. I’m excited to give him some credit and attention this weekend. It’s an honor to have the family that ran Englishtown and pioneered the Jr. Dragster program on my side.”

While this may be a bit of a glorified test session for Shumake, that doesn’t mean the team is ready to settle for anything less than the event title. Crew chief Gerda Joon is confident they can bring their program together for a real shot at standing in the winners circle on Sunday. 

“We don’t need to make a statement and we aren’t going to lean into that pressure,” explained Joon. “We want Travis to get comfortable in the car, make sure our new tools work, and that we gel together as a team. Travis has an incredible amount of confidence that is absolutely contagious and calming at the track.”

All of the ultra-competitive drag racing action begins on Friday, May 17 with qualifying sessions at 2:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Qualifying will continue on Saturday, May 18 with sessions scheduled for 11:40 a.m. and 2:20 p.m.. Eliminations begin on Sunday, May 19 at 11:00 a.m. 

This story was originally published on May 16, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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