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Shumake’s NHRA Top Fuel Debut Rallies The Valley

SR Driven Media photos

In a weekend full of firsts, it’s hard for newly minted Top Fuel pilot and team owner Travis Shumake to pick a favorite moment from his time at Firebird Motorsports Park during the NHRA Arizona Nationals. The Arizona native had a substantial fanbase supporting him as he made his NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series debut in his Fry’s Food Stores/Arizona Lottery/Lerner and Rowe Top Fuel dragster. 

It was important for the son of late NHRA Funny Car champion and Arizona Drag Racing Hall of Fame members Tripp and Susie Shumake to begin his promising Top Fuel career at Firebird Motorsports Park, a facility that not only has significant sentimental value but also has some of the most engaged fans on the circuit. In 2023, when the track was in danger of closing permanently, the community rallied to continue bringing the excitement of NHRA drag racing to the area. With sellout crowds on Saturday and Sunday, it was apparent that drag racing is thriving in the desert. That’s music to the ears of Shumake’s sponsors, most of which are Arizona institutions. 

“The fans loved the design and the local brands on the dragster,” remarked Shumake. “It was great to hear folks saying, ‘I’m so glad Fry’s is finally in racing,’ or, ‘I didn’t know the Arizona Lottery had a dragster.’ Our co-primary sponsors, Fry’s Food Stores and the Arizona Lottery were both thrilled with the results and impact of our partnership.”

Shumake’s Wing Sponsor Lerner and Rowe put up more than 100 “Good Luck Travis” billboards around the state which likely contributed to the sellout crowd and several first-time drag race attendees.

“That’s what it’s all about,” said Shumake. “My goal is to bring new eyes and new dollars to our sport. So when someone says they saw my face on a Lerner and Rowe billboard on the highway and decided to come check out the races, it’s mission accomplished baby!”

In his first Top Fuel qualifying pass on Friday evening, Shumake got to line up alongside his friend and fellow Top Fuel rookie Jasmine Salinas. 

“Friday night qualifying was my favorite as a kid,” said Shumake. “Unfortunately as atmospheric conditions changed, my helmet visor quickly fogged up. On the launch, my exhale completely filled the visor and left me driving in heavy fog.”

Additionally, the talented driver received a literal “Baptism By Nitro” when he launched his burnout. 

“We hadn’t fully adjusted the throttle blades yet on my new injector hat,” recalls Shumake. “So the combination of an untrimmed fuel pump and a high idle gave me a ‘nitro champagne shower’ as a very expensive mist of nitro came down on me and the windshield as I reversed. The combination of moisture inside and out of my helmet made clicking it off an easy and safe choice with Jasmine in the other lane.”

Shumake and his crew chief Gerda Joon took steps to rectify the issue and steadily improved in each of their additional qualifying efforts. On Saturday, Shumake made a run of 4.836 seconds at 150.98 mph to make it into the show, but it was the improvement made in his final qualifying pass of 4.175 at 203.61 that gave his team the encouragement they needed to enter eliminations on Sunday.

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“With every round, we were getting more and more comfortable,” said Shumake. “Things as simple as towing the car to the lanes and strapping me in. The crew and I started to get our rhythm. This weekend we faced some tricky track conditions which was great practice for me as a driver with a very small groove to stay within. Getting the car to the line and started four times in a row is actually quite a feat for a team of strangers who met for the first time at the track on Thursday night.”

From the bottom rung of the ladder, Shumake faced four-time Top Fuel world champion and No. 1 qualifier Steve Torrence in the first round of eliminations Sunday morning. 

“I went over and spoke with Steve on Sunday morning,” said Shumake. ”I told him to be patient with us and he joked that he is still trying to figure out what the heck he is doing every time he gets up there. I’ve raced champions and icons before in Top Alcohol and it didn’t really phase me that it was him. In fact, I felt like I had a pretty good shot.”

Torrence got the starting line advantage and held on to it to defeat Shumake, but overall the weekend was a success for the new team.

“This is a childhood dream come true,” Shumake expressed. “You wonder as a kid, what it would be like to drive down the return road in your firesuit and have people yelling your name. Those are those cool, cheesy moments that choke you up. Having my friends, family and community here to see what I’ve been building over the past three years was really special. You think no one notices how much it takes to build a race team and the time you’ve put into making this happen. The years of work and attention to detail paid off this weekend. We’ve put together a polished and competitive race team with good parts and good people. That showed this weekend.”

With no major sponsors secured beyond the Phoenix race, Shumake is hoping his debut stirs up some business interest and the dynamic rookie is actively pursuing sponsorships in hopes of returning to the driver’s seat of his Top Fuel dragster in Chicago when the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series holds the Gerber Collision & Glass NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by PEAK Performance at famed Route 66 Raceway, May 17-19.

This story was originally published on April 9, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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