Michael Handras after winning the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H., on June 2. | KZ Photography

June 2 was my proudest moment as an athlete.

As my dragster crossed the finish line at the New England Nationals in Epping, N.H., at more than 170 mph, I saw the win light illuminate in my lane, and my smile shined just as bright. I have been racing drag cars in the National Hot Rod Assn. championship series for 10 years, and this was the most emotional moment of my career, especially for it to occur at the start of Pride Month.

As an out gay drag race driver, winning this event at this time of year was extra special. I was surrounded by my racing family at one of my favorite tracks, and nothing could be better. I was beaming as I went to collect my trophy. I had won my second race in as many weeks and was named Drag Illustrated’s VP Racer of the Week. 

Growing up as a kid who loved drag racing, I had always dreamed of these results, but wondered if I would ever accomplish them.  That self-doubt was overcome by the happiness of a sense of accomplishment I had never felt before.

My wins were the result of 10 years of hard work to be the best racer I could be, as well as the best version of myself.

I grew up knowing I was different from other kids.

While my first love was drag racing, I also loved swimming.  I spent two to three hours in the pool each day with the Flushing Flyers swim team in Queens, N.Y.  I enjoyed the competition and I excelled at the sport. One of my most vivid memories is being 12 years old and getting ready for the YMCA state championships in Rochester, despite being sick with a sore throat and not being able to train.  With no practice the week leading up to that race, I still placed fourth in the 11-12 age group in the 50-yard butterfly. 

Michael Handras in his dragster during his June 2 win. Photo by KZ Photography

When I’m asked where my competitive drive comes from, I always think about that swim meet. My mom was screaming so loud, it was all I could hear in the pool, until I looked up at the scoreboard to see the results of my heat. That fourth-place finish has always been a memory that keeps me pursuing first place. 

I’m lucky to have found a great group of friends that I consider family.  I have been very fortunate to team up with my good friend and race partner, Duane Shields.  He has supported my race program since 2017 and has helped bring me to the level of racing where I’m able to race two competitive cars with race transportation and crew help.

The opportunity to travel the country and race a full schedule wouldn’t be possible without Duane Shields and our marketing partners, Mickey Thompson Tires + Wheels, VP Racing, Right Trailers, Hoopes Fire Prevention and Shortline Express Markets.  Our individual heats take less than 10 seconds and are sometimes won by thousandths of a second, but people would be amazed at how much preparation goes into it, both mentally and physically. Much of the decision-making in this sport happens in the blink of an eye.  

Michael Handras celebrates his win at the New England Nationals. Photo by KZ Photography

Growing up, it seemed as if no one was out anywhere. When I started in 2014 in the sport of drag racing, there weren’t any out racers.  My love of the sport came from my dad, who was also a drag racer.  When I started my own race program, I had a lot of anxiety knowing I would likely be the only one. I decided I was going to pursue and figure it out.  Sometimes we just have to accept that coming out is a lifelong journey.  Like a lot of people reading this, I am asked at work, on vacation or getting a pedicure whether I have a wife or kids. “Actually, I’m gay,” is my response.

I’m often asked what it’s like to be a gay driver at the track, and I can confidently say that the drag racing community has been supportive of me. We have a mix of people who accept, tolerate or dislike people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, but it’s not any more challenging than the rest of society.

I’m happy to have this opportunity to share my story because I’m sure there are kids who were just like me at that age wondering if there is a place for them as an LGBTQ person in racing. If they love dragsters as much as me and the thrill of speed,  I would be the first one to tell them that NHRA drag racing is a great place for someone in the community.  

Michael Handras has been racing professionally for 10 years. Photo by KZ Photography

I spend anywhere from 15 to 20 weekends a year at the track. It’s ultimately where I want to be when I’m not working.  I’m glad I chased this dream, and that I did it being my true authentic self. 

I’ve been taught a valuable lesson: If you want it, you need to go for it at all costs, especially if it feels like it’s going to be challenging.  The end result of chasing my dream is that I’m right where I wanted to be when I was a kid reading national dragster magazines and hoping to win races.  Now, I can open those magazines and see my own name there.  

Coming out wasn’t easy, but neither is winning races and I have accomplished both of these goals.  

Michael Handras is a touring championship drag racer. He can be reached via Instagram and Facebook.

Story editor: Jim Buzinski

If you are an out LGBTQ person in sports and want to tell your story, email Jim ([email protected])

Check out our archive of coming out stories.