Racing go-karts at age three and then later Modified Lites and sprint cars as a teenager is par for the course for many drivers in NASCAR. However, coming out as gay like Devon Rouse did last year is something that hasn't been heard of in the sport in a long time. Hailing from Burlington, Iowa, he landed a major sponsor in Gigg Inc. and is set to compete in the national Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) tour, ARCA East Series, ARCA West Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Here is more on this trailblazer's story.
Start of racing career and personal life
Born to Mike and Diane Rouse, the now 23-year-old, like so many others in the industry, began his career in the seat of a kart and stayed there for nearly a decade. Graduating to Mod Lites as a teen and notching a first professional win on home turf at 34 Raceway in West Burlington in 2014, he moved up to the 305 Sprint series and eventually 360, quickly becoming a regular with the Sprint Invader Series.
Pride Flag | iStock
Despite tasting success at the local level, Rouse wasn't satisfied and always felt the future held more, citing four-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jeff Gordon as a role model.
“I used to watch him win and watch the interviews and I was like, 'I want to do that!'" he told Outsports, an LGBTQ+ sports news website, in a recent interview. “I like people. I like being behind the camera. I have passion and a God-given talent for racing. Why not combine the two?"
In October of 2019, the young driver, never having been on an airplane prior, decided to take a holiday in sunny Florida. Fate intervened; on the final evening of his trip, he spotted a fellow wearing NASCAR gear, who turned out to work for a team in the Camping World Truck Series, and struck up a casual conversation. Soon after exchanging contact information, the team extended an invite to shadow a few races and even try out behind the wheel at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. Unfortunately, COVID-19 sidelined part of those plans.
Though one opportunity was temporarily delayed, another presented itself — in support of Pride Month, NASCAR announced a partnership via Twitter with You Can Play Team, which is an organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Inspired by the tweet, Rouse, identifying as gay since the seventh grade, penned a 400-word post on Instagram.
“Considering it's been done everywhere else, why not here too. I am gay. Yes...you just read that correctly. This is me, and it's time for me to stop living a double life. Living as what people want me to be, and living as what I want to be. To the friends, family, and fans who have physically been told already, I appreciate your support in this. It is in nowhere of any means easy."
Rouse accomplished two things during a testing session at Daytona in 2021: setting a personal best lap record clocking 174 miles per hour, as well as becoming the first openly gay participant in the NASCAR ARCA Series at Daytona. The sport has not seen another openly gay driver since Stephen Rhodes debuted in 2003.
While spending time in Salt Lake City earlier in the year, he signed on Utah-based software company Gigg Inc. as a sponsor, as mentioned above. The NASCAR Drive for Diversity program is also working closely with the racer to raise awareness about inclusivity and asked him to share his story on an “I am Athlete" podcast episode hosted by former NFL star Brandon Marshall.
Look for Rouse to compete in One Lap of America from April 30 to May 7, and back in Iowa for an ARCA Menard Series 250 race in June.