NHRA tragedy: Chief Starter Mark Lyle dies unexpectedly at 65

(Photo courtesy Mark Lyle official Facebook page)
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The world of drag racing is reeling from the news of the tragic and sudden death of NHRA Chief Starter Mark Lyle.

The 65-year-old Lyle assumed his role in 2012 and was only the third Chief Starter in NHRA history. According to Motorsport.com’s Anne Proffit, Lyle reportedly died while attempting to save a friend who was struggling while swimming Sunday while on vacation in Zipolite, Oaxaca, Mexico.

“It sounds like somebody was in trouble in the water and (Lyle) dropped everything and ran out there,” Pacific Raceways president Jason Fiorito told Susan Wade of DragZine.com. “That was just Mark. It never would have crossed Mark’s mind not to just run out and try to help somebody.

“He would have never thought about his own safety. He would just go help somebody else – that was just him. … If he saw somebody in trouble, it was his job to go save them and he never would have thought twice about it.”

A resident of North Bend, Washington, Lyle reportedly died one day after his birthday and 11 days after he and wife Marcia celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary. The trip to Mexico was to celebrate both dates.

The late Buster Couch served 41 seasons as the NHRA’s chief starter (1955-1996), followed by Rick Stewart (1996-2011). Lyle succeeded Stewart at the start of the 2012 season.

Condolences poured in when NHRA announced the news on NHRA.com Monday afternoon:

* “On behalf of NHRA and the entire drag racing community, we offer our condolences to all of Lyle’s family and friends,” the sanctioning body said in a statement.

* “(Lyle) took over for Rick Stewart, who took over from Buster Couch,” legendary drag racer Don “The Snake” Prudhomme told NBC Sports. “Buster was the chief starter when I came along and played an important role in the NHRA. He passed it down to Rick Stewart until he retired.

“Believe me, standing there between two fuel dragsters is no easy task. While I didn’t know Mark very well, I’m sad to hear about his passing.”

* “Mark was one of the most kind-hearted, genuine people I’ve ever met in my whole life,” Fiorito told DragZine.com. “He was a wise and compassionate man, and I will miss him dearly. My heart and prayers go out to Marcia and his family. This world is a better place because he shared time with us.”

* “He loved the sport and the people in the sport loved him,” Chris Blair, general manager and executive vice president of Gateway Motorsports Park in suburban St. Louis, said in a statement. “His passing leaves a tremendous hole in our hearts. We want to thank his wife, Marcia, for allowing him to come play with us on his off weekends. Having Mark on the starting line ensured our events would be special.”

NHRA Division 6 starter Mike Gittings has been named interim chief starter for this weekend’s DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA in Las Vegas.

Numerous notables in the NHRA drag racing world also took to Twitter to convey their condolences:

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