NHRA tragedy: Chief Starter Mark Lyle dies unexpectedly at 65

(Photo courtesy Mark Lyle official Facebook page)

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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IndyCar disappointed by delay of video game but aiming to launch at start of 2024

IndyCar video game 2024

An IndyCar executive said there is “absolutely” disappointment that its long-awaited video game recently was delayed beyond its target date, but the series remains optimistic about the new title.

“Well, I don’t know how quick it will be, but the whole situation is important to us,” Penske Entertainment president and CEO Mark Miles said during a news conference Monday morning to announce IndyCar’s NTT title sponsorship. “Motorsport Games has spent a lot of money, a lot of effort to create an IndyCar title. What we’ve seen of that effort, which is not completely obvious, is very reassuring.

“I think it’s going to be outstanding. That’s our shared objective, that when it is released, it’s just widely accepted. A great credit both to IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, something that our fans love.”

In June 2021, IndyCar announced a new partnership with Motorsport Games to create and distribute an IndyCar video game for the PC and Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2023.

But during an earnings call last week, Motorsport Games said the IndyCar game had been delayed to 2024 to ensure high quality.

Somewhat compounding the delay is that IndyCar’s license for iRacing expired after the end of the 2022 season because of its exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games.

That’s resulted in significant changes for IndyCar on iRacing, which had provided a high-profile way for the series to stay visible during its 2020 shutdown from the pandemic. (Players still can race an unbranded car but don’t race on current IndyCar tracks, nor can they stream).

That’s helped ratchet up the attention on having a video game outlet for IndyCar.

“I wish we had an IndyCar title 10 years ago,” said Miles, who has been working with the organization since 2013. “We’ve been close, but we’ve had these I think speed bumps.”

IndyCar is hopeful the Motorsports Game edition will be ready at the start of 2024. Miles hinted that beta versions could be unveiled to reporters ahead of the time “to begin to show the progress in a narrow way to make sure we’ve got it right, to test the progress so that we’re ready when they’re ready.”

It’s been nearly 18 years since the release of the most recent IndyCar video game for console or PC.

“(We) better get it right,” Miles said. “It’s something we’re very close to and continue to think about what it is to make sure we get it over the line in due course.”