Story continues below this advertisement
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, Mark Lyle was named the new NHRA Chief Starter. Lyle becomes only the third Chief Starter in the sixty-year history of the NHRA. The former Division Six starter, he now follows in the footsteps of the legendary Buster Couch (1955-1996) and Rick Stewart (1996-2011) who retired at the end of last season.
Lyle, who has been around cars and clubs for many years, was first an inspector for the National Street Rodder Association, going around and judging street rods and the like. He also works in the heavy truck industry as a Parts Manager at Kenworth Northwest. He lives in North Bend, Wash., with his family.
In 2000 Lyle got a call from a friend who said the Seattle International Raceway (now known as Pacific Raceways) was looking for a new starting line and track crew and was wondering if he would be interested. Thus, Lyle had taken his first footsteps into the world of drag racing. Lyle was the chief starter.
After a couple years at SIR as its chief starter, Lyle was approached by then NHRA Division 6 Director Mike Rice if he would be interested in working with the starting line crew under the tutelage of Rice’s father, Ray, who had been the Division 6 Starter for nearly two decades. Lyle then started attending all the Division 6 events, and working the Seattle national event.
When Ray Rice decided to retire he turned the reins over to Lyle in 2005.
“Ray’s teachings gave me the foundation to this job,” Lyle said. “One of the first things Ray taught me is the racers come first. That means that track has to be right before I send down a 260-mile-per-hour alcohol car, or a twelve-second stocker. Neither one is more important over the other.”
For the past three years, Lyle has been working some of the national events as a backup to Rick Stewart.
“I learned a lot from Rick and started doing more and more, and then was going to about 15 national events a year, when they didn’t conflict with the Division 6 races.” Lyle added, “The management at Kenworth Northwest have been very supportive in this whole process with time off and such.”
So, when Stewart announced his retirement at the end of 2011, Lyle said he put his hat into the ring just to see what would happen, and he got the call to become the new starter.
The new Chief Starter was gracious enough to spend a couple minutes on the day of the announcement with DRO’s Nostalgia Editor, Brian Losness, who spoke with Lyle by phone about getting the job and what it means to be only the third ever starter in NHRA history.