9/7/1874 - 7/3/1932
Record updated 09-Jul-07
One of the pioneers of American racing, he won a number of races. He took part in the first races ever held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 and the first Indy 500 in 1911. It was his crash in that race that broke the timing wire that led to the controvercy as to whether Mulford or Harroun won.
Herbert Lytle was born in Malone, New York. He started racing in 1904 when he teamed up with James Bates, who became his riding mechanic.
In August that year he took part in the races held on the one mile dirt oval at Kennilworth Track in Buffalo, New York, between the 12th and 15th of August. Driving a Pope-Toledo in the 5 mile Free For All race he finished second to Barney Oldfield's Peerless "Green Dragon".
They moved on to the Glenville Driving Track in Cleveland, Ohio, another one mile dirt oval, the following week. Lytle came second in the 5 mile Special Race for 8 cylinder cars on the 22nd of August and later the same day, won the Diamond Rubber Cup. The following day he won the both heats of the one mile race.
From Cleveland they travelled to Grosse Point, Michigan. He finished third in the Diamond Cup and the 10 mile Open race, as well as picking up a second in the Handicap.
October found Lytle and Bates racing in Harlem, Chicago, on anothee one mile dirt oval. He won the 5 mile race for cars over 1432 pounds and finished third in the five mile race two days later.
He continued to race a Pope-Toledo in 1905 finishing second on the dirt oval at Glenville on the 14th August behind Charles “Charley” Burman in his Peerless, with Webb Jay third in Whistling Billy.
In 1906 he finshed third in the Vanderbilt. The race was such a success that about 250,000 showed up for the race. As Lytle tried to make his way to the finish line, his path was completely obstructed by the crowds that had flooded onto the circuit to cheer him on.
The Vanderbilt Cup was cancelled in 1907 due to the dangers highlighted the year before. Lytle competed in the hillclimb at Stucky Hill, Ohio, picking up a second, third and fourth in various classes with his Pope-Toledo.
On the 22nd of June he drove in the 24 hour race at Grosse Pointe, finsihing second behing Bert Lorimer and Frank Kulick in their Ford. Lytle shared the Pope-Toledo with Lohse.
Lewis Strang and Herbert Lytle dominated racing in the US in 1908, driving Isottas. Extra security and better facilities were added for the Vanderbilt Cup, and with the building of the Long Island Motor Parkway, the event returned. The AAA chose to run to differnet rules than the new international regulations set up by the ACF and the European teams thus prefered to race in the rival American Grand Prize.
Starting in a drizzle the six leading cars were separated by three minutes. By lap sixth it was down to two, George Robertson in a
Locomobile and Herb Lytle in an Isotta. Robertson had an off late in the race but rejoined and came back to win by 1 min 48 sec from Lytle. Becoming the first American driver and car to do so.
In March he won the Savannah 170 Runabout Cup driving an Apperson and then came second to Lewis Strang's Isotta-Frachini in the Savannah 340 Challenge Cup. In April he was fourth in the Briarcliff 300 and in October won the Long Island 230 Motor Parkway Trophy driving an Isotta.
In 1909 he became a work driver for Apperson. However in March he raced a Cadillac to fourth place in a 100 mile race at Daytona. In June he retired from the Cobe Trophy Race at Crown Point with a broken spring and on August 19th he took part in the first ever automobile races at the tar and crushed stone 2.5 mile oval, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The opening races were scheduled for August 14th when the Federation of American Motorcyclists had agreed to stage their National Championships races there. However after three riders were hospitalised the remaining races were canceled.
In spite of this the first automobile races scheduled for the next weekend went ahead. Barney Oldfield gave ticket sales a big boost when he broke the two minute barrier with a practice lap of 76.27 mph. But the combination of high speed and August sun took its toll on the track surface. Workmen toiled every night to patch the crumbling surface.
August 19th found the Speedway grounds overflowing with spectators waiting for the first race which was won by Louis Schwitzer driving a Stoddard-Dayton. Arthur Chevrolet won the second race and Johnny Aitken and Ray Harroun won the last two preliminary events before the main event, the 250-mile Presto-Lite Trophy.
By the 30th lap the surface had started to break up. Then, on the 54th lap, tragedy struck. William Bourque's Knox, with Harry Holcolm as riding mechanic, hit a hole and rolled, killing them both instantly. Bob Burman, driving a Buick, won the race after which workmen imediately went to work again trying to get the track ready for the second day of the scheduled three day event.
On day two Len Zingle won a 10 mile free-for-all raceand Lewis Strang won the feature race, the G and J 100 mile trophy race.
Herb Lytle, driving his trusty Apperson Jack Rabbit, averted catastrophy on the third day when he headed straight for the grandstands after hitting a big hole. Lytle gave a vicious yank to the left on the steering wheel and the Apperson skidded across the track and buried itself in a sand pile. Riding mechanic Joe Betts was thrown clear in the melee but then grabbed a shovel and dug the car out of the sand. He spun the crank and he and Lytle rejoined the race.
The track surface was growing rougher with each lap and finally disaster struck again. Charlie Merz's big National shredded a tire just past the grandstands, crashed and landed in a crowd of spectators. Merz crawled out of the wreckage with minor bruises, but his riding mechanic, Claude Kellum, and two spectators were killed. Seconds later Bruce Keen's Marmon hit a hole in the southeast turn and the car swerved into one of the supports for a bridge crossing the track. Keen's mechanic was severely injured and starter Fred Wagner decided enough was enough. The 300 mile Wheeler-Schebler Tropy race was brought to halt at the 235 mile mark. Lee Lynch, driving a Jackson, was declared the winner with a speed of 55.61 mph.
The next day Carl Fisher announced that he was ready to spend $100,000 or more, if necessary, to make the Speedway safe for spectators and drivers. Thus the Brickyard was born.
He retired again in September in the Lowell Trophy Race with a broken camshaft though he led laps 8 and 9.
Then in September tragedy struck. Lytle crashed his Apperson on the first lap of a ten lap race using public roads at Riverhead on eastern end of Long Island. Lytle was thrown clear but knocked unconscious, but sadly his long time riding mechanic, James Bates, was crushed and died at the scene. Lytle spent several days in hospital but made a complete recovery.
He took a win in June 1910 in Atlanta driving an American and followed that with a second the next day at the same track.
In 1911 he drove in the first Indy 500 and played a part in the controvecy that has existed ever since as to actually wont he race. On lap 82, Lytle crashed his Apperson, braking the trip wire that was used for timing. The timing then had to be done by stop watch until a
new wire could be restrung. Until that point Ralph Mulford had been leading however Ray Harroun, driving the Indianapolis built Marmon, did exceptionally well while the race was being times by hand. Ralph put in three extra laps after the chequered flag just for be sure but by the time he pulled into the pits Harroun was already in Victory Lane. Mulford went to his grave convinced that he won the first 500.
Herbert Lytle died from pneumonia in Warsaw, Indiana, in 1932.