On Sunday, June 4, 2017 the racing world lost a pioneer and icon of the sport: Chuck Lyford climbed into his vintage Elva Mark VII for the last time that day. He was tragically killed in a high-speed one car accident on the road course at Spokane County Raceway during the SOVREN Festival of Speed. Racers know the risk involved in their sport, but they rarely wish to talk about it. The passion they have for their sport is fueled by the adrenaline of competition and winning, and yes, at times danger. Rather than focus on this tragedy, we shall focus on the triumphant life of a man who loved motorsports of seemingly all genres and whose zest for life is a shining example of living every day to the fullest.
Charles A. Lyford III began his racing career as a child on Lake Washington with outboards. As a teenager, he moved up to the inboard ranks of racing boats and by the age of 21 he won every single race he entered that season. In the early 1970s, along with prominent Seattle businessman Jim Clapp, Lyford developed and built the first successful turbine powered unlimited hydroplane: the U-95. This technology became the staple for the unlimiteds since.
In the midst of his racing accomplishments on the water, Lyford learned to fly while attending college at San Jose State—where he earned his degree in Airline Management. Flying and air racing became another passion for him and he was successful with his “Bardahl Special” P51D-25 in both transcontinental and pylon racing.
Along with his air and boat racing endeavors, he took up vintage car racing, which became a family affair and a passion. Lyford’s race cars were maintained and prepared at T-Zero Racing, a family business run by his son.
Lyford and his wife Pam shared a passion for each other and for racing. This passion culminated with the two racing together in two intercontinental road rallies, which they won. The first was in 2013 after restoring the 1938 Chevrolet once raced very successfully decades before by Juan Manuel Fangio. The Vintage Cape Horn Rally is a 6,000 kilometer (3,728 mile) road rally starting in Buenos Aires to Cape Horn through Argentina and Chile. They encountered adverse weather and road conditions of all types (severe wind, rain, and snow) through terrain of dirt, mud, gravel and ice amid deserts, hair pin turns and mountain passes. In 2016, they ran the similar but much more grueling Rally of the Incas, a 6,500-mile, 27 day race from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Lima, Peru. There was a dinner in honor of the Lyfords and their prestigious win of this rally on Saturday night, June 3 at the Festival of Speed, the night before Lyford’s tragic accident.
Chuck Lyford led a more privileged life than some, but that life also consisted of substantial philanthropy and kindness. Countless friends to Lyford on social media recount the adage he lived by and often referenced, “Every Day Counts.” His life was one of those movies are made of and he certainly lived by those words.
Michele Martin is a photographer, lifelong resident of Spokane, and a passionate motorsports enthusiast.