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Bayles was born in Mason, Illinois on January 24, 1900 and was working as an electrician in various mines around Illinois when he began taking flying lessons. After a stint back in the mines, Bayles began barnstorming around the country. Due to the Great Depression, the Granville Brothers Aircraft Company saw the air racing circuit as a way to stay in business. To raise seed money for the air racing operation, the "Springfield Air Racing Association" (SARA) was formed. Bayles added $500 of his own money to be the pilot in the venture.
Bayles flew the Gee Bee Model X in the Cirrus Derby in 1930, coming in second and sharing the $7000 purse with the Granvilles. In 1931, Bayles piloted a Gee Bee Model E Sportster in the Ford National Reliability Air Tour, coming in fourth in the point standing and winning the Great Lakes Trophy for a total of $2000 in prize money. At the 1931 National Air Races, Bayles and the Gee Bee Model Z, christened the "City of Springfield," cleaned up, first winning the $7500 Thompson Trophy prize then the Shell Speed dash, breaking the speed record for the course, then won the Goodyear Trophy race.
Bayles had failed to break the official World Landplane Speed Record at the 1931 National Air Races. Following the Thompson Trophy race, the Gee Bee Z was re-engined with a larger, Wasp radial. On December 1, 1931 Lowell Bayles attempted the speed record again and made four passes, but did not surpass the old record by the required 4.97 miles per hour. On December 5, Bayles tried again, diving into the course from 1,000 feet and leveling off at 150 feet as rules allowed. Travelling over 300 miles per hour and 75 feet from the ground, the Model Z suddenly pitched up, the right wing folded beyond the flying wire attachment point. The plane crashed alongside of a railroad track in a huge ball of flame and smoke. Lowell Bayles body was thrown from the disintegrated plane. Analysis of the crash, based on motion picture film of the event examined frame-by-frame, showed that the aircraft's fuel cap had come loose and crashed through the Gee Bee Z's windscreen. It struck the pilot and incapacitated him, causing a sudden upset in pitch that led to the structural failure of the wing.