NHRA: Champion driver, tuner, innovator Dale Armstrong passes away at 73

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Dale Armstrong, a highly-respected crew chief that helped drag racing legend Kenny Bernstein win five of his six NHRA championships and also had a successful driving career himself in the 1970s, has passed away at the age of 73.

The NHRA reports that he was suffering from complications of sarcoidosis before his death on Friday at his home in California.

Armstrong won the 1975 NHRA Pro Comp title, and a year later claimed the IHRA title. He was also a multi-time winner in the sport’s most important race, the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis (1974, 1975, 1977).

After closing his driving career in 1981, Armstrong became a crew chief for Bernstein’s Funny Car outfit in 1982. Eventually, the duo helped power one of the NHRA’s top dynasties as Bernstein’s Budweiser King won four consecutive Funny Car crowns from 1985-1988.

Following the end of their reign, Bernstein and Armstrong moved to the Top Fuel category in 1990. Two years later, they made history that March in Gainesville, Florida.

Utilizing a cylinder head/magneto combination developed by Wes Cerny, Armstrong tuned Bernstein’s machine to the sport’s first-ever 300 mile per hour run – a 4.823 at 301.70 mph during qualifying at the GatorNationals.

“Being the crew chief on the first car to run 300 means more to me than any national event win or any Winston championship,” Armstrong said in 2001 after being voted No. 10 on a list of the NHRA’s Top 50 drivers ever. “There isn’t any question at all. People will forget what years we won the Winston championship, but they’ll never forget when the first 300 was run and who did it.”

Another championship for Bernstein followed in 1996 before the duo parted ways after five titles and 48 national event wins together.

Armstrong moved on to Don Prudhomme’s squad at the end of 1997, and continued to push the levels of performance; in 1999, he guided Larry Dixon to the first sub-4.50 second run ever, a 4.486, in an event in Houston.

In addition to his work behind the wheel and in tuning, Armstrong was hailed by his peers as an innovator par excellence.

He was the first Funny Car crew chief to utilize wind-tunnel testing and data recorders, and he also developed the first multi-stage clutch, a dual-source fuel delivery system, and dynamometer testing for engines that used nitromethane.

Additionally, Armstrong is credited with a variety of other creations that were in fact outlawed by the NHRA. Among that group of “offenders” was a two-speed supercharger and a cylinder head that accepted three spark plugs.

Following his retirement from the sport, Armstrong served as a consultant (most notably to John Force Racing) and worked on restoration of classic vehicles and racing machines.

He is a member of multiple motorsports Halls of Fame, including the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.