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

1 Comment

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.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

Leave a comment

Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.