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.