by Jon Asher
Thirty years ago participants in other forms of motorsports looked down their noses at everything drag racing, for they understood very little about it other than the need for massive amounts of horsepower. When it came to sophistication, well, that was about as unlikely as anyone using the term "engineer" to describe the grease-stained men working on the cars. In the 21st Century attitudes have changed. Visitors from F-1, Indycar and every other form of racing visiting an NHRA Full Throttle Series event come away shaking their heads in disbelief, amazed at the sophistication of the cars, and by the forward-thinking tuners they've encountered, men who understand the nuances of fuel delivery, tire adhesion and air flow characteristics in ways that they wouldn't have thought possible hours earlier.
Dale Armstrong can be blamed for that. This transplanted Canadian, who was elected to his nation's Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1995, and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2008, is known as "Double A" Dale, but even those who don't know his name know of his contributions. He elevated the position of crew chief to that of "race engineer" largely through his innovative thinking.
Armstrong arrived Stateside driving a topless Chevy II Funny Car, a machine for which the word "crude" was a kindness. He won more match races than his more well-known opponents thought possible, but that was just the beginning. Credited with being one of the two "Godfathers" of the Pro Comp category, Armstrong earned the '75 NHRA championship before going on to be so dominant in IHRA's version of it that, one-by-one, his competitors stopped coming out, and they cancelled the class.
Before hanging up his firesuit Armstrong made a few more forays into Funny Car racing, setting an NHRA elapsed time record in 1981, but as successful as his driving career was, it's what he accomplished as a race engineer that's earned him induction here tonight. A voracious reader of non-fiction, Armstrong's wide-ranging knowledge covers a myriad of subjects, and while this is merely conjecture, it's well within reason to suggest that many of the concepts he brought to racing he first read about being used in very different applications.
Among the items he's credited with developing for drag racing are the on-board computer, dual magnetos, the lock-up clutch, sophisticated wind tunnel testing and precision-designed superchargers. As an indication of his forward thinking, Armstrong also developed two additional items that were ultimately banned from competition due to their projected costs; three-spark plugs-per cylinder heads with a three magneto ignition system and a two-speed supercharger. Had they been allowed one wonders where performances might be today.
Much of his developmental work came during his tenure with fellow Hall of Famer, Kenny Bernstein. In point of fact, seldom have a driver and tuner's careers been so successfully intertwined as these two. Although most point to their four consecutive Funny Car championships and Top Fuel title as indicators of their achievements, their breaking of the 300 MPH barrier on March 20, 1992 in Gainesville, Florida may be their longest lasting legacy. Victories sometimes fade from memory, but records like that stand forever. And so too, will the legacy of Dale Armstrong.