Top NHRA, IHRA tuner Dale Armstrong has died

Armstrong, 73, tuned Kenny Bernstein's Budweiser King.

One of the most innovative tuners/drivers in NHRA/IHRA history has died.

Dale Armstrong, 73, passed away at his Temecula, Calif. home the day after Thanksgiving with his wife, drag racing public relations specialist Susan Arnold at his side. A Canadian who came to Southern California because he could race most every day or night of the week, Armstrong is cited as one of the most clever innovators in the drag racing world and was named one of the top 50 racers of NHRA’s first half-century.

He was a driver who won a dozen events each in NHRA and IHRA competition but gained his greatest fame tuning the Budweiser King Funny Car for Kenny Bernstein. Together the duo won four consecutive NHRA Funny Car titles in the mid-1980s and later secured a Top Fuel title together. Their largest achievement came in March of 1992 at Gainesville, Florida when Bernstein became the first driver to turn a 300-mph lap on the quarter-mile. That magic moment was celebrated at the track 20 years later by Bernstein, making a return-road silent run in the same car to cheers from a huge crowd.

Most of Armstrong’s innovations never saw the light of day when he produced them, being declined by NHRA’s technical department before some, inevitably became standards in the sport. He was the first to introduce the bead-lock wheel for drag racing, getting rid of the heavy inner liners that had given the nitro cars violent tire shake. He also helped produce a four-cam nitro Hemi engine and a multi-speed supercharger transmission - neither was allowed. Armstrong developed a cylinder head that accepted three spark plugs and a drive that allowed for the use of triple magnetos - those were banned as well.

True innovator

Armstrong’s multi-stage lockup clutch idea has become a standard of the industry; he was one of the founders of RacePak, a company that brought all NHRA drag racers into the computer age and is now one of the most widely respected engine management systems available to both professional and amateur racers in the drag racing field.

In addition to his work with Bernstein, Armstrong tuned Larry Dixon to the first sub-4.50-second pass on the quarter mile when the three-time champion drove for Don Prudhomme Racing. After his retirement, Armstrong consulted with a variety of racers including 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force.

He was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame (1995), the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame (2008) and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2010. While many will remember the tangible achievements Armstrong produced he’ll be fondly recalled for his calm and studied analysis of problems and making the kind of subtle changes to drag racing engines that enable these 8,000-plus-horsepower beasts to achieve quicker, faster and more consistent trips down the racetrack. Those were his calling card.

Dale Armstrong will be missed by all who love drag racing.

 

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Larry Dixon , Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Don Prudhomme
Article type Obituary
Tags budweiser king, nhra