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(Bob Johnson photo)
Dale Armstrong, whose talents as a driver, tuner, fabricator and innovator rivaled those of drag racing legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, died Thursday, Nov 27 at his home in Temecula, California, with his wife, Susie, and their menagerie of rescued dogs and cats by his side. He was 73.
Although he was best known as crew chief to Kenny Bernstein when the Texan won five of his six NHRA championships, Armstrong was much, much more. In fact, he already had completed one successful career before he and Bernstein joined forces in 1982.
Born in 1941 in Holden, Alberta, Canada, Armstrong developed his mechanical skills modifying hot rods in his family’s garage. He started racing in 1957 and, in 1965, moved to Southern California because it provided him an opportunity to race his Chevy II up to five days a week.
His driving career took off in the mid-1970s with the debut of the NHRA’s Pro Comp category in which fuel altereds, Funny Cars and dragsters raced against one another in a heads-up format.
Armstrong won NHRA Pro Comp events in four distinctly different vehicles – a BB/Funny Car, an A/Fuel Dragster, a AA/Fuel Altered and a Top Alcohol Dragster which, at the time, was designated AA/DA. It was from that “AA” designation that Armstrong’s “Double-A Dale” nickname was derived.
Not surprisingly, Armstrong excelled in the sport’s biggest race, the Labor Day U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, in which he won Pro Comp in 1974 (in an altered), 1975 (in Jim Foust’s “Alcoholic” Funny Car) and 1977 (in a Top Alcohol Dragster). He followed up his 1975 NHRA World Championship by winning seven of nine IHRA tour events and that organization’s Pro Comp title a year later.
After moving up to the nitro Funny Car class and despite racing on a tight budget, Armstrong went to three final rounds and, in his final appearance as a driver (Oct. 18, 1981), lowered the NHRA national record to 5.89 seconds after qualifying No. 1 for the season-ending Winston World Finals in Irvine, Calif.