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Bob Armstrong, 65: Racer, contributor to motorsport growth

Published April 20, 2013

Bob Armstrong of Ottawa, a competitor and major contributor to motor racing in Canada, died Friday of cancer. He was 65.

As well as race-driving himself – as recently as last fall, in fact, during the Celebration of Motorsport weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park – he was an organizer, supporter, contributor (chief steward of  several racing series and director of track safety at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal, for example) and an administrator and executive (the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame) of motor sport in Canada.

Dr. Hugh Scully, Chairman of the Motorsport Hall, announced Saturday that to honour Bob for his many contributions, he will be made an Honourable Member at an induction ceremony later this year.

Said Scully: “On behalf of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, and personally, I want to express sadness and heartfelt condolences to his family and a real sense of loss at the passing of Bob after a courageous battle against cancer.

“He was an accomplished racing driver, a highly respected teacher and mentor to young drivers and a leader in motorsport safety at all levels,including Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR.

“Bob’s dedication to the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame was exemplary. As a member of the Board, his thoughtful,well-considered input to our discussions always resonated well. His leadership, honesty and fairness as Chair of the Inductee Nomination and Selection Committee were always very helpful.

“Indeed, it was with great pleasure that I talked with Bob recently to inform him that he had been unanimously elected to Honourable Membership in the Hall this year. He was very pleased, proud and appreciative.”

Paul Cooke, vice-president of ASN FIA Canada, the regulatory body that governs motorsport in Canada, issued this statement Saturday:

“If there is a Canadian `Royal Family’ of racing,  it is certainly the Armstrongs. On any given weekend it was not unusual to find Bob the father, Cindy the mother and Jennifer the daughter at a race event in any number of roles from track preparation, race driving, officiating, training or whatever was needed to be done.

“Bob was someone that I personally worked with on many projects for more than three decades. We worked together for a week or 10 days every year at Canada’s most prestigious motor sport event – the Grand Prix of Canada. In addition to safety responsibilities for the Indy Racing League in Canada, Bob was also a key player in NASCAR Canada’s safety program.

“To know Bob was to respect his wealth of experience, knowledge and his willingness and ability to share with others. More importantly, to know him was to like him.

“Motor sport in Canada is better because Bob was here,” Cooke concluded.

I watched Bob race for years, but got to know him when we were both involved with the Motorsport Hall. When French-Canadians were inducted, I would read the English dedication while Bob — who was fluently bilingual — would read the French.

A contributor in many ways over the years, he served most recently as chairman of the Hall’s selection committee.

Throughout his on-track career, Bob raced Formula Fordsand Formula Atlantic single-seat cars as well as IMSA GTO, Firestone Firehawk, Michelin Enduro and Sprint GT cars. No homebody, he raced at circuits throughout North America.

He was runner-up twice in the North American Pro-Ford Series and won three Canadian Formula Ford championships in the 1970s. He was 1994 Canadian Endurance Champion, 2003 Canadian Touring GT Champion and 2005 over-all Division winner of the Sprint GT Championship.

In the mid-1980s, while still competing, Bob became ASN Canada FIA’s Chief Steward for the National Formula 2000 and Rothmans Porsche Series and oversaw competition that featured drivers like Ron Fellows, Paul Tracy, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Tagliani, Patrick Carpentier and Scott Goodyear, among others.

In 1990, he also became Director, Track Safety at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve and since then worked with the FIA Formula One World Championship (Canadian Grand Prix), the World Sports Car Series, the CART Indy car series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Bob was also the Chief Race Instructor for the CASC and provided advanced driving training to the staffs of automobile manufacturers operating in Canada. Another contribution he made to the industry was by helping out each fall at the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s annual TestFest.

Two of AJAC’s executive members, Richard Russell of Halifax and Clare Dear of London, Ont., were saddened by the news.

“Bob was an immense asset,” said Russell. “Working with him was a pleasure. He controlled the track component in his usual capable manner with humour and understanding, giving encouragement when deserved and discouragement when necessary.

“Bob was an asset to Canadian motorsport from his days as a competitor to those as a wise guide.”

Added Dear: “Bob’s skill and experience as a racer and track safety expert ensured all involved with our TestFest track activities were in the surest hands. The fact we’ve never had a crash or injury is a testament to his abilities to keep the journalist testers’ adrenalin and testosterone in check.

“He was quick to offer encouragement and advice to the newbies, yet he could tone down even the biggest egos in such a subtle manner, when necessary. And there was always that trademark smile.

“Bob has always been a huge supporter of Canadian motorsport, so it’s not surprising he was so actively involved in the Motorsport Hall of Fame. His contributions to the sport, and more important to the people who are involved in it at all levels, are immense, but equally important is the fact Bob was such a genuinely wonderful person.”

Thom Dickinson, vice-president of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, spoke about Bob’s commitment to the sport.

“Bob was one of the most passionate and dedicated people I have ever known,” Dickinson said.

“As a Member of the Board of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame, and later as its Vice President, Bob would leave no stone unturned in his quest for the best for the organization. It would start with a four-to-five-hour drive each way from Ottawa to Toronto for our meetings. His attention to detail was impeccable, and his care and concern for the people we inducted was unmatched.

“I considered him a friend as well as a colleague, and will truly miss him, as will Canadian Motorsport.”

Ralph Luciw, former Honda-Michelin Challenge Series director, and a friend, had this to say:

“Bob was very much a no-nonsense kind of guy, but only for the best of reasons. He wanted things done right, the first time.

“He worked tirelessly on the CMHF Honourable Members Inductee program and did a masterful job of chairing that process for the Hall of Fame. His contributions to the safe running of events, whether it was a club race or an International event or the AJAC Car of the Year competition, were too many to list and contributed to the success of all of these programs.

“He could be tough but he always had time to help people out and after he “straightened you out,” he’d leave you with a big smile and a pat on the back.”

Robert Allen Armstrong was born in Ottawa on April 5, 1948, and died in Ottawa on April 19, 2013. He leaves his wife Cindy, sons Scott and Trevor and daughter Jennifer, five grandchildren and 22 nieces and nephews.

A private family service will be held, with a Celebration of Life planned for the near future.

The family says it welcomes donations in Bob’s memory to Pancreatic Cancer Canada or the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame.

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