Sunday, May 3, 2009

John “Jack” Armstrong 1928 - 2009

On Saturday April 25th, 2009 the last member of the Armstrong racing family quietly left us. In Wilbraham Massachusetts, John “Jack” Armstrong passed away during the morning hours. His 20 plus year race against cancer finally coming to an end. Jack was predeceased by his father Erle “Red” “Pop” Armstrong (Racer, Chief Engineer Indian Motorcycle, Vaudevillian, and Hall of Fame member) and his brothers Bobby (Hill climber and Hall of Fame member) and Bill (Racer, and race mechanic for his brothers) – all Indian Motorcycle factory racers and employees at one time or another.

As with all his family, Jack lived and breathed “Indian” all his life – recanting memories of his growing up in the motorcycle and racing world of a time long past. Though not an “expert” in the Indian world, Jack was often called upon to assist and share his remembrances for stories, books, TV specials, and biographies relating to the Indian Motorcycle world.

Jack never lost his passion for racing – even after leaving competition (flat track) in the early 50’s to support a family (truth be told, it was a promise he made to his wife Nancy). An accomplished dirt tracker in the amateur and then profession ranks, Jack never lost his passion to compete. In the early 70’s, he re-entered the active world of racing as a hill climber on the AMA New England Hill Climb “circuit”. He set a hill record or two and gathered a few trophies along the way – not too bad for a man is his late 40 and well into his 50’s. He also served as an active member of the New England Hillclimber’s Association – serving on the board and as president.

Personally, and yes I am a bit biased, his greatest contribution to the racing world was not his own accomplishments, but rather the passion he showed for motorcycle racing, and his desire to share his stories and mentor the “new comers”. He was always willing to help any serious racer, often offering riding suggestions, engine “tuning” tips, porting secrets, and anything else that could help them gain an edge. Jack also contributed to the restoration of several Indian motorcycles, his memory of some of the finer details priceless.

In the mid 80’s, he was first diagnosed with cancer and finally gave up his second racing career. Never wanting to be a “show”, he felt his competitive abilities were not at the level they needed to be. Thus, he sold his racers and engines and said goodbye to the hills, dirt and mud. He never said goodbye to his colleagues though and continued to help anyone who asked and/or came by. Several of his engines showed up (and placed) in the ensuing nationals and pro events – in the hands of some of the new breed of riders moving from the amateur to the pro races.

Besides his wife Nancy of 59 years and children Charles and Christine, Jack leaves a world of friends and former colleagues who shared a two wheel passion and a desire to be out of the dust and first across the line.

Rest assured, he is back under the tutelage and wrenches of his father and brothers – and ready to race all that have gone before him.

Chuck Armstrong

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