National Hot Rod Reunion

Longtime drag racing driver and motorsports announcer Army Armstrong stands above the drag strip Thursday during the 17th annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion at Beech Bend Raceway.

Army Armstrong has always felt right at home behind the wheel, staring down the asphalt strip at Beech Bend Raceway.

Armstrong of Owensboro long made the short trek to Bowling Green to run in an assortment of classes at the track he affectionately calls “The Bend.”

The closest Armstrong can equate to the adrenaline rush of rocketing down the track in a race car came during his tour in Vietnam with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, riding in helicopters with his unit.

“I can remember sitting here ... it could be 95 degrees and your sweat’s rolling off of you and everything, and thousands of people around you – you’re the only person in the world,” Armstrong said. “You’re sitting in the car, got your seat belts on just like you did in your helicopter in Vietnam – it’s the most tranquil thing in the world.”

Armstrong was good, too, running for points in a variety of classes over the years starting in an old Volkswagen Bug – where he first unveiled his “Makin Bacon” car name – in the Modified Eliminators and working his way up to high-speed Funny Cars before finally stepping away from driving in 1999.

On Friday, Armstrong was among a group honored at the National Corvette Museum as part of the three-day 17th annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion hosted by Beech Bend.

Known as a tough competitor on the regional circuits, Armstrong remembers being prepared to race just about anyone when it came to Beech Bend – the “speed palace for the East Coast.”

Armstrong rattles off some of the sport’s greats who have taken passes down the strip at Beech Bend – Louisville’s Dale Funk ... Don “The Snake” Prudhomme ... “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

“You could come in here on an average weekend and end up running against one of the baddest guys in the country from California if he was on tour,” Armstrong said. “Or you could run the guys down from Clarksville, Tenn., Pappy Greenfield and his son in what they used to call match racing. All of a sudden you’d look over and you’d go, ‘Man, you’re running against the best in the country.’

“Drag racing is unique in the fact that it lets the little guy compete with the big guy. When you get on that line it’s 1,320 feet to the end for the win.”

Armstrong’s knowledge and enthusiasm for motorsports opened the door to another career as an announcer and broadcaster, where he became synonymous with emerging sports starting in the early 1980s that included monster trucks, tractor and truck pulls and swamp buggy racing. Armstrong worked as the primary broadcaster for those events first for TNT, then for a long stint stretching more than a decade on ESPN.

“I really liked motorsports and I loved drag racing, so I have a knowledge of basically all kinds of motorsports, so I can relate drag racing to monster trucks, I can relate it to tractor pulling, to swamp buggy races, to sand drag races and stuff like that,” Armstrong said.

“Everybody that runs here has got a story to tell. You can have a ball at this place because some of them you’ll be rolling on the floor laughing. Other ones you’ll be throwing your arm around the guy crying because something happened, but there’s always a story out there. And me being an announcer, I just try to share that story.”

Already inducted into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame (2009) and the International Monster Truck Hall of Fame (2013), Armstrong is still thrilled with the recognition of his contributions as a driver in drag racing.

“This one really feels good,” Armstrong said. “This is my second family and we’ve been together for over 50 years. The Reunion, that’s what this is all about – good teams, good memories, great town. It’s just an honor to be inducted into the venue, but to be inducted into it in a place you really care for means a whole lot to you. And Bowling Green, I really, really care for.”{&end}

– Follow sports editor Jeff Nations on Twitter @Jeff_NationsBG or visit bgdailynews.com.

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