Bob Armstrong was a talented up-and-coming hillclimber during the 1920s. He was a multi-time AMA amateur national hillclimb champion and had just turned professional and was starting to win pro races when he drowned in a tragic boating accident on July 19, 1930. Armstrong was just 21 years old.
The son of legendary class A racer Erle Armstrong, Robert E. Armstrong was born in Denver in June of 1909. Armstrong, along with his brothers Bill and Jack, was raised around motorcycles and began hillclimbing at an early age. By the time Armstrong was 18, he was considered not only the top amateur, but also one of the top hillclimbers in the country, period. As an amateur, Armstrong was often the fastest rider overall at the meet. He set numerous hill records riding Indians and won national amateur hillclimb titles in 1927, ’28 and ’29.
While racing, Armstrong also made the time to attend business college. His schooling came in handy in the late 1920s when his family took over an Indian dealership in Worcester, Massachusetts. Armstrong ran the dealership in partnership with his father.
Besides hillclimbing, Armstrong was also a talented ice racer. He won the very first dirt track race he ever entered, but despite his promising start on the dirt ovals, Armstrong was dedicated to hillclimbing, which was the sport that was most heavily supported by the factories at that time.
By 1929, it was apparent that Armstrong was more than ready to turn pro despite being just 19 years old. Armstrong was setting records just about every weekend he raced. His times more often than not were faster than those set by the pro riders of the day such as Orrie Steele, Howard Mitzell and Joe Petrali. At the end of 1929, Armstrong turned pro and promptly went out and on his first pro race in Somers, New York, over Petrali, setting a new hill record in the process.
The 1930 season started well for Armstrong. He won both the 61-cubic-inch professional and 45-cubic-inch expert hillclimb races at Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Armstrong was considered by many of his peers to be the most naturally talented hillclimbers of his day. His rapidly rising career was tragically cut short by the boating accident at the start of his first full year as a pro.
Armstrong was exceedingly well liked in racing. His funeral was attended by many of the leading figures of the industry and numerous tributes were written about him by the motorcycling press.
He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.