Denise McCluggage (January 20, 1927 – May 6, 2015) was an American auto racing driver, journalist, author and photographer. McCluggage was a pioneer of equality for women in the U.S., both in motorsports and in journalism…and is the only journalist to have been inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame
Maximus: You knew Marcus Aurelius?
Proximo: I didn’t say I knew him, I said he touched me on the shoulder once!
A friend and I chatted with Denise McCluggage in a bar once upon a time, somewhere in Arizona on Route 66. My friend and I were all proud of the shiny, red, Italian-ish sports car we’d built, and we were taking it on its first real road trip as part of some driving event. Denise withered us with her questions about the car…with no malice at all, but genuine interest.
I had a subscription to Autoweek magazine [remembrance] at the time, but in those days I was far more focused on the technical specs than the color. Thus Denise’s name was familiar, but less so her history (she was the founding editor). What I wouldn’t give to go back and turn the tables; to tell her to forget about our pretty pretender car and tell me about all the real cars which she had driven. I wish I could say now that I knew Denise.
After I finally realized that I’d blown a tremendous opportunity, I paid a lot more attention to Denise’s column. And I reached out to her a couple of times in the twenty-odd years that elapsed thereafter. I’m sure she was busy, had many friends, and I wasn’t very persistent. But now I find that I’ve missed my chance for good.
After a long life full of risk, writing, and righteousness, Denise appears to have succumbed to kidney cancer last week. In reading all the wonderful memorials from her friends and fellow drivers, I see on her Wikipedia page that Denise got some of her first real notoriety driving a Ferrari 250 GT to the grand touring class win at Sebring in 1961…the year before I was born.
Since I didn’t know Denise, I can only tell you that I enjoyed her company briefly and that she inspired me. Other than that, there’s nothing I could say about her that her friends haven’t said better. In particular, I enjoyed reading a couple of pieces from Jean Jennings:
For a vivid trip down memory lane, search Google for images of “Denise McCluggage.”
You will also enjoy Denise’s website. Start with her “about” page, where she begins:
I am asked from time to time: “When are you going to do your autobiography?” I answer: “I don’t do fiction.”
I hope she did write that memoir and someone finds it in a desk drawer somewhere.
Meanwhile, some of Denise’s other writings: