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May 07, 2015

Denise McCluggage, the First Lady of Racing, dies at 88

Denise_McCluggageIt is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Denise McCluggage, an American auto racing driver, journalist, author, and photographer, yesterday at the age of 88. McCluggage was a pioneer of equality for women in the U.S., both in motorsports as well as in journalism, and she broke ground for the many female racers and journalists who have followed after her.

Denise was born in 1927 in Kansas, and began her career as a journalist in the 1950s. It was during this time that she took an interest in racing, starting out with an MG TC race car, participating in small club events. She began racing professionally in the mid-1950s, and was well known for her trademark white helmet covered with polka dots.

According to Wikipedia, “Her racing achievements included winning the grand touring category at Sebring in a Ferrari 250 GT in 1961, and she scored a class win in the Monte Carlo Rally in a Ford Falcon in 1964. She also participated in the 1000-km race at the Nürburgring. She drove Porsches, Maseratis and other racing cars of many marques, often with her compatriot Pinkie Rollo. She ended her racing career in the late 1960s and eventually became founding editor of the U.S. automotive magazine AutoWeek, where she remained a Senior Contributing Editor until her death on May 6, 2015.”    

140317-Denise_McCluggage_headshotShe won many awards during her lifetime: She held both the Ken W. Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism and the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award. She was presented a lifetime achievement award by the IAMA and is the only journalist to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame (2001). She even had her own exhibit at The Henry Ford Museum and was inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2006.

Her friend Jean Jennings recently featured her as a “Notorious Woman” in racing, describing her as “a Renaissance woman, one of the most elegant writers about anything automotive or otherwise, a wit, and a raconteur.” In her feature, Jean bragged that Denise could “still drive the wheels off a car even at the age of eighty-six.”

Aside from her racing and journalistic careers, Denise was a kind woman whose sense of humor and generous nature made her a friend and mentor to many. Learn more about her at her own website She will be greatly missed.



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