Denise McCluggage — veteran racer, founder of Competition Press (which became Autoweek) and award-winning writer — passed away late yesterday. She was 88.
An article at Autoweek.com announced Ms. McCluggage’s passing:
“No one else brought the perspective Denise offered. She was there when Phil Hill won Le Mans, driving around the track with him the night before while Phil daubed paint on all the apexes he was so worried he’d otherwise miss. She was there when Fangio and Moss were winning Grands Prix across Europe. She was a friend and confidant of the greatest names in racing. Look up pictures of Denise and you’ll usually find her placed in the middle of those greats, everyone smiling.”
Ms. McCluggage began her journalism career at the San Francisco Chronicle. While covering a yacht race in San Francisco in the early 1950s, she met race car driver and builder Briggs Cunningham and began figuring out how to get herself behind the wheel during the golden era of sports car racing.
She began racing an MG TC at club racing events on the west coast, and soon moved east to take a job as a sports writer for the New York Herald. Her MG TC was replaced with a Jaguar XK 120, and she started racing professionally.
She was a race car driver when sexism ruled the organizing bodies of the world’s greatest races. Nevertheless, she won the GT class at Sebring in a Ferrari 250 in 1961, and finished fifth at Watkins Glen in 1960. She was a rally car driver, as well, winning her class at the Rally Monte Carlo in 1964 in a Ford Falcon. She raced until the late 1960s, as she was founding Competition Press.
Just prior to her race at Sebring, she appeared on the TV show To Tell The Truth:
As accomplished a race car driver as she was, her legacy is really as a writer. Along with her automotive writing, she also wrote extensively about her other passion — skiing. In 1977 McCluggage wrote The Centered Skier, a book published by Vermont Crossroads Press mixing elements of sports psychology and Zen Buddhism. The book became the foundation of skiing education at Vermont’s Sugarbush Ski School.
Ms. McCluggage was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2001 — the only journalist to be inducted — and the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2006. She won both the International Motor Press Asssociation’s Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Jounralism and the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award.
On a personal note, I had emailed with her just a week ago. I’m the current president of the New England Motor Press Association, and we were honoring Ms. McCluggage with a Lifetime Achievement Award. She expressed her regrets that she was receiving a treatment for an vision ailment on the very day that we were to present her with the award, so legendary automotive journalist and historian Ken Gross was to accept in her stead.
“One thing is certain,” she wrote to me last week. “Old sucks.”