Longtime auto journalist, racecar driver Denise McCluggage dead at 88
Autoweek's Mark Vaughn remembers his colleague Denise McCluggage.
Word came late Wednesday that our friend, colleague, mentor and favorite staff racecar driver Denise McCluggage had passed away. She was 88.
The news was something of a shock because we, and maybe you, too, always believed she would be with us forever. Indeed, she had been on staff at Autoweek and its predecessor Competition Press from the beginning. She was a racer, and as such she understood other racers and could write about them far better than a sports writer who saw it as just another sport.
She, more than perhaps anyone associated with Autoweek, was the heart and soul of this publication. When it started out more than 50 years ago, she was its editor and she remained a contributor up till the end, sharing memories, reminiscences and philosophies with us -- and with you -- for more than half a century.
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.
She raced as often as she could, and in the best classes that the often-sexist race organizers would let her. She won the GT class at Sebring in 1962 driving a Ferrari 250. She took fifth at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1960. She won her class in the Rallye Monte Carlo in a Ford Falcon. It was a rare thing to see a woman driving a race car back in those times, and even more rare to see a woman win.
At other times, she was relegated to the “Ladies Races” that ran in support of the men. She won those, too, finishing first at Nassau, and at the Grand Prix of Venezuela in a Porsche 550.
She won awards, too. Among many other accolades she was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2001 and the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2006. For her writing, she won both the Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism and the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award.
But her greatest gift was the ability to take that lifetime of wonderful experiences and share them so eloquently and so generously with all the rest of us. The title of her collection of Autoweek writings, "By Brooks Too Broad For Leaping," comes from an A.E. Housman poem. As our final goodbye to our friend and colleague, we’ll reproduce it here. Goodbye, Denise.
"With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade."
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