Those were Denise McCluggage’s words from her acceptance speech into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2001. Through her writing, the world would also celebrate her discovery of cars, and so much more. Biographies typically describe her as a writer/editor, a race car driver, and an adventurer. Enthusiast would seem to be the best description of all.
She was not an activist or pioneer for women’s rights. She was simply a participant in life to the fullest who chose to share her adventures via the written word.
Born in Eldorado, Kansas, Denise headed west, graduating (Phi Beta Kappa) from Mills College in Oakland, California. Joining the San Francisco Chronicle as a reporter, she first covered women’s features, moving to cover what today would be called “extreme sports”; racing, skiing, sky diving. It was while she was living in San Francisco that she also discovered the early sports cars being imported into the United States. Specifically, the MG-TC.
With amateur road racing growing exponentially in California, it was not surprising she found her way on to the track. With that, she managed to convince her editors at the Chronicle she could cover races better as an entrant, since female reporters weren’t welcome in the pits or paddock. Thus, the new category of participatory sports journalism was created.
By the mid-50’s, Denise moved east, joining the New York Herald Tribune. She took her interest in fast cars and contacts with the racing community with her. Replacing her MG with a Jaguar XK 140 , Denise began competing as a professional race driver. Concurrently, she helped found and edit Competition Press, America’s first motorsports weekly, now published as Autoweek.
He didn’t just drive, she won. In 1959, Denise drove a Porsche RS to victory at Thompson Raceway in Connecticut, took fifth in the United States Gran Prix at Watkins Glen, in 1960 and won the GT class at the Sebring (FL) 12-Hour race in 1961 driving a Ferrari. Before the decade was over she raced all over the world, winning at the Monte Carlo Rallye in 1964 driving a factory-entered Ford Falcon and competing at some of the world’s great venues; Daytona Beach, FL, Nurburgring, Germany, and Elkhart Lake, WI, to name a few.
Denise’s writing was not confined to newspaper assignments and enthusiast publications. Her by line would appear in Autoweek and a weekly column “Drive, She Said” (syndicated to 90 newspapers) until shortly before her passing in 2015. But her books on other subjects were widely acclaimed as well.
The Centered Skier, a book that mixed sports psychology with Zen Buddhism with her enthusiasm and skill in skiing, earned a place on the Professional Ski Instructors reading list.
Awarded the Ken W. Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, Denise was the first journalist to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.