The world of car racing is filled with great names, from Lewis Hamilton, to Danica Patrick. Women have proven they can go head to head with the guys and outpace them. For example, Danica Patrick has established herself as the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing. But it can be useful to look back at the female drivers who paved the way.
Women Racers is a series that shines a light on the greatest women drivers in history. Whether on the track or off, they made a name for themselves. A woman who developed a reputation in two fields was Denise McCluggage, as she was a respected automotive journalist as well as a successful racer.
McCluggage was born in El Dorado, Kansas in 1927 and developed an appreciation for cars at the age of 6, when she saw a Baby Austin 7 parked on the street. She began her career as a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle after graduating from Mills College in California. Later, she joined The Herald Tribune and covered features on racing, skiing and parachuting.
McCluggage bought her first sports car, an MG TC Midget, and started racing it at small events. After moving to New York in 1954 she began to race professionally. She gained further recognition by winning the Nassau Ladies Race 1 in 1956 by driving a Porsche 550. In 1959, McCluggage became the first woman to win the feature sports car event at Thompson Raceway in Connecticut.
Her other accomplishments include winning the Copa de Damas at the Venezuela Grand Prix, coming first in the GT category at the Sebring 12 Hours in 1961 and winning the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally.
In addition to being an accomplished racer, McCluggage was a prolific writer who helped launch the American automotive magazine Competition Press. The magazine later became Autoweek and McCluggage was the Senior Contributing Editor for more than 50 years. She’s also written a number of books, such as The Centred Skier and By Brooks Too Broad for Leaping.
Her writing earned her the Dean Batchelor Lifetime Achievement Award and she’s the only journalist to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
After retiring from racing in the late 1960s, McCluggage became more focused on her writing endeavours. She wrote regularly on her website and observed that “if a woman has the same amount of money that a man has, they are likely to buy the same car that a man would.”
McCluggage died in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2015 at the age of 88. She was highly respected among her peers and her legacy lives on in Autoweek.