NauenThen

Denise McCluggage (1927–2015)

May 8, 2015

Known for her polka dot helmet
Farewell to one of my heroes, the writer & racer Denise McCluggage. Her 88 years were packed with adventures and firsts. She raced at Sebring & elsewhere, beating such drivers as Stirling Moss. She was a sportswriter for major newspapers in the 1950s when that was, needless to say, practically unheard of for a woman. She knew Steve McQueen as a fellow MG owner, was married to actor Mike Conrad, went everywhere, did everything the hell she felt like.

She was also incredibly generous. I contacted her (of course) when I was putting together Ladies, Start Your Engines, an anthology of women writers about cars and driving, and she not only sent me a signed copy of her terrific collection of AutoWeek columns, By Brooks Too Broad for Leaping (since that day on my shelf of treasures), she suggested half a dozen names of other women I should get in touch with.

When the book came out, I was interviewed on the NPR show Fresh Air, and they had Denise on as a special guest (another kindness of hers). The callers were uniformly excited to talk to and reminisce with her (with the exception of someone I'd gone to high school with), to the point that the host (it wasn't Terry Gross, but now I've forgotten who) felt bad for me & kept trying to steer the show back to me & my book. I didn't care, I was just as excited as everyone else.

A wonderful life. Friend to whoever crossed her path. Good writer.