Denise McCluggage will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in early March as a member of a Class of 2022 that also includes Pete Brock, Helio Castroneves, Jack Roush and Banjo Matthews. While she won’t be there, she died in 2015 at the age of 88, the car in which she won her first race will be.
The car, a Jaguar XK140, was a gift from Briggs Cunningham, the wealthy American sportsman she met in the mid-1950 while covering a yacht race as a reporter.
After writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, she worked at the New York Herald Tribune, covering motorsports and skiing and wrote a book on the zen of skiing. In 1961 she drove her Ferrari 250 GT to Sebring, won her class in the race, and then drove the car back to New York. She raced in the US, Canada, South America and in Europe, and won her class in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964.
At one point, she owned a racing newspaper, Competition Press, basically to keep it from going out of business, and she was a long-time columnist for CompPress’s successor, AutoWeek magazine.
The XK140 she raced has been owned for nearly three years by Barnaby Brokaw, a Southern California car collector, automotive historian and founder of The Motorcar Society. Brokaw had heard talk that the Cunningham/McCluggage Jaguar was one of two XK140s owned by a European living in the Pacific Northwest.
“I kept track of this car for almost 25 years,” said Brokaw, who got to know Cunningham after the sportsman moved to the San Diego area late in life.
After acquiring the car, Brokaw was able to confirm its history with Cunningham historian Larry Berman.
“He had every record of the cars that Cunningham had his mechanic, Alfredo Momo, bend the brake pedal to make it easier to do heel-and-toe shifts,” Borkow said.
“‘OK, that’s it’,” Brokaw said, quoting Berman. “This was an example of his work for sure.”
In McCluggage’s honor, Brokaw has nicknamed the car “Lady Leadfoot.”
“Here’s a person in a man’s world back in the day and not just racing but in journalism as well,” he said. “They wouldn’t let her in Gasoline Alley (when she was covering the Indy 500), she had to do driver interviews through the fence. She was such a unique individual.”
Brokaw said the car was complete and in original condition when he got it. “The leather is tattered but their DNA is intact,” he noted. “I got it running; I was going to do a sympathetic mechanical restoration but didn’t even go that far.”