Denise McCluggage is set for induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (MSHFA) next week and a classic sports car at the foundation of the trailblazer’s path to the MSHFA will be part of the celebration.
The 1956 Jaguar XK140 credited with inspiring the racing career of McCluggage arrived in Daytona Beach last Friday and will be on display at the MSHFA, which is located on the grounds of Daytona International Speedway, throughout next week’s two-day induction celebration, the entirety of March’s Women’s History Month and beyond. The MSHFA’s sold out 34th Induction Gala Presented by Toyota Racing at the Shores Resort and Spa, March 8, will see McCluggage enshrined as the Class of 2022 At Large inductee.
The once-lost, now-found Jaguar will play a special role in honoring an extraordinary woman who broke gender barriers with legendary charm and merit. McCluggage, who passed away in 2015, was nicknamed “Lady Leadfoot” by motorsports friends and affectionate rivals alike. At a time when women were not often allowed into racing pits or close to any of the action in sports dominated by men, McCluggage toppled gender barriers by participating in the sports she covered. She was a groundbreaking, award-winning journalist known for her fearless ambition, unwavering tenacity and natural athletic ability.
A cofounder of Autoweek, she was the first journalist to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. McCluggage was also the first woman to receive the Ken W. Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism.
“Denise’s role in publishing and sustaining Autoweek, nee Competition Press, during its infancy not only kept the publication going, but played a vital role in the growth of sports car racing in America,” said George Levy, President of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. “This is the car that inspired all of that for Denise.
“This is the car that made her want to race, and we couldn’t think of a better or more appropriate piece of motorsports history to have on display at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America for Women’s History Month and beyond.”
The Jaguar – believed to be permanently lost by racing enthusiasts and automotive historians alike – was miraculously discovered unaltered after sitting in a garage for nearly three decades. Barnaby Brokaw, President and Founder of The Motorcar Society, considers the Jaguar to be one of the most significant “barn finds” of the decade.
“This is the car that American sportsman Briggs Cunningham (MSHFA Class of 1997) gave to Denise because he saw something special in her,” Brokaw said. “She was fiercely competitive and highly respected by her peers on and off the race track “Denise truly deserves the honor of being recognized by the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, and it’s a special opportunity to bring her first race car here.”
McCluggage made her racing debut in the Jaguar at an SCCA regional in Montgomery, New York in August of 1956 at the age of 29. She won the Ladies Race outright and placed well in the larger race against much more experienced competition. McCluggage was the first woman to win the feature sports car event at Thompson Raceway in Connecticut with a Porsche RS in 1959, won the GT class at Sebring in Florida in 1961 with a Ferrari 250, and subsequently became the first female driver inducted into the Sebring International Raceway Hall of Fame.
“Denise was a pioneer and legend for her many talents – behind the wheel of a race car, brilliant writing and photography, and storytelling,” said Lyn St. James, the 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and an accomplished sports car driver who will present McCluggage for induction.
“To be able to see this fabulous Jaguar that was one of her first racing cars come back to life is wonderful. Denise was someone who never let a challenge go unmet. Guts and brilliance were her mantra. It is a great honor for me to be able to help induct Denise McCluggage into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.”
In addition to McCluggage, the MSHFA Class of 2022 includes the designer of the 1965 World Champion Cobra Daytona Coupes, Peter Brock (Sports Cars), record-equalling four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves (Open Wheel), the only person in history to win NHRA Top Fuel championships as a driver and crew chief, Dick LaHaie (Drag Racing), the Davidsons & Harley, founders of Harley-Davidson (Historic), “The Henry Ford of race cars,” NASCAR builder Banjo Matthews (Business), NASCAR cofounder and championship-winning team owner Raymond Parks (Historic), “The Cat in the Hat” who has masterminded more than 300 NASCAR wins, Jack Roush (Stock Cars) and motorcycle racing innovators who have won NHRA drag racing titles, AMA Supersport and Superbike titles, two Daytona 200s and more, Terry Vance & Byron Hines (Motorcycles).