Media Coverage for Women's Sport
It’s been about 70 years since Denise McCluggage left Topeka to attend college in California.
But McCluggage, a pioneer for women in both motorsports and sports writing, still remembers her local roots like it was yesterday.
“I was 6 years old when we moved to Topeka (from El Dorado),” said McCluggage, now 86, who made an appearance at Kansas Speedway last Friday. “I lived in Topeka until I was 16 and went to college in California.”
“I went to Clay (Elementary) School and then Boswell (Junior High) and then Topeka High School. It was a fantastic school. It was incredible how good that school was. It was lovely looking and still is.”
McCluggage has traveled the world over both as a racer and journalist and has been inducted into numerous halls of fame, but says it was Topeka where it all started, particularly as a journalist.
“I think I always wanted to be a journalist,” she said. “When I lived in Topeka, in Westwood, I was in junior high and I had a newspaper when I was like 12 years old. It was a neighborhood paper, and we mimeographed it at Menniger’s Clinic downtown.
“Someone would move in, and I’d run over with a pad and paper. What were the names of their dogs, how old were their kids? The adults loved it because I had all this gossip in the thing really, which seemed to be news to me. There would be news items like, ‘Mrs. Stuke has been bothered by junk men lately.’ Really serious journalism.”
McCluggage also practiced her craft at Topeka High.
“The only journalism classes I had were in Topeka, Kansas, at Topeka High School,” she said. “We’d put out the paper. There was a print shop, and kids printed the thing. We got all the ads, did all the work on it and it was as good of journalism as any college ever had. It was terrific.”
Later McCluggage caught the racing bug and raced professionally in the 1950s and ’60s, winning numerous titles.
“I happened to have a knack for it, and that’s all you needed then,” said McCluggage, who has a street named in her honor at Heartland Park Topeka. “There were no schools or anything like that. You just went racing, and if someone liked the way you were driving, they offered you a car.”
McCluggage, a member of the Automotive Hall of Fame, is widely renowned for blazing the trail for women in both racing and journalism.
“Being a woman I was not allowed to do the normal things, the normal progression through journalism or whatever,” she said. “So I didn’t batter a wall down or anything; I went around it. It seemed to be an easier way to do it.
“I did what I could do, or what I could create for myself. It worked fine. I got to drive a lot of really, really interesting cars and do a lot of interesting stories.”
Sometimes that wasn’t easy.
“I was not accepted, really,” she said. “When I went out to cover Indy for the New York Herald Tribune, they wouldn’t let me in the garage even though I had credentials. I interviewed the drivers through a chain-link fence. It was absurd.
“I was racing cars, and I was a journalist, and I had every reason and right to be there, but that was the mindset they had, so I was not welcome.”
McCluggage went on to become the founding editor of the magazine Autoweek.
“I’m still writing,” she said. “I still write for Autoweek, and I’ve got a publishing company. I keep having these ideas and thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I did this or this happened?’
“I’m cursed with a lot of ideas. They’re just like a bunch of gnats. You have to do something about them.”
This article was sourced from Rick Peterson of the Topeka Capital Journal.