The Santa Fe Concorso Honors DENISE MCCLUGGAGE By Emmaly Wiederholt Photos Garrett Vreeland:
his September 25th, the Santa Fe Concorso kicks off its yearly extravaganza celebrating rare vintage automobiles from around the world, showcased right here in our little City Different. However, 2015 is a particularly special year for the Santa Fe Concorso, as May marked the passing of racecar journalist, driver, photographer and enthusiast Denise McCluggage. Denise was a tour de force in the automotive field. She first developed an interest in cars while working as the associate editor at the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1950s. She served as the only female on the sports staff at the New York Herald Tribune before freelancing full time for several decades. Outside her writing career, she considered one of her biggest successes to be winning in a Ferrari 250 the grand touring class at Sebring in 1961. She lived well into her 80s, and called Santa Fe home since 1978. Denise, along with racecar legend Phil Hill and former automotive designer Dennis Little, conceptualized the Concorso, and the first event was held in 2010. In the last five years, the event has grown to include more than 100 entries each year. Several special events are in store this year. Luigi Chinetti Jr. will be present to speak and judge. His father, Chinetti Sr., was the first person to sell Ferraris in the United States and started NART, the North American Racing Team, to promote the Ferrari marque in motorsport endurance racing in this country. Another feature on display will be the Buick Y-Job — the first concept car — designed by Harley Earl. Also in store for spectators is Billy Gibbons’ “Cadzilla” hot rod. Gibbons, best known as the lead singer of the band ZZ Top, had “Cadzilla” designed by Boyd Coddington, the premiere builder of hot rods in his day. Of course, the regular Concorso programming will be in place as well, which includes an opening night VIP event Friday the 25th at the airport. Saturday the 26th has been declared Denise McCluggage Day by Mayor Gonzales. At 8 a.m., Concorso entrants will line up at the plaza, and at 10 a.m. they will drive along Canyon Road and over through Eldorado to the old west town of Cerrillos. Open to the public, this is a great opportunity to admire the cars against Santa Fe’s stunning backdrop.
LEFT Denise McCluggage.
Sunday the 27th is the Concorso itself. Held on the grounds at The Club at Las Campanas, this is where the actual judged concours takes place. In addition, journalists and invited guests will share stories about Denise. Two racing notables — Lyn St. James and Jean Jennings — will select a car Denise might have especially liked, and bestow upon it the Denise McCluggage Award. “She was a driving force behind the Santa Fe Concorso,” remembers Beverly Little, Dennis’ wife. Dennis adds: “The real significance of Denise is she set new boundaries for women. Back in the 1950s, it was unheard of to have a woman show up to race against the boys. And then to assert her voice as a writer — she was ahead of her time. She used to tell a story about how she showed up as a journalist at the 1957 Indianapolis 500. She was told she couldn’t go into the pit to interview the drivers because she was a woman, so she did her interviews from the other side of the fence. The drivers, who all knew her, would see her and come over to be interviewed. That’s the kind of thing people have to keep in perspective about her career; it was a man’s world she was playing in.” As for her final resting place, “Years ago, Denise was at Phil Hill’s 80th birthday party at Jay Leno’s garage,” Beverly relates. “Jay asked her, ‘Denise, what are you looking at?’ She replied, ‘Up there on that shelf, I now know where I want my ashes to go.’ When she died, I got on the phone with Bernard, the guy who takes care of Jay’s cars, and relayed the story. He passed it on to Jay.” The next day Jay Leno called the Littles. He said he would be honored to have Denise’s ashes at the garage. The urn is an old-fashioned oil can with a red polka dotted lid matching Denise’s trademark red polka-dotted racing helmet. “Change is the only constant. Hanging on is the only sin,” Denise once wrote. As the Santa Fe Concorso moves on without Denise in its inner circle, her legacy will live on in the many lives she’s touched though her love of all things auto. For more information visit santafeconcorso.com