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The Ladies’ Touch at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Image of The Ladies’ Touch at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

While vintage automobile racing trends as a mostly-gentleman’s sport, plenty of women have shaped its decades-old history, and several will keep the wheels in motion driving their own collectibles at this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Scheduled for August 14-17 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the annual event this year celebrates 100 years of Maserati and punctuates action on the track with 550 pre-selected historic and period-correct race cars competing in 15 race groups over the four-day gathering.

Denise McCluggage – A Female Influence

Denise McCluggage, an American driver who is considered a pioneer of equality for women, both in motorsports and journalism, was at Maserati in Modena when she first saw the Tipo 61, one of the more famous Maserati race cars produced between 1959 and 1961. “Everybody was calling it the spaghetti-frame car because of all its small tubes welded together, but I said out loud ‘well, it looks like a birdcage to me!,’ and everybody laughed,” said McCluggage, who wore her trademark white helmet with black dots when she raced at famous venues around the world, scoring a victory in the grand touring category at Sebring (1961) and a class win in the Monte Carlo Rally (1964), among other accomplishments. “Shortly after that, one of the journalists who was there used the term Birdcage in a magazine article about the car, and that may have been the first time the term was used in print. Whenever I hear someone talk about the Birdcage Maserati, I kind of smile to myself. “

Maserati’s rich racing history includes pre-war Grand Prix, Formula 1, sports cars and touring cars, many of which will be represented at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, both on the grid and in a special historical display presented by Maserati.

“The Maserati brothers were really watchmakers and they were incredible craftsmen,” said McCluggage.  “Their gearbox was so far ahead of the gearbox of Ferrari and Porsche.  I drove a lot of OSCAs back then, from Formula Juniors up to the 2 liter OSCAs, and they were unbelievable; the gear lever would almost shift itself, it was so smooth.  The engines were so sweet and the handling was incredible.”  (OSCA was a car company founded in 1947 by Ernesto Maserati and his brothers Ettore and Binido after the sale of their Maserati company.)

McCluggage ended her racing career in the late 1960s to eventually become founding editor of the U.S. automotive magazine AutoWeek.  She was a contemporary of such greats as Sir Stirling Moss, who will participate in Saturday’s (August 16) “Picnic in the Park,” bantering with motorsports historian Murray Smith and allowing fans one of the many up-close-and-personal experiences that has made the Reunion so popular.

At This Year’s Races: Woman on the Move  

Female drivers signed up for this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion include Karen Barry (Westchester, Calif.), who last year raced a front-engine Formula Junior and this year will race a 1934 three-wheeled Morgan Sports Racer, produced by the British motor car manufacturer Morgan Motor Company and made especially popular in its day when it escaped a British tax on cars by being classified as a motorcycle. It is the second of such cars owned by Barry and her husband Dale Barry, who also races and says this one looks a bit different (with an in-line Ford engine) than the one with a V-Twin engine he raced at Monterey last year. 

“I feel confident in small open-wheeled cars like the Formula Junior, so this will be a different experience as far as speed and technique,” said Karen Barry, who has learned first-hand that success in racing cars is not a question of being male or female, it’s about preparing the cars and working on technique. “The skills required are the same for all of us. The only thing I personally don’t do is restoration—I leave it to Dale—but also there are many men who don’t do that themselves.”

According to the Barry’s research, only 400 or so of the Morgans built through the early 1950s still exist, with only 50 or 60 of those “still running around—the other are restoration projects.” The Barry’s second Morgan, which they bought 17 years ago, was originally a factory trials car, and when Karen Barry drives it this year at Monterey, the Dales officially will have two of only three of the three-wheelers racing in the country.

“My goal is to keep all three wheels on the ground!” said Barry.

At this Year’s Races: Tribute to a Racing Mom

Vintage racing touches on many levels of history and emotion, and no one knows this better than competitor  Dave Brengle (San Diego), who will race his mother Nadeene’s 1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia Spider at the event. 

“The only memory I have of riding in this car was when I was about four years old and my mom’s mechanic drove me around the block,” said Brengle, who as an adult searched for five years for the car, found it in 2012– three years after Nadeene’s passing–and returned it to racing form.  He explained that in 1964, Nadeene Brengle was approached by Alfa Romeo, which offered her a car to race that year; at the end of the year she could return it or buy it for one dollar. 

“She obviously accepted the car and raced it that year with moderate success in SCCA events on the West Coast,” said Brengle.  “In 1965, she qualified as an alternate at the American Road Race of Champions in Daytona, Fla.; for a mother with five children being an alternate was pretty impressive!” 

Nadeene Brengle went on to become the first woman to qualify on pole position at an SCCA sports car racing runoffs.  She broke the track record during the race but got passed for the lead when she had to avoid a spinning lapped car.  “Had she won that race, she would have been the first female National Champion in SCCA.”

The cars at this year’s Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion span 81 years of racing history and run the gamut from a 1911 National 40, which raced at the very first Indianapolis 500, to a 1992 Mazda RX-792P GTP, displaying the technological advancements motor racing has made over the years.  Owners, drivers, support teams and fans mix in the paddock area, marketplace and corrals and at special events and presentations held at Mazda Raceway’s  542-acre venue, providing all in attendance not only the flat-out excitement of vintage automobile racing but also a historical perspective that only this museum-come-to-life can provide.


Rolex and Motorsports

Rolex has been Official Timekeeper for 24 Hours of Le Mans since 2001 and Title Sponsor of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in North America since 1992. In 1965, Rolex added the name Daytona to the dial of its Cosmograph line in tribute to this great race at the International Speedway. Ever since then, the presence of the Rolex brand in automobile racing has grown steadily.

Rolex supports the tradition of auto racing through events that celebrate design, speed and passion including the Goodwood Revival (UK), the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (USA), the Pebble Beach Tour D’Elegance presented by Rolex (USA) and the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance and The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering (USA). Rolex affiliation also extends to three key figures in the sport: Sir Jackie Stewart from Scotland, one of the greatest drivers of his generation, American Roger Penske, a former driver turned successful businessman and owner of the team Penske Racing, and Danish driver Tom Kristensen, record eight-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

About Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was established in 1957. The world-renowned raceway has been operated since its inception by the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP), a not-for-profit 501C(4) corporation. Each race season, SCRAMP donates its net proceeds to the volunteer groups that help put on the races.

The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is one of the cornerstones of the renowned Monterey Classic Car Week and the largest event held annually in the scenic coastal community.  Visitors worldwide descend on the area to enjoy historic cars in action at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion competitions such as Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and a plethora of additional supporting activities that comprise the internationally acclaimed motoring week.

Advance general admission tickets to the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion are on sale beginning at $50 (Friday), and a three-day ticket may be purchased at $130, which includes a complimentary souvenir magazine. Children 12 and under are free with a paying adult. Hospitality packages begin at $200 per person. 

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