From the day that Bill Spence rode with Babe Stapp in a race in
Toledo in 1925, racing was Spence's number one priority. Bill started
his career with a revamped "flivver."
He was a favorite on Southern California tracks, and his main competition
had been Lou Moore in races in the LA area. In 1928, he was the dirt
track champion of the Pacific Coast and had won his last race at Ascot
on Easter in L.A.
He moved up to the Indianapolis 500 in 1928. He drove a Boyle Valve
Special as a relief driver for Billy Arnold, who finished 7th. In 1929,
Spence wanted to drive the entire race by himself and he got an
Indianapolis-built Duesenberg special.
On race day, as Bill flew around the track, the trailing ends of the
handkerchief that he wore inside his cap made him look (according to an
Indianapolis Star reporter) like the winged god Mercury, a fitting speed
symbol for this young and promising race driver.
On the 14th lap of the 200-lap race, his car swerved and the rear end
hit the inner wall of the SE turn at over 100 mph. The car completely
overturned, threw Spence out, righted itself, and went down the track
backwards. Spence, who had fractured his skull when he hit the brick
track, died on the way to the City Hospital.
This accident was caught on film by the makers of the 1929 silent film
"Speedway" and the horrific crash can be seen in the last reel.
His death was the first that had occurred in the race itself since 1919.
His death wasn't announced at the race, but appeared in the newspaper
later. Spence was from Los Angeles and he left a wife, Vivian, and his
Fred Duesenberg commented, "He was a nice boy and had lots of
nerve. I think he was trying to make up lost time when the accident
occurred." It didn't appear that the wreck was caused by mechanical
Year Car No. Car Laps Completed Start Finish
1928 43 Boyle Valve Relieved Arnold
1929 10 Duesenberg 14-wrecked SE, died 12 32
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