Mike Spence, a Formula One driver, had competed in 37
Formula One grand prix since 1963 when he arrived at
Indianapolis from England with Colin Chapman. He
whipped the Chapman-built, STP-Lotus Turbine around
the Indy Speedway on a windy day for a practice lap of
169.555 mph, the second fastest lap ever!
Spence was planning to leave Indy the night of his crash
(May 7th) with Graham Hill for Madrid and the Spanish
Grand Prix and return later for the Indy 500. Spence was a
test driver for English Turbocars.
He began rallying his father's Turner 950 in 1957, and his
father helped him to buy a second-hand AC Ace-Bristol in
1958. He was soon winning races and setting lap records,
racing successfully in both Formula 1 and II series. In 1965,
he won the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch; in 1966,
the South African Grand Prix; and in 1967, the BOAC 500
at Brands Hatch.
The British race driver was racing this year at Indy
because Champman had asked him to. He reportedly
bragged "I had a heck of a time going slow enough. This
track is a bit of a challenge."
Before the day was over, 48 minutes before closing time,
he decided to test the turbine of his teammate, Greg
Weld. Spence apparently lost control in the 1st turn, slid
300 feet, and hit the wall at a 45-degree angle.
Observers believed that the partially loose right front
wheel bent back and ripped off Spense's helmet, found
with the chin strap still fastened and with the tiremarks on
it. The car bounced 390 feet farther along the wall and
bounded another 290 feet to the middle of the track.
The chief observer, Walt Myers, said that Spence was
going too high on the turn every time around the track and
that he had turned on the yellow light to warn Spence. In
Spence's rookie driving tests, Chief Steward Harln
Fengler had warned Spence about "unconventional
cornering." Problem: coming in too low.
Spence had made 162 mph the lap before the crash. He
and Graham Hill had both topped 169 mph that day in
their Turbocars - the first time two cars had ever made
such high speeds in one day. Hill had driven 171.208
mph. (Joe Leonard, however, set a new qualifying record
at 171.559 mph)
Spence never regained consciousness. Physicians were
preparing to operate when Spence died about four hours
after the crash, of head injuries.
Colin Chapman had lost two good friends: Jimmy Clark
in April in the Formula II race at Hockenheim, Germany,
and now, Mike Spence. Clark had planned to drive for
Granatelli in 1968, and Mike Spence had replaced him.
Chapman turned over his operation (for this race) to
Granatelli, his partner; said he wanted nothing more to do
with the 1968 Indy race; and accompanied the body to
England. Granatelli remarked that Mike Spence was not
only talented, but that "he was pure brilliant."
Michael Henderson Spence, the elder son of a sliding-
door engineer, was born in Croydon, Surrey, and lived in
Maidenhead. His wife, Sandy, was in London. They had
The next morning after the accident, the turbines were
gone from the garages. USAC had them impounded for
a thorough check. Nothing was found wrong with the three
remaining cars; and Joe Leonard, Art Pollard, and
Graham Hill drove them in the race, finishing 12th, 13th
and 19th, respectively. (Greg Weld did not make the race.)
Coincidentally, another driver named Spence died in 1929
at the track and a spectator named Spence got killed by a
tire that flew off a car in 1938.
|Spence's 1968 STP Lotus 56 Turbine
|The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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