written in early 1967
MIKE SPENCE is 30, which would be old for a driver if Brabham wasn't currently winning world titles at 40. He almost started off life by stopping when he was crippled with polio at age five and placed on the about-to-leave-us list for three months, but finally recovered with no after-effects.
At school he studied mathematics and science and thought for a while about being a professional cricketeer, but Fangio was causing a stir in those days and the youthful Spenceq turned to motor racing. He formed a motoring club at school, then served in a British army tank squad for a couple of years. When discharged in 1957 he went rallying in his father's Turner 950 sports car. His next car was an AC Ace-Bristol, which he raced in club events during 1958, then by 1960 he was turning up in a 998 cc Cooper-Austin Formula Jr. car. He won a race at Snetterton, setting a class lap record, followed this with a heat win at Monza, a win at Silverstone and several lap records. For 1961 he switched to Emeryson cars, which provided more breakdown bills than victory dinners, although he did manage a win at Silverstone.
His big break came when Ian Walker took him under his wing in 1962 and Mike ran his own Lotus 22 F-Jr in Walker colors. His performances in this car caught the eye of Colin Chapman and in 1963 Spence began driving works Lotus Jrs with Peter Arundell and John Fenning.
He had his first Formula 1 world championship, drive at Monza in 1962, standing in for Trevor Taylor in the second works Lotus, and was running seventh when the oil pressure dropped off. When Arundell crashed in the F2 race at Reims in 1964, Spence moved up to take his place as No.2 to Clark. He drove consistently and placed often but was inevitably overshadowect by Clark's performances. He won the Race of Champions at the beginning of 1965 at Brands Hatch and after a second season of dutiful placings as a dependable No.2, he won what was to be his last race for Team Lotus, driving a 2-liter Lotus Climax V-8 in the 1966 South African GP.
He married Lynn Condon, on Jan. 15, 1966, and returned to Europe with a wife and a BRM contract. Because BRM had Hill and Stewart, Mike was subcontracted to the, Parnell team, where he plodded round in 2-liter Lotus BRMs that were no match for the works cars.
The fact that Spence hadn't been winning races because he had uncompetitive cars to drive had kept his name out of the limelight, but when Jim Hall started looking for long-distance drivers for his Chaparral, Mike was one of those selected. And Spence hasn't let the Chaparral team down. At Sebring he was out in front with the Mark 4 Ford trading blows with McLaren and Andretti, finally setting the fastest lap of the race and generally raising Ford management blood pressure before a seal quit in the automatic transmission.
Mike Spence is now getting his second wind, so to speak. Not many drivers could have survived his ups and downs from what really was the very top to the very bottom then back to the very top again without cracking up, retiring, or slowing down. Spence can give thanks to his easy amiability and good temper.He and wife Lynn live in a cottage in Maidenhead not far from a workshop and showroom where he has agencies for Lotus, Porsche, Rover and Singer, quietly building up a small business empire, and quietly driving himself into the top echelon of Formula 1 racers.
Following Jim Clark's death in early 1968, Colin Chapman invited Spence back to Lotus as part of their Indianapolis 500 race team. Spence was due to race the (literally) revolutionary Lotus 56 gas turbine car. However, during practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a week before the race, Spence misjudged his entry to turn one and collided heavily with the concrete wall. The right-front wheel of the Lotus swivelled backwards into the cockpit and struck Spence on the helmet. Mike Spence died in the hospital, from massive head injuries, a few hours after the accident.