The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Fatalities - May 1929

William Spence - driver

William Spence

From the day that Bill Spence rode with Babe Stapp in a race in Toledo in 1925, racing was Spence's number one priority. Bil 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 L.A. 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.

Bill Spence's 1929 Duesenberg Special

On race day, as Bill flew around the track, the trailing ends of the hankerchief 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.

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 parents.

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 failure.

Spence's Indy Record

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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