by Richard Jenkins
2021 review by James Loveridge
Mike Spence was one of the all too many gifted racing drivers who didn’t live long enough to fulfil their promise and “Mike Spence – Out Of the Shadows” by award winning author Richard Jenkins tells his story.
What is very clear is that Mike was a very likeable man, a feeling shared by the Author, and this book is the result of a great deal of thorough research. It quotes the impressions of many who knew him, worked with and raced with him including a foreword and several inputs from Sir Jackie Stewart. Though a shy, reserved, man, and not very gregarious, everyone the Author talked to found him affable and easy to get along with. Apparently the only one who didn’t take to him was Pedro Rodriguez who wouldn’t even say hullo.
Mike was fortunate in coming from an obviously wealthy family so there are no tales, as in some other similar lives, of the constant struggle for finance. From his start in the sport at the beginning of 1958 it is clear obtaining a suitable vehicle was never an issue. His natural talent quickly took care of that. From competing in his own AC Bristol and Turner, through his family-owned Coburn Engineers Cooper 52 and into races with Ian Walker Racing, Emeryson, Team Lotus, BRM and Chaparral he honed his considerable skill. Part of Mike’s attraction to the teams he drove for, and in particular to Colin Chapman, was his technical ability, understanding of a car and his ability to explain what was needed to improve it.
His achievements are detailed in a six-page Appendix and they were considerable, including at least two Formula One, but not World Championship, Grands Prix as well as numerous wins and podium finishes in Formula Junior, Formula 2, Saloons and Sports Cars. He raced all over Europe as well as South Africa and the USA.
The book does cover in part his early and personal life but the emphasis is on his driving career. That is understandable as Mr Jenkins’s object with this book is clearly to illuminate the achievements of someone who “at his death was one of Britain’s best racing drivers” and so ensure his place is recognised.
Mike was racing alongside Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart himself, Jack Brabham, John Surtees, all one-time World Champions, and Bruce McLaren amongst others, so obviously the competition was pretty stiff. The fact he was never short of a drive and was so well thought of by his contemporaries is adequate evidence of his considerable abilities. What comes through in this 138-page book is that he was probably too nice to get to the very top. Whether he was ambitious is questionable; he himself said he raced because he loved it and it is hinted that he was never “aggressive” enough to compete with the top drivers. The circumstances of his death at Indianapolis by helping the team in trying out another driver’s turbine-engined Lotus show the character of the man.
The book is copiously illustrated with black and white as well as colour photographs and it does give a very good idea of what motor racing was like in the days before commercialism took hold. Mike was a professional but that seems never to have been his motivation.
Sadly this book is slightly marred by the lack of editorial input with several irritating printing errors and some rather idiosyncratic phraseology but it does tell a worthwhile story and can be recommended.
Publisher: Performance Publishing Ltd, Unit 3 Site 4 Alma Park Road, Alma Park Industrial Estate, Grantham, Lincs. NG31 9SE.
Description: Paperback, 138 pages with colour and black & white photos.