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On the brink of the big time...

Mike Spence was born on this day in 1936, in Croyden, Surrey.

"Mike was almost too nice to be a racing driver," remembers Jackie Stewart, the Brit's team leader at BRM in 1967.

"He was very well mannered and very shy, almost introverted. The kind of person you would have expected to have had Jim Clark as a team mate which, of course, he did."

After his formative years in F1, Spence developed into a smooth and consistent performer, first with Lotus and then with BRM, and a driver greatly appreciated by the engineers.

After Jim Clark's tragic death in the spring of 1968 in an insignificant F2 race at Hockenheim, Spence accepted Colin Chapman's offer to test and race Lotus' striking Indy turbine car, considering the offer an opportunity he could not refuse.

In May 1968, as testing for the Indy 500 kicked off at the Brickyard, Spence crashed heavily and succumbed to head injuries shortly after. He had slowly been emerging from the shadows, but fate robbed the sport of a popular figure and an unrewarded talent.