THE name Whyte has consistently been conspicuous on the Zimbabwe motorsport landscape for over 60 years now.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
Two Scotland-born brothers, Andy and Jim Whyte, began the family journey in motorsport as little boys when they moved to Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, in the early 1940s. While they were both motorsport enthusiasts, it was Jim who stole the limelight and later his offspring carried on the legacy to transcend generations.
Jim is the father of former two-time Africa Rally champion Jamie, Zimbabwe and South Africa Superbike champion Shaun, as well as two other champions, Gordon and Dougie.
Standardsport caught up with the 77-year-old veteran rider who expressed his pride at what his offspring have achieved in motorsport. He also shared a bit of motorsport history in Zimbabwe.
“I am very proud because all my children became champions in the sport that I introduced to them,” Jim said.
“I have four kids and the eldest was Gordon who is now late. Gordon won a number of competitions as a bike rider and was also a Zimbabwe champion jockey. My other son, Jamie was a two-time Africa Rally champion, as well as Zimbabwe motocross champion in 125cc class motocross. He was very good in motocross and also excelled in circuit racing, although he used to crash a lot in motocross.
“Dougie was the Zimbabwe champion in the 350cc category and Shaun, my fourth boy, was also a champion in Zimbabwe motocross. He [Shaun] also moved to motorbikes on circuit and he was Zimbabwe’s champion a couple of times. He also won South African superbike in 1996,” Whyte said.
“My sons were all good in rugby and cricket, but they wanted to race bikes because of exposure. Their mother, Meta [now late], said she hated them racing. She did not want them racing, but she did not try to stop them and deep down she was proud, although she was quite happy when they stopped,” he said.
As if that was not enough, two of his grandsons — Rowan and Ricky — are already hoisting the family name up high with the former now a champion in the saloon cars on the circuit, while Ricky is still mastering the trade in motocross racing.
Jim’s own journey in motorsport began when he was only eight.
It was back in 1946 when he rode his brother Andy’s bike. His hero, Salisbury-born ace Ray Amm who was holding his own against the world’s best in the early 1950s, inspired the young Jim who also wanted to ride competitively.
Amm, who began his career in Salisbury, now Harare, recorded two motorcycle Grand Prix wins as well as three wins at the Isle of Man TT races, which was one of the most prestigious tournaments during that time, before he crashed to his death during a competition in Imola, Italy.
“Amm was my role model. He started racing at the dirt track near Mukuvisi River. He went overseas and right away started doing very well, becoming my hero,” Jim said.
Jim and his brother started racing in trials back in 1956 and in 1958 he had his first road race at Belvedere airport, and won.
Together with Terry Franklin and others, they started the Bogwheelers Club in 1963 — which oversees motocross racing to this day.
He then went on to win the Rhodesian 250cc championship on road in 1964 competition, which used to bring in a lot of English riders.
Jim also crossed the border to compete in South Africa but he never won big as he finished third or fourth a lot of times, he recalled.
At 38, he retired from motocross racing following a big crash in Pietermaritzburg.
“I thought to myself ‘what am I doing?’ because then I had three kids who were very young. I then went to cycle racing on tour and we won the race in Johannesburg with Australian Phil Morgan who used to be my passenger in side car racing. We raced for about four years and then the sport died,” he recollected.
Jim remembers another motorsport genre called Speedway which they popularised in the late 60s here in Zimbabwe.
“Speedway was good in the late 60s and 70s. Every Friday night at Glamis Stadium we would have Speedway and my brother was also involved. One of my apprentices, Mark Ferreira, was a fantastic rider. We bought him a bike in 1973 and he decided he was going to be a professional speedway rider. He then went overseas and did very well,” he said.
Others like Aleck Hughson, Keith Peterson, Jerry Wolutar and Heine Stanger were also prominent in Speedway.
Over the years — Whyte who owns TT Motorcycles, a family business — has been involved in Zimbabwe motorsport, but he has taken backseat as his sons now pull the strings.
He shared his view on the sport from the heydays to recent years.
“It’s improved 100%, it’s much more professional now and I was impressed when we hosted the Motocross Africa Championships a couple of months ago. Riders from South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Uganda, Namibia were all impressed by the level of professionalism we exhibit here,” said the veteran, who turns 78 in February.
Jim’s son Shaun is the current leader of the Bogwheelers Club.
Jim said motorsport is expensive as it requires major corporate sponsorship deals, especially motor rally, where Jamie excelled and became African champion two times about five years ago.
Sadly, rallying does not exist in the country anymore.
“Rallying was a good sport but very expensive. That is what killed it here. To me, rallying is actually breaking cars because they are racing over a motocross track and you are constantly rebuilding suspension, rebuilding the car but it was good and enjoyable,” he said.
Despite his age, Jim still races in South Africa once a year, usually in January in the Classic race where riders from all over the world converge.