The HERO-ERA team is full of different characters, some big personalities and some who don’t seek the limelight in quite the same way. One of the quieter members of the HERO fraternity is Brian Whyte, a man I’m sure many will know, synonymous as he is with the modern HERO story, but someone who you perhaps don’t know too much about. After months of trying, and I mean months, I managed to coax Brian out from behind the safety of his laptop to discover a bit more about his history and what makes him tick.
Whilst Brian isn’t always the first to make his presence known in a group, anyone that has had the pleasure of sharing a glass or two with him will know that on the quiet he’s actually quite the raconteur, so I had a certain amount of intrigue as to what I might find between the layers, but the natural place to start seemed to be cars, as that is the nucleus that unites us all, but his opening gambit was not what I was expecting. “I was a drummer.” An odd answer to a question about where Brian’s motoring history began. “My passion was driving though, that was escapism for me, but I couldn’t drive so I took up drumming instead.” Brian’s beat induced escapism led to him and some friends forming a band, who would go on to become one of South Wales better known musical exports, although he remains tight lipped on just who the band was. However, before the bright lights of music stardom beckoned, the love of motor cars would sever Brian’s time with the band before he could really find his rhythm. “I had to drive, and bought a Mini three months before my 17th birthday. But I was also offered a Triumph Herald convertible as well, and I’d always wanted one so I bought it, and drove it home.” That evening the band turned up to pick up Brian for what was their first paying gig, a fact that, presumably with all the excitement induced by the Herald purchase, had slipped Brian’s mind. The next thing to go through Brian’s mind, was the fist of a band mate as he told them that he couldn’t play drums for them that evening, as he had sold his kit to pay for the Triumph.
A less than illustrious exit from the music scene then, but there was no time to contemplate his actions as, just three days later Brian had a driving test booked, on the day of his birthday, after having taken no lessons. To think this was an act of folly is to underestimate the man, as he had at least booked a lesson for the morning of the test, prudence of the highest order I am sure you will agree. By some luck or involvement of a higher being though, and despite the total lack of confidence from Brian’s instructor, he passed and discovered the escapism and freedom he had yearned for. It wasn’t just cars that Brian lusted after though, living by the sea he wanted a boat and, through some school playground entrepreneurial spirit, owned a speedboat as well as the Mini and Triumph Herald. With no tow bar on either of those cars though, a 1969 Land Rover soon followed and Brian had a vehicle collection a middle aged, crisis ridden man would be proud of, never mind a 17-year-old boy.
It’s fair to say with his new found transport, the world was opening up for the young Brian. He was going to night school, to supplement his learning, as, as he puts it “school was a place to make money, you could do your learning elsewhere.” He was also working and, through his nautical endeavours discovered a passion for water skiing, but a chance trip with his cousin would prompt Brian to find a new love, one that would shape his life for many years to come. “My cousin asked what I was doing one Saturday evening when I was 16, I had no plans so I went with him to stand, freezing cold on a bank somewhere near Trecastle and these cars came screaming down a road, went 90 right under a bridge, 90 right afterwards and I thought ‘oh my god this is amazing’, I had to get involved.”
So, Brian did some research, discovered motoring clubs and got involved as a marshal. “It was great to be involved, but it made me realise that I wanted to be in the car, however, not having a rally car someone suggested that I got involved as a navigator.” But navigating didn’t really scratch the itch either, so, with his new found driving license and a gutful of enthusiasm a Ford Escort was added to the burgeoning fleet to go road rallying in. “It had a BDA engine in it, the thing would wheelie in third gear, but that lasted a couple of days before it blew up and I fitted a 1600 Crossflow motor in it instead and entered my first event.” Brian’s analysis of that first rally is that he didn’t have a clue, but a day at the newly opened Bill Gwynne Rally School put him in the right direction and he went on to win the 1983 Welsh Club Road Rally Championship. So, there was the rallying, water skiing, a new job working for Halfords in a trainee management position, helping his parents out as they developed their own retail business and, unsurprisingly given the Land Rover ownership, a new interest in off-roading, eventually something would have to give, but not just yet.
Another interest was on the horizon for Brian as well, this time in the sphere of love, as through water skiing, he ended up co-owning a boat with a girl by the name of Pamela. “We bought a really smart Fletcher Speed Boat together, and one day she came with me to see a property my parents wanted to buy. She fell for me that day, or fell onto me, as I ended up rolling the Land Rover we were travelling in and Pam had to walk through the mud to a nearby farm to find help. She didn’t talk to me after that for three months.” Brian must have made an impression though, as they’re still married all these years later, and with children coming along in 1989 life would change again and competing in rallies would go on the back burner.
Before that though almost every job in the Port Talbot motor club was done by Brian, from Chief Marshal to Stage Commander and a five-year stint as clerk of the course, “I was clerk of the course of the PTMC Novice Road Rally and on the organising team of the Edmunds Classic Car Tour – one of the first full blown Classic rallies not a tour, which shaped the events that we know today.” His Irish heritage also took him into another chance meeting that ended up with him becoming the course car driver for 13 rounds of the Irish Tarmac Championship, a role he looks back on with much fondness. “The car I drove was absolutely fantastic, it was prepared in a tiny garage but with a full team of mechanics and full support on events. The tyres were changed before each stage and the mechanics would spend much of their time taking readings from sensors around the vehicle, but in my naivety, I didn’t pay much attention. It turned out it was part of the development program for what would become the Mitsubishi Lancer, and I’d not even realised!”
Family life bought in a forced hiatus though, but work would provide almost as much variety as all of the extra-curricular activities had during the 80’s. “I’ve worked throughout the automotive industry, in manufacturing, customer facing roles and marketing. I’ve owned several companies, including the retail business I built with my parents, been involved in the newspaper distribution industry and got involved in web-based business after teaching myself to type and use Microsoft’s applications. I was even involved in the development of the app that would be adopted by a leading take away service.” Brian talks to me about various jobs and roles and about being in the right place at the right time as having a large bearing on many of these jobs coming about, but it’s his involvement in pyrotechnics that really grabs my attention, a Segway that comes as a complete surprise, even for someone with a professional life as varied as Brian’s. “I had got involved backstage with my daughters dance troupe. In those days there was no real legislation around the use of indoor pyrotechnics, and so we had been experimenting with them in stage shows. One of the shows was as a support act for the Party in the Park tour, on the bill of which was the band Busted. Their pyro guy fell and broke his leg, and I ended up finishing off their tour for them as their pyrotechnics person.”
So, despite the incident with the drum kit all those years ago, Brian eventually did make it in the music biz! Albeit, not in the way he had planned. But how then does all of this lead to HERO? Again, it was a case of right place right time and who you know. One of Brian’s navigators, the late Hywel Thomas, was involved doing the results for John Brown during the early days of HERO. HERO had a new event, going from Lands End to John ‘o Groats that they needed some assistance on and Brian was recruited. “I marshalled on that first LeJog, but that was it, and then helped again around five years later. Then Peter Nedin wanted to buy the business from John Brown, who agreed he would license it to him, if he could come up with a business plan. I helped him with that and did the accounts for Peter, but that was the extent of my involvement.” That was until Peter phoned Brian one day to tell him that ‘some mad Italian’ had done LeJog and wanted to get involved. Once that mad Italian and his mate had made it clear that they wanted to invest in HERO, a meeting with Brian was set and he would be introduced to Tomas and Patrick for the first time. “They were adamant they wanted me on board, but I just didn’t have the time” says Brian, “Tomas being Tomas wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I agreed to two Sundays a month, did that first Sunday and the rest is history.”
What a history it has been as well, it’s a job that Brian loves but one that has changed dramatically in his time with the company. “It’s a much more serious business these days” he tells me, “but it’s an exciting time with the move to the new office, and see what the future holds.” But what does the future hold for Brian Whyte? A return to competitive rallying perhaps? A collection of cars? “Actually, I don’t own a car, Brian tells me. Cooking is my hobby now, that’s how I relax on a Friday evening.” A bit more discussion reveals that it’s a little bit more than cooking, this is Master Chef level stuff and the waiting list for a table at Brian’s Secret Kitchen is as long as the list of jobs that Brian’s done in his life. It’s another string to a well adorned bow though, and it seems that in Brian’s kitchen of life, variety is definitely a favourite spice.
There are countless more stories that are shared with me that are either too lengthy to include, or that don’t quite make it past the sensors! I’m sure that there are even more besides as well, and now with both of Brian and Pam’s girls clearly showing they’re a chip off the proverbial and with younger blood involved in HERO-ERA to share experience with, there are undoubtedly more stories still to be written. But if you want to hear tales of a time that was, you’ll not hear Brian shouting about it, instead you’ll have to seek him out and tease them out of him, preferably over a glass of red or two. Then you’ll find out that the quiet man behind the computer, actually has plenty to say for himself.