James Whitham - What a Good Do!
Whitham may well have inherited his taste for thrills from his father. Although an experienced pilot, he had a fair few incidents – including crashing, and writing off, a Jodel a few weeks after buying it. His father, David, also owned motorbikes and James usually had "an old nail to tinker with and whiz around the airfield."
Whitham recalls hilarious adventures with his father and friends on a trip to the Isle of Man TT races. He was, however, very impressed by the races and by the performance of Mike Hailwood. Soon, Whitham began competing himself – on a 125 Honda bought by his father. With advice and assistance from retired racer, Mick Grant, Whitham was able to move up bigger bikes and in 1988, he returned to the TT races as an official Suzuki rider. Quite prepared to admit the Isle of Man course scared him, Whitham writes: Amongst the whole mix of emotions that accompanied TT fortnight, one always stood out, and that was the huge sense of relief at getting on the ferry back to England under your own steam, because that meant you'd survived it again.
Whitham did have crashes though – plenty of them. He writes about them with humour, such as this incident at Cadwell Park.
At Cadwell I lost the front end into Chris Curve, really travelling and driving hard. When the bike hit the grass it flipped and started tumbling, somehow climbed over the perimeter fence, and slammed down onto the bonnet of a parked car with an almighty crash. The old couple who owned the car were sat next to it eating sandwiches – and never moved. They just sat there frozen in mid-munch. I could tell there wasn't much point going to the bike, so I wandered back to the paddock.
'Where's your bike?' asked Rob [McElnea].
'Sorry. It's a bit of a mess. But don't worry – I've got an old couple looking after it.'
With wins now piling up, Whitham secured British titles in 1988, 1991 and 1993 by which time he had moved into World Superbikes alongside his British Superbike campaign. From 2000, Whitham was racing exclusively in the World Supersport 600 series and secured wins and many podium finishes.
During the 1995 season, Whitham found himself getting more and more tired and eventually he went to a doctor to have a little lump on his neck checked. He was referred to the haematology clinic at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease – which Whitham learned to his alarm was a form of cancer. He writes: I thought he [the doctor] was telling me I was going to die, which obviously came as a bit of a shock. Whitham was aged 29 and one of the 1,400 people diagnosed with lymphoma each year in the UK.
Remarkably, after six chemotherapy cycles in less than five months, Whitham was told he was in remission. Despite being 'still bald as a coot', he was keen to begin racing again and entered the 1996 British Championship riding again for Rob McElnea.
Whitham's racing career continued until his retirement at the beginning of the 2003 season – a decision which coincided with the diagnosis of glaucoma and some loss of sight in his left eye. He is still on the racing scene though – working as a commentator for World Superbikes and Supersports for Eurosport and British meetings for ITV.
Appropriately, Whitham finishes his book with this sentence:
So, all round, what more could I ask for? What a good do.
James will be embarking on a UK signing session tour, for further details please visit www.haynes.co.uk/whitham
James Whitham and Mac McDiarmid
Foreword by Carl Fogarty
Publication date: August 2008
RRP: £18.99, hardback, I
SBN: 978 1 84425 492 7
One of the most riveting reads in motorcycle sport...
Download the preview PDF (2mb).