The Limavady man has been the figurehead of Northern Ireland’s biggest outdoor sporting event since 2000, when he replaced predecessor Billy Nutt as Clerk of the Course.
However, Whyte’s association with the international road race goes all the way back to 1973, when he first filled a voluntary role as a flag marshal at Station Corner on the 8.9-mile Triangle course.
One of the most high-profile figures in Ulster sport, Whyte revealed he has been contemplating the decision for some time, but the cancellation of the event this year due to the coronavirus pandemic afforded the 70-year-old some extra breathing space to reflect on his future.
He told the News Letter: “I’ve been thinking about it for a while now and I just thought now is the right time.
“With a bit of time off over these last four or five months I’ve done a lot of thinking and I was actually about to step down last October, but the committee asked me to stay on for another year, which I agreed to.
“I’ve probably sacrificed a fair bit over these last 20-odd years and the North West 200 is a 24/7 job – you never get away from it,” he added.
“I just want to pull back from it and see where I’m going because at my time in life I’m not getting any younger.”
Whyte, who received an MBE for services to motorcycling in Northern Ireland in 2006, has stressed that he isn’t walking away from the event completely.
He will be involved in the selection process for the next event director and has also assured the NW200 management team that he will be available in a consultative role, with the event facing ongoing challenges posed by the Covid-19 situation.
“I don’t plan to be involved in the day-to-day running of the race or going to the office every day,” he said.
“What I’ve said is that I will maintain a close relationship with the management team and offer whatever knowledge I have in running the event; I’m not turning my back on the North West 200 and I will work with them in a consultative role providing expertise, knowledge or whatever I can pass on.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my involvement all these years,” added Whyte.
“I’ve seen the highs and lows, the good days and the bad days – fatalities, oil slicks, bad weather – we’ve had it all at the North West.”
The news heralds the end of an era and Whyte was in reflective mood as he considered the many highs and lows he has experienced over the past 20 years.
“There have been so many,” he said.
“Back in 2000 when I took over, David Jefferies was one of the riders who stood out when he had three wins at the North West and then you’ve got Alastair Seeley setting his record of 24 wins, which he achieved within the last 10 to 15 years.
“The likes of Glenn Irwin winning his first Superbike race in 2017 is another good memory and also Michael Dunlop of course, who won the 250cc race in the year when his father was killed in 2008. That was a major achievement under very difficult circumstances and I don’t think anyone will forget it.
“Of course we had our low points too, with the deaths of Robert Dunlop and Simon Andrews, who I both knew well, and then also when Malachi [Mitchell-Thomas] was killed in 2016,” added Whyte, who also had to contend with the deaths of Cookstown man Mark Young in 2009 and Scottish racer Mark Buckley in 2012.
“I was one of the first on the scene at Malachi’s crash and he was alive and chatting to me when I got there. We were holding hands and he said he was sorry for stopping the race, but then two minutes later the young lad was gone.”
The tragic death of the English rider had a particularly profound effect on Whyte, who said he found it difficult to pick himself up again after the fatal crash in 2016.
“There have been times when it hasn’t been easy, but you’ve just got to try and pick yourself up and move on,” he said.
“I was able to do that, but I found it really difficult after Malachi’s death.
“But when you’re in that role it’s part and parcel of the job - you just have to do the best you can and move on,” Whyte added.
“There have been many good times, exciting times and sad times, but the best times were those days when we had good racing and no serious incidents.”
With some unexpected downtime this year because of the Covid-19 lockdown, Whyte had a chance to sample life away from the all-consuming pressures of running the race, which enabled him to take stock of his future.
“The North West 200 is a 24/7 job and a lot of people don’t see that, but I’m not being critical of it in any way,” he said.
“I had four or five months when I wasn’t going to the office on a daily basis and I had more time to think about things.
“I’ve been doing consultancy work for the Bermuda races and also for the Macau Grand Prix, so I’ve been spending a bit of time on that. But I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at the North West and I’ll still be there if I’m needed.”
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