Vale: Jeff Whitten, 1942 – 2023

RallySport Magazine founder, Jeff Whitten, is being remembered as a visionary who changed the face of how rallying was reported in Australia.

After passing away on December 6 at the age of 81, the family has received hundreds of messages from friends and acquaintances, heralding his life and accomplishments.

A life dedicated to motorsport

Born in the New South Wales border town of Corowa in 1942, Jeff Whitten became involved in motorsport in the early 1960s, originally attending race meetings in Wangaratta and Tarrawingee organised by the North Eastern Car Club (NECC).

Along with his wife of 58 years, Betty, the club became the backbone of his life. Such was his involvement in the NECC, he was made a life member as early as 1970.

Over the next 50-plus years he was a competitor, organiser and promoter of motorsport, specifically, rallying. He was an accredited course checker, steward and senior official.

Although he began rallying in a Mini Deluxe, Jeff soon became a Ford man through and through. His rally cars were a long list of some of the Blue Oval’s most popular ‘small Fords’: Anglias, Cortina Mk1s and Mk2s and, of course, Escort Mk1s and Mk2s.

As a guiding light in his beloved NECC, he organised nearly 100 motorsport events, including the Forest Classic Rally, which he ran 18 times.

Never one to let the grass grow under his feet, he was president of the NECC five times, secretary 13 times, and was awarded the ‘Club Champion’ trophy 11 times.

However, in rallying terms, Jeff is best known as the co-founder of Australian Rallysport News in September 1989, a launch that coincided with the first round of the World Rally Championship on home soil.

Along with his son and co-founder, Peter, over 200 issues of the tabloid newspaper were printed between 1989 and 2005, giving rallying a voice in Australia that it had never before been provided with.

The newspaper evolved into the glossy A4 RallySport Magazine in January 2005, before technology forced the publication online at the end of 2006.

Never one to blow his own trumpet or to seek recognition of his achievements, Jeff was acknowledged in 2000 with the presentation of the Australian Sports Medal to commemorate his achievements in the sporting world.

Jeff Whitten with Colin Bond, Greg Carr and Peter Whitten at the start of the 1977 North Eastern Rally.

National recognition for services to rallying

In March of 2015, he was inducted into the Victorian Rallying Halling of Fame, followed in May 2015 with inclusion into the Australian Rally Hall of Fame, achievements that he was immensely proud of.

While Parkinson’s Disease slowed Jeff down in his final years, he remained passionate about rallying and took a keen interest in everything that was happening, even if he was unable to travel to events or become as involved as he once was.

Working with Peter on a project they both loved dearly gave him great joy, as did the involvement of grandsons, Luke and Matt, who are helping to continue the RallySport Magazine legacy today.

Jeff Whitten will certainly be remembered as the man who gave Australian rallying its voice, but for his many friends in rallying, it will also be his humble, welcoming nature that will stick with them for years to come.

As was said more than once in the aftermath of his sad passing, “he was one of life’s gentlemen”.

Jeff is survived by his wife Betty, children Carolyn and Peter, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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