On the trail of dad's Singapore racing legacy

Chris Proffitt-White, a British technician based with the Royal Air Force in Singapore, won more than 16 motorcycle races in the 1960s. He died from cancer in 1989. His two children came to Singapore on a quest to learn more about their father.
British racer Chris Proffitt-White posing for a Castrol oil advertisement in the old days. A 22-karat gold medal presented to Mr Chris Proffitt-White for winning the second place in the Second Johor Grand Prix in 1962. In the previous year, Mr Proffi
A 22-karat gold medal presented to Mr Chris Proffitt-White for winning the second place in the Second Johor Grand Prix in 1962. In the previous year, Mr Proffitt-White had won the Singapore Grand Prix while riding a Honda RC161, 250cc race bike.ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF
British racer Chris Proffitt-White posing for a Castrol oil advertisement in the old days. A 22-karat gold medal presented to Mr Chris Proffitt-White for winning the second place in the Second Johor Grand Prix in 1962. In the previous year, Mr Proffi
British racer Chris Proffitt-White posing for a Castrol oil advertisement in the old days. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TIM PROFFITT-WHITE.
Ms Victoria Humble-White with her children, Oliver and Rosa, and Mr Tim Proffitt-White. They are holding up photos of Mr Chris Proffitt-White and a medal presented to him by Boon Siew Limited.
Ms Victoria Humble-White with her children, Oliver and Rosa, and Mr Tim Proffitt-White. They are holding up photos of Mr Chris Proffitt-White and a medal presented to him by Boon Siew Limited.ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF

Family learn about 'Prof', who won 1st Grand Prix at Thomson circuit

To Mr Tim Proffitt-White and his sister Victoria, their father was a loving hero figure with a good sense of humour. But more than 50 years ago - years before they were born - their father Chris Proffitt-White was also a hero on the motor racing circuit in Singapore.

The Briton, nicknamed "Prof", won the first Singapore Grand Prix held at the Thomson Road circuit in September 1961 after snatching the lead in the final laps on his Honda.

His racing exploits were what brought his two children here recently. "I grew up thinking this man was incredible - a hard act to follow. It was almost like a dream story I could not have imagined; my dad being a Grand Prix winner," Mr Proffitt-White, 46, told The Sunday Times.

His father's day job was as a technician with the Royal Air Force (RAF) when he was stationed in Singapore from 1960 to 1962.

The siblings, along with Ms Humble-White's two children, Rosa, seven, and Oliver, nine, spent a week in Singapore in mid-December to find out more about what their father, who died of cancer at age 51 in 1989, did and achieved.

During his short time in Singapore, he won more than 16 races, including the Singapore Motor Club Gap Hill Climb, RAF Seletar Auto Club 1/4 mile Sprint. Said Mr Proffitt-White, a survival skills instructor in the United Kingdom: "As time went by, I was interested to dip into the past. But you know, life takes over again. I had a busy life."

AN HONOUR

We were indeed gratified by having Tim here searching for the origins of his father and sharing the rich history of Boon Siew and Honda racing in Singapore. It was an honour.

MR NICHOLAS WONG, general manager of Boon Siew Singapore, which presented a gold medal to Mr Chris Proffitt-White for his win in the Second Johor Grand Prix in 1962

In the family home, dozens of trophies and other memorabilia point to the illustrious racing career of the siblings' father. Ironically, he never took them on motorbike rides.

Motorcycle "bits and pieces" were placed in a box at the garage. It was as though his priorities changed after he had a family, Ms Humble-White, 39, said of her father.

After leaving the RAF, he lived in the United States where he owned a garage fixing classic race cars. He also loved flying his Cessna airplane. The family later moved back to the UK when Mr Proffitt-White was four.

During one of his courses, the survival skills instructor met some Malaysians who invited him to Kuala Lumpur. He decided to take a sabbatical this year to visit South-east Asia. Encouraged by online conversations over the years with people around the world who knew his father, he planned a stopover in Singapore with his sister.

Ms Humble-White said her children came along as she wanted them to know their grandfather.

The siblings brought with them old photographs, letters, original race flyers and result sheets, including a 22-karat gold medal presented by Boon Siew Limited to their father for placing second in the Second Johor Grand Prix in 1962.

A 70cm-tall replica trophy given to their father for his Singapore Grand Prix victory remains back home in the UK.

While in Singapore, the family was received by Boon Siew Singapore (BSS) general manager Nicholas Wong. Mr Wong, whose company distributes Honda motorcycles, said: "We were indeed gratified by having Tim here searching for the origins of his father and sharing the rich history of Boon Siew and Honda racing in Singapore. It was an honour."

It was a journey of discovery for the siblings and BSS staff as they trawled through the "treasure" from the UK. Mr Proffitt-White discovered his father was in a RAF Gloster Meteor jet that crashed-landed in Singapore in April 1961, according to a caption written on the back of a crumpled photo. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

Driving along parts of the Thomson Road circut also helped put things into perspective. "(You get) a sense of what it must have been like to go at 120mph (about 190kmh)," said Mr Proffitt-White. "For some of those big corners, (you'd need) nerves of steel."

Riding his 250cc Honda RC 161, with the number 103, Proffitt-White senior, 22 at the time, raced with the best. His rivals included Honda's No. 1 rider Giichi Suzuki, Team Suzuki's Seiichi Suzuki, and local racers K.C. Wong and Looi Im Heok.

Racing was treacherously dangerous on the 4.8km Thomas Road circuit, with sections infamously named "Murder Mile" and "Devil's Bend".

Mr Looi, now 87, told The Sunday Times that Japanese motorcycles back then were known for their superior performance. Mr Looi, who rode a Gilera motorcycle in the same class as Mr Proffitt-White's Honda, said: "I could keep up with them in the corners but in the straights, they cut us like how you cut cucumber."

Unfortunately for him, his motorcycle blew an engine during the 1961 Singapore Grand Prix.

He remembered the Briton as a tall, skilful rider, adding: "He was friendly but he didn't talk very much during races."

Motorcycle racing veteran Alfred Armstrong, who was then a pit crew member for his uncle, recalls watching the "internationals" at the Singapore Grand Prix.

Said Mr Armstrong, 79: "The foreign riders were fast. When they rode past you, the sound the bikes made was piercing loud. But it was music to the ears."

But for the two visiting siblings, it was the sound of laughter that they remembered best, especially laughter brought on by their father's antics. Like the time when their father attached a clothes hanger to a dog leash and collar and pretended he was walking an invisible dog. Or what he liked to do when he was in his Cessna - turn off the engine while it was coasting over a hill so that he could ask for directions from the people below.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'On the trail of dad's Singapore racing legacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe