The brave father of tragic road racing prospect Malachi Mitchell-Thomas has vowed he will return to the Ulster road race that claimed his son’s life this year, the News Letter can reveal.
Kevin Thomas was left devastated following Malachi’s fatal accident in the Supertwins race at the North West 200 last May, which resulted in the abandonment of the incident-plagued international meeting.
However, he is set to return to the seaside race this Spring as a member of the Halsall Racing team, which has signed top Northern Ireland rider William Dunlop for 2017 - as exclusively revealed in the News Letter in November.
Rising young star Mitchell-Thomas created a stir with a sensational Irish road racing debut at the Mid Antrim 150 last April, chalking up a stunning hat-trick. The former Supermoto hot-shot won more plaudits after a magnificent ride to fourth place in the opening Supersport race at the North West on John Burrows’ 600cc Honda in a field packed with established names on factory-backed machinery.
Malachi had also been in the mix for a podium finish in the Supertwin race when he came off at the fast right-hander on the exit of Dhu Varren - the same place where Ryan Farquhar sustained serious injuries in a horror crash in the opening race for the 650cc machines on the Thursday evening of race week.
Sadly, the 20-year-old from Chorley in Lancashire died at the scene, casting a dark cloud over Irish road racing and the North West in particular, which has been marred by a raft of fatal accidents in recent seasons.
In an exclusive interview, his proud father Kevin told the News Letter that he endured an ‘utterly horrible’ Christmas and New Year, but revealed he will remain involved with the sport in 2017 after accepting a role within Martin Halsall’s newly-formed roads team.
“The Christmas and New Year period for me was terrible, utterly horrible, but I had to know I could live with my own thoughts so I hid away, stayed offline and fought my mental demons,” he said.
“The auto-pilot had stopped, there were no distractions to fill the dark spaces in my thoughts, but, because of another amazing group of people, I knew I had a future, if I wanted one.
“Martin Halsall had contacted me very early on after the crash and attended Mal’s funeral. He told me if I ever needed anything, he was there. Mal had gone to school win Martin’s son Jordan, in the same Year, and they were friends. We knew that if Malachi’s results kept coming, Halsall Racing could end up being an option in the future, giving him a ride in BSB and the roads, and it transpired that Martin and other team owners were watching Mal.
“As it has turned out, Martin offered me a job with his race team for the 2017 road racing season. They have pulled out of BSB and signed William Dunlop,” he added.
“To begin with I wasn’t sure. The bravado I’d previously shown regarding continuing with racing was fading. But Martin and the rest of the team have been unbelievably patient with me. Some days I’m next to useless, others I have glimpses of my former past enthusiastic self.
“But he’s stood by me and applied no pressure, the upshot being that I will be with the team cheering William on at the races, which obviously includes the North West 200.
“For sure that will be a very emotional meeting for me, but I hope to be able to display even a modicum of Malachi’s strength and determination, and we will go there with the intention of winning.”
Mr Thomas paid a warm tribute to John and Rachel Burrows of the Dungannon-based Cookstown B.E. Racing team for the role they played in the aftermath of Malachi’s crash, saying he has formed a ‘lifelong bond’ with the couple.
“John and Rachael were amazingly supportive and we have a lifelong friendship that is as strong as a family tie.
“After Mal’s crash I was obviously in shock for a while, as were the team. After everything John and the Burrows team had been through – the loss of Trevor Ferguson, which brought about John’s retirement from the saddle and Jamie Hamilton’s crash at the TT the year before – it would have been so easy for him to throw in the towel right then. It was spoken about, but John is such an asset to road racing and having an excellent rider in Derek Sheils, the loss to the sport would have been even greater if he had walked away,” he said.
“I knew Malachi wouldn’t have wanted it. He lost his friend Billy Redmayne just five weeks before at Oliver’s Mount and I asked Mal if he wanted to call it a day, but it just seemed to make him more determined to prove he had what it took to succeed.
“So after the initial shock had subsided I made it clear to John my thoughts were to keep going, and win races. For me to be able to stay around the paddock and be with the team last year was fantastic therapy, I was on auto-pilot really, of no use to anyone, but it stopped me curling up in a dark room and not coming out again.”
An inquest into Malachi’s death was held at Bolton Coroner’s Court before Christmas, but Mr Thomas decided not to attend.
“I didn’t attend the inquest, I didn’t need to, but more than that, I didn’t want to. I’m not interested in the detail.
“The facts I need to know are that he’d raced from six-years-old, he’d proven himself exceptionally able, he’d embarked on a career in the most dangerous form of the sport bar none; we’d given him the best package available, and he was cared for at the scene by the best people with the best intentions of doing the best for him.
“And they couldn’t save him. There’s nothing else I need to know.”