Saturday 24 February 2018

North West 200 crash victim Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was on cusp of greatness - a bright future taken away in a heartbeat

Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was killed in a crash during the supertwins race at the North West 200. He is pictured on the grid just before racing began.
Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was killed in a crash during the supertwins race at the North West 200. He is pictured on the grid just before racing began.

Jim Gracey

Malachi Mitchell-Thomas...remember the name – a definite one-off. Those were the last lines of a Belfast Telegraph interview I conducted with the young North West 200 crash victim here on Thursday night, in which he spoke of his hopes for the future and told how much he was looking forward to his first North West.

Sadly, it has now become his obituary. Heartbreakingly, young Malachi, who stood to achieve so much, will now be remembered for the most tragic of reasons.

To his dad, Kevin, who accompanied him on his first visit to the North West, and mum Vicky, the thoughts of 80,000 fans, and the entire motorcycle racing fraternity, go out.

Here was a lad, by common consent of the sport’s experts, on the cusp of an outstanding motorcycle racing career and maybe much more.

Aged just 20, with his boy band good looks, tousled hair, free spirited attitude and rapid-fire north of England accent, he had drawn comparisons with road racing folk hero Guy Martin of TV and movie fame.

Bemused by it all, he told me, without affectation: “No harm, like, but I want to be the first Malachi Mitchell Thomas.”

I interviewed him at the behest of North West legend turned BBC commentator Phillip McCallen who had identified him as a star of the future after wins at Mid Antrim and Cookstown on his Ulster road racing debut season.

Photographer Matt Mackey and I found him, relaxing in his boxer shorts, in his modest caravan at the back of the paddock, with a blue igloo tent pitched alongside: ‘for some mates who are coming over to kip in.’

A far cry from the £100,000 motorhome lifestyles of the manufacturer back riders on the front rowhe was the epitome of the rough and ready road racer this event was built upon.

Chatty, engaging and very media friendly, he told us how he had scrimped and saved, begged and borrowed, to get his racing career on the road.

The caravan, he said, reminded him of home, a two bed flat with all in one kitchen and living room, he shared with his dad, in Adlington, near his birthplace in Bolton Lancashire, sacrificing everything, luxuries especially to follow the racing dream.

He laughed as I asked the origins of his double barrelled surname, unusual in the sport. “It’s not posh like people think. My mum is Vicky Mitchell and my dad Kevin Thomas. They were never married, so it’s simple as that.”

And he pointed out that it was Malach-eye, not Malachy as we pronouce it.

“My dad wanted to give me a name that would make me sound different and set me apart,” he explained.

“My dad is brilliant,” he added. “We’ve not got a lot of money. Everything we scrape together goes towards my racing.

“My dad was into bikes but not professionally and he encouraged me to try to make a living from it.

“He got me into motocross when I was just four. I was riding in Supermoto at 13 and had success at European level at 16.”

He caught the road racing bug on his first visit to the Isle of Man, winning a Senior Manx Grand Prix last year at 19, setting a new lap record.

Former road road racer John Burrows then took him on for his Cookstown-based racing team and a, sadly to be short-lived, love affair with Northern Ireland and its people began, his TV appearances endearing him to an audience well beyond road racing.

“I love it here, the country and the people. This is my first North West and I’ve been here longer than I needed to be – five or six weeks now, mostly staying with John. We’re going to the TT next and hopefully the Ulster Grand Prix after that.”

He sounded so enthusiastic and full of life, sadly now taken away in a heartbeat on a corner on a coast road, far from home, doing what he loved.

That is how he came across in our one and only meeting… there are people who impress you right from the off and young Malachi was one of those.

I was keen to do him justice in print and hope I succeeded for these are among the saddest words I now have to pen 48 hours on at the end of a day and a life when we were shockingly reminded how the most spectacular and thrilling of speed sports can also be the most cruel.

Belfast Telegraph

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