Friday 19 January 2018

'If my son Jack turns out half as good as Mal did, then I will know I have done good job' - Team boss pays tribute to biker killed in race crash

Malachi Mitchell-Thomas
Malachi Mitchell-Thomas
Malachi Mitchell-Thomas and John Burrows
Rachel and John Burrows
Malachi Mitchell-Thomas in the kitchen of John and Rachel Burrows home with the couples daughter Isla

Stephanie Bell

As the world of road racing tries to come to terms with Malachi Mitchell-Thomas's death, his loss is acutely felt by team boss John Burrows and family, who shared their home with the young rider.

Rachel Burrows, who welcomed charming race star Malachi Mitchell-Thomas into her home and family, has paid a heartfelt tribute to the young man she said she "loved to bits".

Rachel, who said she is "cried out" since the shock of the 20-year-old's death at the North West 200 last Saturday, revealed that Malachi - whom she affectionately called Mal - had become a huge part of her family.

Malachi, from Lancashire, raced for Rachel's husband John Burrows' Cookstown-based BE Racing team, and had moved into the family's Dungannon home to live with them more than a year ago.

John, who quit racing in 2012 after the death of close friend and fellow rider Trevor Ferguson in a crash at the Manx Grand Prix, has announced that he has made the difficult decision to carry on with plans for his team to race in the Isle of Man TT next month because everyone felt it is what Malachi would have wanted.

Rachel (37) had revealed last week how much John worried when his riders were competing, and said that, last Saturday morning, he was so nervous before Malachi's race that he was sick.

By contrast, fun-loving, laid-back Malachi was, she said, at his happiest and most relaxed.

The couple adored the young rider, whom they took into their hearts and home and regarded as one of their own.

Malachi with Jack in the pits
Malachi with Jack in the pits

Rachel said Malachi became like a big brother to the couple's two young children - Jack (6) and Isla (3) - and had recently built their new trampoline for them, and had fun teaching Jack how to flip over.

She described him as "very special" and said getting to know him over the past year had been something she now treasured.

Rachel recalled: "We had some brilliant times with Malachi and I am just so delighted we had the opportunity to meet him and get to know him.

"We loved him. He was a big part of our family and a big brother to my children. He adored them.

"Isla is not at school yet and he would have played with her all day. He was like a big brother.

"We had just gotten them a trampoline recently and Mal built it for them and then taught Jack how to flip himself over. He was only a child himself. I think I have cried so much I have nothing more to give.

"He was very special; he had such a way with him, which I can't explain. He was such a breath of fresh air, good company and so easygoing. He had an aura about him.

"He didn't conform to the norm. We loved him and he was a big part of our family. I don't think he realised how much he was loved by everyone."

She added: "I can't tell you how much he loved Northern Ireland. Everybody took Mal to their hearts. People just seemed to instantly love him."

Rachel said she had been astonished at the support she and John had received since the tragedy, and the messages from people who didn't know Malachi but still felt his loss, which she said was typical of the effect the young rider had on people.

Before the fateful race that took his life, Rachel said the high-spirited young star was too busy chasing Isla around the pits to be nervous about the race.

She also revealed how he recorded a video of himself singing and playing the guitar minutes before he was due to race and sent it to all his friends.

She explained: "He was so happy last Saturday and so full of life. He was so calm and in such a good place. He was so relaxed; I wouldn't even say he was excited.

"Before the race he was sitting in his caravan listening to music and singing his heart out. He made a video and sent it to all his friends. He had such confidence. I got to see him and give him a hug and had a brief chat with him and he was so happy. It is such a tragedy we don't have him. You don't realise how precious life is."

While Malachi was fooling about in the pits minutes before what was, tragically, to be his last race, team boss John was struggling to keep his nerves in check.

Rachel said she had never seen him so nervous: "John was really sick - and I knew it was because of nerves. He is always nervous before a race, but I had never seen him sick like that before.

"He seemed to be just willing the day to be over, yet not for a minute did we think we would be facing the tragedy we did."

Rachel was watching the event on the big screen at the grandstand and knew pretty quickly after the crash that Malachi was involved.

"I had seen who had come through and who hadn't and I knew it was Mal who had gone down, but not for a minute did I think that he had gone.

"We are both still getting our heads around the fact that Malachi is not here and it is not going to be the same. He was only 20 and he should have had the opportunity to flourish and do so much more."

Rachel said her thoughts were with the young rider's distraught parents, Kevin and Vicki.

His mum lives in Cyprus and Malachi lived in England with his dad, who gave up his job to manage his son's career.

Said Rachel: "He was such a credit to his parents. Even though his mum lives in Cyprus, he is a real credit to her.

"Kevin and Mal were very close and lived together and Kevin did everything to support him. They were inseparable and Kevin has lost everything - not just a son, but his best friend."

The decision to carry on and race in the TT was not an easy one, and Rachel said that going forward as a team will also be something that she and John will be thinking hard about.

"I just don't know where we go from here. I don't know where my head is, or what to think. John has enough to think about at the minute and I haven't spoken to him about it.

"We will just have to take it one day at a time and see what happens. We are trying to carry on as normally as possible for the children.

"John will not make a rash decision. Mal lived for racing and he wouldn't have wanted to leave this Earth any other way. I know he wouldn't want us to give up either."

Rachel paid the biggest compliment she could to the young man who had become such a big part of her family's life when she added: "If my son Jack turns out half as good as Mal, then I will have done a good job.

"I told Mal that - I would love Jack to be exactly like him."

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