Tragic racer's dad in sad pilgrimage to NW 200, hours after his own father dies
Kevin Thomas is back at the North West 200 - and once again grieving the loss of a close family member.
Last year, his only son, rising young road-racing star Malachi Mitchell-Thomas, died in a horror 110mph crash on the north coast course while competing for the first time in the event's showpiece Saturday.
And, early yesterday morning, Mr Thomas was in hospital as his beloved father, Kevin Snr, passed away after battling a serious illness.
But the distraught Englishman went ahead with his emotional pilgrimage back to Northern Ireland's biggest sporting event because that's what his late father - another huge supporter of road racing - wanted.
Just hours after losing 76-year-old Kevin Snr, Mr Thomas stepped off a plane in Belfast to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy that befell 20-year-old 'Mali', as he affectionately called him.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph at the airport, the stoic father of the highly-rated rider, whose life was cut short one year ago today, insisted that, despite the devastation of his father's death, there was nowhere else he wanted to be this weekend.
"I would have been here all week but I had to be with my dad," he said.
"He was a renal patient, a cardio patient, a vascular patient; he was really ill, but he died after an amputation to remove gangrene from his leg that resulted in a heart attack.
"He drifted away over the course of Thursday night and Friday morning."
Young Malachi, from Adlington in Lancashire, died on May 14 2016 - the fifth fatality at the famous Triangle circuit in the last eight years.
He was racing for Cookstown-based team Burrows Engineering Kawasaki when he came off his bike on the third lap of the Supertwins race.
His dad, who last year had accompanied him to the North West for that ill-fated, final outing on a motorcycle, said that today he will be watching all the races, including this year's version of the one that claimed his beloved son's life.
"I love road racing, as did my own late dad, as did Mali," he said.
"Now that Mali's not with us, obviously there will be an element of sadness while I'm watching the racing.
"But I prefer to be here rather than anywhere else."
He added: "I think I will have feelings that nobody else has on Sunday [the actual date of Malachi's passing], but primarily I'm a race fan.
"And I'm now here as a spectator."
Mr Thomas said he had originally planned to be here this week, ahead of Malachi's anniversary, to help top superbike rider Glenn Irwin, from Carrickfergus, with his pit board.
"Glenn was one of the riders who has constantly stayed in touch and been a great support," he said.
"So I was coming to help out as well as to watch the racing and be here for the anniversary."
The father-of-two said he has been "up and down" over the past year and admitted he has been through "some dark times" but he added that he has made a conscious decision not to let it get him down.
"I've currently decided not to let those feelings be the driving force to my life and I'm trying to physically get better and mentally be strong," said Mr Thomas, who also has a 31-year-old daughter, Hinnon.
He added that Malachi's death "impacted on the whole family tremendously", including mum Vicky Mitchell, and he said he will always remember his youngest child "as a son, as a friend and as somebody who was more committed to racing than I was".
Mr Thomas also welcomed the safety improvements ahead of this year's event.
"The safety facilities including an air ambulance can only be good for the sport and can only be good for riders that unfortunately might end up requiring such assistance," he said.