Belfast Telegraph

I’m not the new Guy, I’m the one and only Malachi

Motorcycling’s latest sensation rejects link with Martin

By Jim Gracey

In the North West paddock, they think they have found the new Guy Martin, but Malachi Mitchell Thomas is having none of it. In fairness, road racing’s bright new star is prepared to concede that he can see why he is being compared to the prodigal son of the paddock this year.

Young double barrelled Mitchell Thomas has arrived all guns blazing in much the same way as a youthful Guy a dozen years ago, before TV and movie stardom came calling.

All free spirited, tousel-haired and with a rapid-fire north of England accent and, just like Guy, he is determined to be his own man.

That he is. Aged just 20, seasoned ‘been there, done that’ observers like our own Belfast Telegraph North West columnist and race legend Phillip McCallen believe he has what it takes to become the next big thing.

What McCallen and his ilk like, too, is that Mitchell Thomas has scrimped and saved, begged and borrowed to be here, the essence of the trademark road racer McCallen, the Dunlops and their famed Armoy Armada started out as.

To find him, you need to trudge all the way to the back of the paddock, past the front row of £100,000 luxury motor-homes of the manufacturer backed riders to see how the North West’s other half live.

Mitchell Thomas is billeted, with his dad, in a modest two-bunk caravan that reminds him of home in their tiny flat in Adlington, near his birthplace of Bolton in Lancashire.

Outside is a blue igloo tent... “for some mates I have coming over to crash out,” he says.

Riding for ex-racer John Burrows’ Cookstown-based BE Racing team, on his first taste of Ulster road racing he posted three wins at the Mid Antrim 150, one at Cookstown and, as a rite of passage, an off at the same meeting. And on Thursday night’s curtailed North West, he came home a creditable 11th in the Supersport race that saw Alastair Seeley secure his record breaking 16th win.

That is the kind of result Mitchell Thomas aspires to, being very aware that the celebrity rider he is being compared to has yet to actually record a win at the North West and probably never will, given last year’s acrimonious parting of the ways.

After Guy’s Thursday night post-practice contretemps on live TV, when he denounced all things North West as ‘not proper road racing’, it is no surprise to anyone here that the enigmatic, and indeed charismatic, character has chosen to throw himself into an extreme US mountain bike challenge instead.

And that is where Mitchell Thomas parts company with the comparisons.

“If you’re asking if I’m flattered at being likened to Guy, I would have to say no,” he candidly admits.

“I didn’t really know the young Guy so I don’t know who or what I am being compared to. And I have no problem with the TV fame and fortune.. if it comes along, I’ll have some of that.

“But I’d never miss a race to go off and do something else. Racing is my be all and end all. I love it.

“No harm, but I don’t want to be the next Guy Martin. I want to be the first Malachi Mitchell Thomas.”

With a standout name like that and the promise he has shown to date from a standing start, he has every chance.

Ask him where the family name comes from and he laughs: “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.”

Oh, and he points out that it is Malach-eye, not Malachy as we pronounce it.

“My dad wanted to give me a name that would make me sound different and set me apart, get me noticed, like,” he explains as Kevin pops his head into the caravan to tell Malach-eye that the massage he has arranged for a shoulder injury is overdue.

“My dad is brilliant,” he says. “We’ve not got a lot of money. We live in a little two-bed flat with a kitchen and living room all in one. 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.”

The road racing bug took hold of him on his first visit to the Isle of Man where he remarkably won a Senior Manx GP last year at 19, setting a new lap record, making the spiritual home of road racing, Our Wee Country, his next natural port of call.

“I split with my team who took on Dean Harrison so I came over here looking to take his place with Mar Train in Saintfield,” he explained.

“That didn’t happen and my next meeting was with John Burrows. We liked each other and shook hands on a deal there and then. There’s nothing in writing, it’s a verbal agreement that suits us fine.

“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.”

And like all bikers, he can’t resist a good cause. As he prepares to take his leave for his pre-race massage, a giant teddy bear is thrust into his arms for a photograph to promote the campaign to raise funds for Co Derry baby Charlie Ferris, needing many thousands of pounds for treatment in the United States for a spinal condition.

 And with that reality check on life outside the bubble of the racing paddock that bikers sometimes need, this chatty, engaging young man takes his leave to prepare for his race. Malachi Mitchell Thomas... remember the name. A definite one-off.

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