‘I’ve never really been scared of anything’Posted 9th January 2022
Northamptonshire teenager Annabel Thomas can often be found serving customers at her family-run farm shop in Burton Latimer. But when she’s not doing that? She puts the pedal to the metal as a rising star in the British Superbike Championship. Annabel talked to Pulse’s Sammy Jones about the lure of the race track…
Annabel, or Abbz as she is known to friends and family, first took the saddle as a nine-year-old, wrapped in old leathers and someone else’s helmet.
It was no big deal; she had no interest in the sport and up to that point had only attended her dad’s races to get out of school.
But things went better than expected…
“When you first get on you don’t expect to be any good, but I was quite decent…from there it started and has never stopped,” she said.
And that’s certainly true – Abbz has spent half her life involved with the sport.
“We’re in deep now!” she laughs.
Her father Steffan spent more than two decades running and working in motorcycle racing, so bikes have always been a big part of family life: “My dad used to build superbike engines on our coffee table,” she recalls, “We are very much a biker family.”
That’s true for the most part, but her sister Lilly didn’t take to the bike business: “She has absolutely no interest, she had a go when she was younger and used to do a lot of pit biking, and I would go in front to show her the way – she was way more interested in looking at the flowers on the way round!”
But perhaps that is just as well. Having one daughter take the starting position on her Kawasaki 400 in the British Superbike Championship (BSB) is probably enough for the Thomas household. It’s not without risk, after all.
“When I was young I never really hurt myself though,” she says, “Obviously, every time I crash my parent’s hearts go in their mouths. The first proper injury I ever had was when I broke my feet, but once they know I’m ok, it’s not too bad.
“I come up and I’m like, ‘When am I better so I can race again?’ and they say, ‘You’re crazy!’
“I’ve never really been scared of anything. The fear settles down a bit when you are on the bike, and I’m not scared of getting back on and doing it again.”
The two-time British Minibike Champion now focuses on racing in the BSB as part of the Sym Cirrus Kawasaki team, but she was taken out of the running for a while following a particularly traumatic accident at Thruxton Race Circuit in 2019; a 140mph head-on collision.
“I’ve had my fair share of experiences of the dangerous side,” she says, sounding all too cool about the resulting wounds.
“I suffered a lot of facial injuries – there is a big scar down the middle of my face, and I broke my cheekbone, my eye socket, behind my eye and my nose, and it ripped my lip off my face which they put back.”
We’re struggling to comprehend how that must have felt.
“The drugs helped!” Abbz admits, “I was knocked out and don’t remember the first two days. I had a really, really bad concussion and was zombied for a little bit.
“The surgeons and doctors were absolutely amazing. I’ve still got a ruptured tear duct, so the water that goes into your eye when you blink just stays in my tear duct and I have to squirt it out – it’s a bit weird. It’s a nice party trick!”
And she has been left temporarily unable to breathe through her nose: “After the second surgery I was impatient and took the nose stents out, so the scar tissue overgrew and then collapsed, so I need another operation…”
The Covid backlog means that she is still waiting for the procedures to turn these issues around, but the girl who talks with such detached coolness when she tells me that her lip was ripped off, is a little more freaked when it comes to getting the damage repaired: “I do get a bit wary and me and my mum cry together – I’m a bit iffy with needles and injections…”
And we can’t fail to mention that Abbz really is a girl in a man’s world. But there’s no issue here.
“I don’t make myself different from the boys, and I’ve become best friends with a lot of the people I race against. They don’t treat me any differently. I would say I’m just as competitive and just as good, and they respect me.
“Whether I’m racing against a boy or a girl, I don’t see a difference, I just want to beat them.”
One of her damaged helmets, “has a tyre mark straight over it,” she tells me, “There are no cracks in the helmet though – it shows how good they are!”
Another helmet sits proudly in the office of Wilson Browne Solicitors (WBS) in Kettering.
The firm has been a huge support as a sponsor: “Abbz is an inspiration to us all,” said Wayne Jenkins, business development and marketing director with WBS, “She has continued to pursue her dream despite setbacks, and her sheer grit and determination to succeed is admirable: to say she is focused would be an understatement!
“Competing at the top level in a sport traditionally seen as a male dominated one is a fantastic example of the fact that opportunities should be open to all and based on merit and merit alone.
“During these extremely challenging times there was never any question of Wilson Browne Solicitors not sticking by her, and to not give her our continued support would have been unthinkable.
“We believe in supporting the people and communities in which we operate and Abbz is a prime example of that fact, but just as importantly, it is incredibly rewarding to see her doing so well and going from strength to strength,” Wayne added.
Abbz has several sponsors, but is actively seeking more as she continues her bid to be a podium regular.
“Everyone in racing can use all the help they can get, it’s definitely not the cheapest sport about,” she admits.
Why is the sport left on the sidelines when it comes to major support?
“You’ve got to be into bikes and love them and not everyone’s into that. Unless you ride bikes and have been around them, you don’t understand how much goes into it,” she said.
“Some people just think you are hopping on a bike and twisting a throttle, but it is a lot more than that!”
When she isn’t at the race track, she spends her time at the family farm shop, Thomas & Daughters in Burton Latimer, or tipping an ear to favourite music artists like D-Block Europe, and she keeps up her stamina with regular trips to the gym.
She’s also very in touch with her feminine sides once the leathers are ditched: “I am very, very girly outside of racing – I do my make-up, I get in my dresses and go to parties. If you saw me in the street, the last thing you would expect me to do is ride a motorbike!”
Sport has always been a passion, and at school she played basketball and was on the netball team.
“I’ve always been very, very competitive in everything I’ve ever done,” and that streak even extends to playing board games at home.
“My Dad is very competitive as well – it’s like WWIII when we play a game in this house!”
Looking ahead, what’s the furthest you can go?
“I suppose it would be to get into MotoGP, but for Brits to get into that is just another story. I want to make this into a career, to have it as my job and be doing something that I love.”
And she is already eyeing up her next machine. “I’m on a 400 Kawasaki, but I want to push on to a 600 Kawasaki next – a bigger and faster bike.”
> Any firms who would like more information about sponsoring Annabel should contact firstname.lastname@example.org