With news of Keith Amor coming out of retirement to race at the IOM this year, we thought now would be a good time to fill in the gaps on how he came to be one of the front runners on the roads. This is an interview from the SuperBike archive, dated September 2011.
Keith Amor is a 39-year-old tough guy who’s fast rising to the top of the pile on the road-racing scene. Is it his unquestionable speed or his no-nonsense attitude that has landed him a seat on a factory-supported Honda?
Motocross was my first taste of riding bikes. At seven years old, I climbed on to a Yamaha TY80 and instantly clicked with riding and racing. I’m from Falkirk, Scotland, so it was the Scottish national MX championship for me. I won it at 17 years old. I was on to a good thing and should have stuck with it.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at life, at 18, I discovered pubs, booze and girls. Riding quickly slid off the top of my priority list. At 19, I was offered the chance to travel to Africa to race. I’d never even heard of Zimbabwe, let alone been there, so I jumped at the chance – I packed my bags and moved to Africa.
Work varied; between racing, I would earn money welding boat hulls, trading grain… at one stage, I nearly set up a sardine-fishing business with an ex-pilot. Back then, in the mid-Nineties, riding road bikes wasn’t even on my radar. I was too busy having fun. I came home with Malaria, though, which put me off Africa for a bit.
Direct Access was my route into road riding. I returned to the UK in 1998. By 2000, I decided that I’d like to ride on the road. I did my Direct Access and, like most clear-thinking bikers, went straight out and got myself a brand new Yamaha R1 on HP. I think I rode it eight times, and seem to remember nearly killing myself on it on six of those occasions. Restraint was hard to come by. I wanted to sell the bike but, thanks to those HP payments, I couldn’t. A friend of mine was desperate to go racing and talked me into doing the same. I did my first trackday and enjoyed it, so decided to give racing a shot. I started my first race at the back of the grid in 20-something place and finished eighth. I did all right. At my third race meeting, I won both races on a bog-stock road bike with a race fairing. I won a New Era championship in 2001, but racing was just so damn expensive. It took all of my money and, in 2002, I decided to head back out to Africa to work up my finances.
The North West 200 was a race that me and a friend went to watch in 2004. I stood at the side of the road with a pal watching the boys fly. It was impressive stuff. My friend turned to me and said, “You could do that”. I agreed but, knowing just how expensive racing was, my answer also centred on how much racing had cost me back in 2002. My buddy asked if I’d be interested in riding there if he could help me raise the funds. I didn’t need asking twice.
I got stuck into the 2005 Scottish sports productions cup, which I won. I also had my first taste of road racing back at the North West 200, finishing ninth in the Superstock race. In 2006, I did the Ulster Grand Prix. This felt like the first year that I began to establish myself as a credible road racer. In my newcomer year, I won the Dundrod 150 challenge race, setting a newcomer lap record over the 7.4-mile circuit with a 126mph average lap. I picked up more wins on the roads and hit the 2007 season with mounting interest from the race paddock.
I only got eight laps of the TT course in during practice week in 2007. Breakdown after breakdown meant I spent more time watching the other riders from the roadside than I did putting in laps. I made my mark in the last 600 race, though. My last lap time was the third-fastest time anyone had ever managed to get a 600 round the course. Seeing as it was my first TT, I was pretty chuffed with that.
We built a superbike with Wilson Craig Honda and went off racing the roads full-time in 2008. Me and Irishman Ryan Farqhuar shared the spoils of the whole year. This year is the first year I’ve finished the Senior TT; my bike has let me down every time, until now. Last year (2010), I got the call-up to the HM Plant Honda team, as Steve Plater was injured. That was how I ended up with Honda and the Legends team.
I crashed twice at the TT this year. I came around Quarterbridge, and rode straight on to some cement dust that had been put down over oil. My superstock bike spat me over the top at about 60mph. Crashing at the TT is never good, ever. I remember thinking, ‘Oh Shit!’ as I was going through the air. It was either when I hit the deck, or when the bike shoved me up a kerb, through a hedge and into a wall that my shoulder separated. I was in agony. If anybody saw me crash, I wasn’t having a tantrum in that hedge, I was trying to kick the bike off my foot. My shoulder was knackered.
I’m really good friends with WSB racer Jonathan Rea, who lives on the Isle of Man. He took me to see a specialist who said I’d need eight weeks. I told him I had 24 hours before I’d need my shoulder again. It was strapped, I was given local anaesthetic injections that last two hours and I carried on with the TT. Before I could race, I had to pass a medical. That was really tough, having to grin and bare it while a doctor dug about in my shoulder looking for pain, followed by press-ups to prove everything worked.
Then I crashed again, in the 600 race. To have one crash during TT week is bad; to have two is ridiculous. I was in between John McGuinness and Cameron Donald when I lost the back in the wet, then the front too. Again, I found myself thinking, ‘Oh shit, here we go again”. The section of the circuit is lined with flint walls, so I clung on to the bike to use it as a cushion between me and them. Thankfully, the bike was spinning and it pulled me into the middle of the road, so I let go of it and slid for what felt like forever.
The next day, I was flying along thinking, ‘What the fuck? What’s going to happen to me next?” You just don’t crash twice at the TT and get away with it. I got down the road, put a few demons to rest and got stuck in. Both of those crashes weren’t down to me being stupid, but it’s the TT; anything is possible. Crashing there won’t keep me from racing there.