He’s one of the most decorated short circuit riders ever to come from Northern Ireland with four British titles to his name, but had a move to sunny Spain happened 11 years ago, then Keith Farmer’s story would be very different indeed.
At that time, the Clogher man was one of the best Supermoto riders in the UK. He had been runner-up in the 2008 British Championship, four years after he won the Irish crown as a 17-year-old and was the dominant force in the Irish Winter Series.
He started his racing career at the age of eight in the Ulster Motorcross Championship, finishing fifth in his third year and second overall in 2001.
But after a fellow Clogher man, Alan Morgan, introduced him to the fast-paced world of Supermoto racing – when riders compete on tracks that are part tarmac or concrete and half gravel – there was no looking back.
As well as winning a host of national titles, Farmer was a stand-out performer for Ireland at the 2006 Des Nations when the team finished fifth overall and he was one of the stars at Mettet where he was the highest placed British rider, beating some of his childhood heroes in the process.
“At the original Mettet race I was the highest placed British rider, which was pretty cool for me,” he beamed. “I got to race against some of my absolute idols like Stefan Everts, a 10-time World Motocross champion, and I’ll put in that I did beat him, so I was happy with that!
“There were loads of top motocross riders there and to get to race against the riders who, when I was thirteen or fourteen and watching them battle for World Motocross titles, was proper cool for me.”
Having stood out on the international stage and in races in England, Keith was signed by a team based in Bolton, before signing for Italian manufacturer Aprillia and then, it seemed, continental Europe was his next port of call.
“I went over to England to do a few races and I ended up riding for a team based in Bolton and we went from there,” he explained.
“I rode for Aprillia and that’s when I finished second in the British Supermoto and I had signed for a team to got to Spain and live with them in Supermoto at the end of 2009, but then all of a sudden that completely fell through.”
With that deal dead and with the sport of Supermoto starting to fizzle out, Keith was left at a crossroads in his racing career, but his Dad, Alan, soon intervened and put his son on a completely different track – literally.
“I had done a few track days at Kirkistown but it wasn’t anything I had really thought of doing properly,” explained the 33-year-old.
“That deal in Spain fell through and then my dad landed home with [a Yamaha] R6 road bike and I was like ‘who’s that for?’ and he said ‘you’re going to race that this year!’. I was like ‘oh, right!’ and that was that!”
Initially the combination of Keith’s will to win and his lack of patience to bide his time for that to happen made his move to the track look like an expensive mistake after several crashes on his first few outings.
But he soon found his feet and at a meeting in County Down he had the paddock talking.
“I hate losing, so going to something new and not going straight to the front was frustrating and a bad recipe because I ended up just crashing and crashing and crashing,” he added.
“I think my dad got sick of buying fairings so I had to end up fixing them all with fibreglass!
“Then I did a clubman event at Bishopscourt, where I had never been before, and I qualified in pole position and absolutely demolished everyone.
“I know it was only clubman but people started to take notice because I’d never ridden a short circuit bike and I’d never been to the circuit before.”
Buoyed by that performance, ‘Farmer Racing’ ventured to Knockhill for a round of the British Superbike Championship where he impressed before his gear lever fell off.
After that trip to Scotland, Keith impressed during several races at the Mondello Masters, which led to him making a big decision regarding his future at the start of 2011.
“We decided there was no point wasting money staying at home because if we want to go somewhere with this, because I’m starting at everything late, I needed to get across to England and make a point early doors,” he explained.
So, at the age of 24 Keith, assisted by Dad, Alan, big brother David and Darren Gawley, entered the National 600 Superstock Championship on his now three year-old Yamaha R6.
It would be fair to say that his ambitions weren’t overly high going into that maiden campaign and certainly not once he saw the scale of the British Superbike Championship.
“As a privateer team I didn’t expect to make any sort of impact in my first year,” he admitted. “I always want to win but to go over to British Superbikes and into the paddock at Brands Hatch I thought ‘this is massive!’
“It was so overwhelming because the paddock was massive, the tracks weren’t flat, they were up and down, so I just though it’s me, my dad, my brother and Darren Gawley, so we’ll give it a go.
“We had no clue what we were doing, we had no idea about gearing or anything.”
At Brands Hatch during round one, Keith showed ‘some good pace and some good lap times’ in a 16th placed finish but he soon caught the eye of one of the biggest names in the BSB paddock after a sensational performance at round two.
“From that to the second round I had met Paul Bird for the first time because Darren Gawley had ridden for him back in the 125 days,” Keith explained.
“Darren was pushing me forward, trying to get me a bit of sponsorship. He was telling Paul ‘you need to watch this kid, he’s the next big thing’ and Birdy being Birdy, he was like, ‘yeah, I’ve heard this all before’.”
Paul Bird may well have heard it all before but it’s unlikely he had seen what happened next.
“Then, at Oulton Park, having never seen the place before, I qualified in the 20s and I ended up coming round, first time round, I was run off the track so was nearly dead last but I came back and won the race!,” beamed Keith.
“From that round, Paul said he’d look after my bike, he’d help out with tyres and fuel, and from then it just snowballed.”
FULL STORY IN LAST WEEK’S TYRONE HERALD AND DUNGANNON HERALD
Posted: 7:06 am January 24, 2021