The book by Ed Youngblood pictured above inspired filmmaker Todd Huffman to attempt to make a full-length documentary chronicling the life of John Penton.
John Penton made a career out of solving problems. Early in his life, when he and his brothers found a run-down Harley-Davidson in their father’s barn, he set out to get it running. Though he may not have known then, apart from getting an old bike to run, he’d also solved the problem of what to do with the few short years that make up a lifetime.
When he returned from service in the Merchant Marine and Navy during WWII, Penton purchased a Harley-Davidson Knucklehead and, with his brother Bill, took the ride from Amherst, Ohio to the Jack Pine 500-Mile Enduro in Lansing, Michigan. While at Jack Pine, Penton couldn’t help but notice that the heavy Harleys and Indians fell short to the lightweight British-made BSA and, without warning, another problem was presented that would prove to challenge and inspire Penton for much of his career.
This initial encounter at Jack Pine, in 1948, was followed by his return aboard a B-33 BSA in 1949 and a second-place finish. By 1950 Penton and his brothers had opened their own dealership in Ohio chock full of BSAs, BMWs and NSUs. The business also became a cultural success and served as home to the Meadowlark Motorcycle Club, which is still alive and well to this day.
Following the untimely death of his wife Katherine in 1958, Penton set out on an unprecedented adventure, riding from Ohio to Daytona on a 175cc NSU. While on the way, he stopped off and won the Stone Mountain Enduro in Atlanta, and then for good measure, won the Alligator Enduro in Florida. All on the NSU he’d ridden from his home in Ohio.
At the end of the same year, he was inspired during a trip from the West Coast back to his home-base and decided to attempt to break the ride-time record from New York-to-Los Angeles. Riding on a BMW R69S, Penton went on to set the new record at 52 hours, 11 minutes.
In 1960, he won the AMA Most Popular Rider award and during the decade competed on the U.S. International Six Day Trial team. That’s where he first came in contact with representatives from KTM, and where he pitched his idea for a lightweight, affordable enduro machine. After putting up $6000 of his own money for KTM to develop a prototype to his specs, the Penton 100cc was born. After ten years, Penton sold distributorship of the machine to KTM after selling over 25,000 bikes in America.
Those who’ve followed off-road motorcycle racing in America over the past decades will likely know all these accomplishments and more when the name John Penton is brought up in conversation. Those who are new to the sport may not know the debt modern off-roading owes to the Ohioan. Ed Youngblood took up the task of recording the momentous achievements of John Penton in his book, “John Penton and the Off-Road Motorcycle Revolution,” a work that eventually caught the eye and imagination of filmmaker Todd Huffman.
Huffman is the force behind a number of moto-centered movies and he immediately set out to gather on-camera footage of Penton and his family after reading the book. By 2010 Huffman had started talking with Jack Martin about putting together a full-length film to chronicle the life and times of Penton and soon after secured the long-time Penton motorcycle fan and recording artist Lyle Lovett to narrate the film.
Movies take money though, and Huffman is attempting to channel Penton’s problem-solving spirit by utilizing the benefits of modern technology to raise funds for the film. Earlier this year, a 30-day fundraising effort was started on Kickstarter.com, a website that allows creators of artistic projects to garner the support of those interested in helping a venture see the light of day. The ambitious plan was to raise $275,000 dollars to cover the cost of the film. Unfortunately they came up short, but in spite of the deficit were still able to raise $75,000 in pledges.
Not to be deterred, Huffman has opened a new campaign on Kickstarter.com, extending the time period from 30 to 60 days and reducing the final goal to $150,000 dollars. As of the composition of this article, November 19, 2012, there are 40 backers listed and $14,020 dollars pledged. Funds go to help with filming the almost 50 interviews that are planned, shooting in Austria, Italy, England, Germany and Sweden as well as the myriad other pre- and post-production costs involved. The current campaign ends January 14, 2013.
There is a $1 dollar minimum pledge and no money is collected unless the total amount is achieved by the closing date.
If you or a loved one is a fan of off-road motorcycle racing, can relate to the ingenuity and perseverance of Penton’s story, or if you want to be part of a large scale effort to fund a film from the grass-roots level, then this might be the perfect excuse to forego the latte in the morning and pledge a few dollars to the cause.
Click here to check out the John Penton Story page on Kickstarter.com.