John Penton movie makes premiere in Cleveland

Publish Date: 
Jun 10, 2014
By Vince Guerrieri

The movie was narrated by Lyle Lovett, who fell in love with Penton bikes to the point where he swept the floors and cleaned the bathrooms at Cycle Shack in Texas, just to say he was part of John Penton’s world, which began in 1925 on a farm outside of Cleveland.

Penton and his brothers found their father’s 1914 Harley-Davidson, fixed it up and started riding it around the property. After John and his brothers served in World War II, he came home and tried to buy a new Harley – along with several hundred thousand others. He ended up with a used Harley, and started racing it.

While stuck in the mud during a Jack Pine Enduro in Michigan, he watched a British café racer go by, and that started him on his quest to make smaller, faster off-road racing bikes. In the 1960s, he started telling KTM what he was looking for in a bike, and they worked together to put together racing bikes, which were sold under the Penton name in the United States.

In the meantime, Penton continued to race, through no shortage of physical pain. In the movie, he talks about breaking fingers and ribs, and once finished a race with a broken collarbone.

“If Dad wasn’t bleeding, he wasn’t having fun,” said Penton’s son Jack, himself an accomplished racer and one of the producers of the movie.

The racing also gave Penton solace through emotional pain, including the death of his first wife Katherine from multiple sclerosis, as well as the death of Donna’s son Brad at the age of 9 and Penton’s nephew Ted Leimbach in a car wreck.

The rise in Japanese imports and the declining dollar in the 1970s combined to spell the end of Penton motorcycles, but he continued his involvement in the industry through Hi-Point equipment.

But Penton said in the movie he’s lived a life of love and has been privileged to have his family with him. His three sons joined him as racers.

Hoffman may be the director and producer of the movie, but it belongs to the fans of Penton and his motorcycles. A total of 562 people donated $125,000 through Kickstarter to fund the project, and the movie is available for screenings through gathr.com.