September 18, 2014

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Documentary on Amherst motorcycle pioneer John Penton debuts

A documentary about Amherst motorcycle pioneer John Penton is featured on the marquee of Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theater on Monday evening in Cleveland. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

A documentary about Amherst motorcycle pioneer John Penton is featured on the marquee of Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theater on Monday evening in Cleveland. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

CLEVELAND — Like the man and the sport it depicts, endurance was a key ingredient in the making of “Penton: The John Penton Story.”

Monday’s premiere at the Ohio Theater at Playhouse Square came seven years after director/producer Todd Huffman read a biography of Penton, the trailblazing Amherst off-road motorcycle racer and builder. Huffman told the audience of about 800 before the film debuted that he read the Ed Youngblood biography while on a plane. He said his first reaction was, “Man, we need to make a movie about this.”

John Penton, left, meets with producer/director Todd Huffman at the premiere of “Penton: The John Penton Story” at the Ohio Theater in Cleveland on Monday evening. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

John Penton, left, meets with producer/director Todd Huffman at the premiere of “Penton: The John Penton Story” at the Ohio Theater in Cleveland on Monday evening.

Easier said than done. Getting a movie financed, even for well-established big-name directors, is often difficult. By Hollywood standards, the approximately $300,000 the movie cost is miniscule. However, Huffman said in an interview that financing was challenging.

Through Kickstarter, an online site for publicly funding creative projects, Huffman said 562 donors contributed $160,000. The remainder came from motorcycle industry sponsors and Huffman.

Getting Grammy-winning country music singer Lyle Lovett to agree in 2010 to narrate the 2-hour, 14-minute movie helped give it credibility, Huffman said. Lovett is a fan of Penton and Penton motorcycles.

Besides filming re-creations of the life of Penton and his family in Amherst, the movie also shot outside Salzburg, Austria, and Venice, Italy, where motorcycle maker KTM manufactures Penton motorcycles. Penton began working with KTM on designs in 1968.

A Penton motorcycle is on display in the Ohio Theater’s lobby Monday during the premiere of “Penton: The John Penton Story” in Cleveland. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

A Penton motorcycle is on display in the Ohio Theater’s lobby Monday during the premiere of “Penton: The John Penton Story” in Cleveland.

The movie documents the 88-year-old Penton’s racing exploits, including his 1959 record-breaking 52-hour trip from New York to Los Angeles, and his determination to make smaller, faster off-road motorcycles that helped popularize the sport. Huffman said the themes of the movie are the values of family, hard work, ingenuity and not giving up on dreams.

“John had a dream to make a better, smaller, lighter motorcycle,” said Huffman who has made three other documentaries, all on motorcycling. “No one else would do it for him, so he did it himself.”

Penton, who started a motorcycle shop with his family in 1950 — the local dealership closed in the 1980s — said he last raced when he was about 70.

Penton said he hopes the film will promote off-road motorcycling as a family sport and that he is grateful for all the support received from his family and friends over the years.

“I’m humbled, and I’m proud,” he said.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

Motorcyclist’s Movie

  • Monday was the premiere of “Penton: The John Penton Story” in Cleveland. Filmmaker Todd Huffman said the Hollywood premiere of the documentary about the Amherst man is June 17. It will then be shown in about 100 theaters nationwide, including in Amherst. For information on where to see the film, visit gathr.us/films/penton.


  • stayfocused

    Way to go John. Can’t wait to see it.