John Penton is a small, compact man. His legend looms large, though.
The Amherst icon was greeted Saturday by a standing ovation as fans gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Penton motorcycle.
It was on March 10, 1968, that the first Penton Sportcycle made its debut at the Stone Mountain National Enduro in Georgia. John Penton led a team of six riders — including Dave Mungenast, Leroy Winters, Tom Penton, Larry Maiers, and Al Born — on prototype 125cc bikes that had been delivered from the factory just days before.
That outing marked the beginning of a transformation in motorsports. It was also a turning point for a small Austrian manufacturer called KTM — with the Pentons’ designs in hand, its business exploded.
Black and white photos of racers from the past lined the walls of the KTM North America warehouse on Milan Avenue as the Pentons and their fans gathered to celebrate the half-century milestone.
The floor was full of bikes, too, including those bearing the first three Penton serial numbers. Along another wall were a 1960 BMW R-60 and 1958 NSU Maxi 17500 used in the filming of “The John Penton Story” documentary, which was released in 2014.
Jack Penton, John’s son, smiled as he gazed over a sea of hundreds of employees, racers, and enthusiasts who gathered. “As I look around this room, it’s a lifetime of memories for me and hopefully for some of you,” he said with affection.
The younger Penton gave credit to those who helped build the company.
Among them were Maiers, who served as the company president; uncle Ted Penton, the innovator; Matt Wiseman, who defined the brand through marketing; AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame members; and the workers who brought the products to life.
Robert Pearce, vice president of operations for KTM, thanks the Pentons for the careers they created. “I do tell everybody to thank John when they see him walking through the warehouse,” something that happens almost daily, he said.
The Penton Owners Group was an important part of the festivities. For 20 years, its members have met monthly on Milan Avenue to appreciate vintage bikes and discuss preservation of the classic machines.
By a unanimous yell of consent, louder than any motorcycle engine, the members in attendance roared approval for the election of John Penton as the president of their group for the 50th anniversary year.
The celebration also included a screening of the Penton movie, a live radio broadcast, a tour of the KTM plant, pizza, and historical displays.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.