Catching Up with…Josh Penner
By Billy Rainford
Manitoba’s Josh Penner has been around the sport of motocross for almost as long as he’s been alive. He’s come up all the way to the Pro level and traveled the circuit chasing his dream. However, lately he’s had his eye even higher in the sky and has made the move to the freestyle side of our extreme sport. Not only that, he’s even made this a 12-month-of-the-year activity, adding sledding to his repertoire.
Josh just competed in his first X Games (he didn’t make it in last year as an alternate) in Aspen, Colorado. We wanted to find out more about his experiences, so we got in tough with him this morning after the long drive home from the Rockies.
Direct Motocross: Hello, Josh. Where have we found you and how are things?
Josh Penner: I just got home. It was pretty tough last night driving home and I have to get to work on the farm now. My job description (Grain Farmer) really blew up on Twitter – people loved it.
For those out there who don’t know you, can you give us a little bit of your history?
Well, my hometown is Letellier, Manitoba, I went to high school in Altona. I grew up racing motocross and raced the National Circuit as a privateer. I pretty much did it as long as I could and that has led me into freestyle.
How did you actually get into motocross in the first place?
My dad took me to a local race in Altona when I was 10 years old. Ever since I saw that I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I actually rode sleds before dirt bikes trail riding when I was five but my dad would never let me get a race sled but he let me ride dirt bikes, so that’s where I started.
Do you remember who the fast guys were back then when you went to watch?
Oh ya. Do you remember Don Formo? He was the fast guy.
When did you turn Pro?
I turned Pro in 2004, I believe, when I was 18. I raced my first National when I was 17 on a 125 and I missed qualifying by one spot in Grunthal. It was a great track.
What was your best moto season?
I’d have to say when I raced Hondas I went across the whole circuit, me and Milo (Christie), the second time – the first time our bikes got stolen. I got national number 68 the next year. But I think my best racing was the last time I did a national. It was 2007 on a Kawi 450 at the Morden National I was running top 10. It was going to be my first race in the top 10. That was my goal, but Michael Willard passed me on the last lap. And then my bike blew up the next race. And that’s why I quit – too much money.
I got national #70 and raced provincially and some arenacrosses, like in Lethbridge and stuff like that. The nationals got too expensive and I needed to work and had to quit chasing the dream.
What made you switch over to FMX?
I was riding one year I sold my 450 because it blew up on me and I got a 2-stroke to have fun. I didn’t do any races. My buddy told me they’d built this little freestyle ramp. He told me I should build a little one too. I told him that if we’re going to build one, we may as well build a full-size one or else we’re going to get made fun of. So we built one and just started ripping off there and had fun with it. I didn’t take it seriously or know where it was going to lead me.
Then I saw you out in Las Vegas at the ‘Best Whip Contest’ at the Monster Cup.
Ya. So, after that, I didn’t like the 2-stroke for ramps so I got a 450 and started ramping and doing whips, and my whips started getting really big. Then Jeremy Winchester signed me up for a freestyle show before I even knew any tricks! So I cut my teeth and learned some seat grabs and stuff.
Then I went and did ‘Hay Days’ in Minnesota. After that, I got invited to the Monster Cup and that’s where I saw you guys. So I did my second-ever show there.
So, you got your feet wet in the freestyle world. How did the whole sled thing happen?
I kind of got into sleds the same time I started hitting the ramp. I didn’t have a race sled yet, though. I just had a trail sled. I started hitting the ramp on my trail sled. That thing jumped like crap and I couldn’t do anything
The next year, 2014, I bought my first race sled and started ramping on that thing. It was way better and then I could start doing tricks.
And how did the Winter X Games come about?
That same winter that I bought my first race sled, I started doing tricks. My biddy told me he needed to come to my place to get ready for X Games on my ramp because he didn’t even have one. So I let him ride my new sled and he backflipped it and all this. I was just helping him get there and succeed. He came back in January and brought his own sled this time and I learned a lot really quickly. I was just kind of working off him and then Joe Duncan (Sports Organizer – X Games) asked me if I wanted to be an alternate for Speed and Style in 2015.
So, I got to go there my first year of riding freestyle and I got to ride the practices. I got to know everyone and that helped me set up things for this year. Then I knew I could do it and go after it. I knew what I needed to do.
Did you get the call this year or did you have to contact them?
This year, I started backflipping both the dirt bike and the sled at the same time because I wanted to start doing backflips on my dirt bike. I went to Scott Murray‘s house in Michigan. He’s got everything. He’s got a foam pit, a resi lander, it’s like a big soft landing you can practice flips on. So, I went there in the beginning of June to start building towards my goals.
Joe Duncan sort of followed what I was doing and my progress. I’d send him updates because he knew I was wanting to go to X Games. As I progressed, I did more shows this summer on my dirt bike. I went all over. I went to Missoula, Montana, and now they’ve got me pre-booked for a bunch of shows in March all over Montana. It all adds on to your resumé for your experience.
When I went back to Scott Murray’s, we did a full edit to show them at the X Games. I sent in into Duncan and, a couple weeks later, he said that I didn’t get straight in but I was in as an alternate, but I was first alternate this year instead of second alternate. It wasn’t Speed and Style this year, it was Freestyle. It was a lot tougher and there were a lot more racers.
I went back to train and get ready in case I did get in. Daniel Bodin was there. He was training for it and he’s a gold medalist in Best Trick. Then right in front of my eyes, he crashed in the foam pit and the sled landed on him and broke his leg. That sucked big time, but that’s the way it goes and then I got in. So that’s how I got in.
I know Levi (Lavallee) also got hurt during the weekend so the second alternate was Rasmus Johansson so he also go in. Both alternates got in this year due to riders getting hurt. It’s pretty intense.
Let’s move on to the actual competition. How does that all work for a big event like this?
I knew what to expect because I was there last year. The landings are always bigger and taller and steeper at these events. It’s pretty safe, otherwise. It was pretty tough the whole weekend. I was told I was going to have everything ready for me to set up my sled but I guess there were issues with the team that they couldn’t get the trailer in and they didn’t have the right parts or a mechanic so that went into play as soon as we got there. I ended up working on my sled as soon as we got there and put the whole motor together myself and an other guy. I can work on things like this, dirt bikes and things, but I’m still pretty new at sleds. My last trail sled had a warranty so I just took it back to the shop and they’d take care of it. I’m learning along the way.
We couldn’t get it figured out. Christian Brothers tried and no one could really figure it out. We did spark plug wires, coils, stater, we had the carbs all apart changing air screws, jets trying whatever we could, really. As soon as it would get hot it would start sputtering and not having much power. That caused me to, I think you guys might have seen it on TV, crash in practice. I came up short and under-rotated the flip because it didn’t have the power at takeoff. When I pulled, I was like, “Holy, I’ve got to bring this thing around!” That crash beat me up pretty good.
I brought it back and wondered what we were going to do. This thing isn’t rideable and no one can figure it out. We found the Adaptive guy who rode for the team, Chris Heppding, and he told me to just take his sled. After the last practice, we tore everything apart and swapped it all. His sled was running awesome. It was a full mod. It was a lot faster than the sled I would have been riding.
We do two jumps in our final warm-ups before we actually get onto the TV. I just over-jumped the crap out of my first one. I flipped the first jump and the next one I going to go for a straight jump but I messed up because I was trying to go slower so I wouldn’t over-jump it. The next jump, the same thing – I came up short and crashed. I t was just really tough to get used to his sled the second run. So that’s kind of how that went trying to get the sled figured out.
After he was done his practice, we should have swapped everything so I would have at least got one practice in. That was a mistake.
So, you still got into the actual competition though, right?
Yep, because they need all 8 guys to be in there. I’m going to have more than one snowmobile there, that’s for sure. I got 7th out of the 8 guys. Colten Moore, he crashed twice and I only crashed once so I went ahead of him. I did a backflip heel-clicker (for the one jump that scored).
So, overall, it was a good experience? I guess you learned a lot.
Ya, I definitely learned a lot. More so working on snowmobiles than anything else. That was the most work I’ve put in a snowmobile out of all the years of riding sleds.
What’s next for you?
I’m headed to Sweden February 8th to do a freestyle show. Daniel Bodin got me the show right before he got hurt so I fly there right after my birthday here. I’m pretty excited for that. Then, I’ve got that Red Bull event that Levi does. It’s in Ink River, Minnesota. It’s a 4-hour-long cross-country race. Then, at the end of the month, I’ve got a freestyle show here in Manitoba that’s going to be a local one. That will be fun. And all of March I’ll be on the road up until April until I start seeding. I’ve got to go haul some grain this week.
Any more motocross in your future?
Actually, I’m turning 30 this weekend so I’m excited to be able to go race the +30 class. So, I’m going to go race +30 because I can.
Well, that’s a great story. Thanks for telling it to us. Before we let you go, who would you like to thank?
Thanks very much for keeping in touch throughout this whole thing. Take care.
I’d like to thank McGuire Motorsports, Trend Micro, Geek Squad, HMK USA, 509 Inc, 204 Skate Shop, The Riderscope, The Red Dragons, Arctic Cat, Speedwerx, RPM Graphx, Nix Nuvo, Sip Dark, Keystone Kat, and a shout out to everyone who helped me to get to this point and everyone who helped me work on my sled at X Games! Cheers.