GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Mike Penland

Tuesday Toolbox: Mike Penland

Tuesday, March 5, 2024 | 4:05 PM
Tuesday, March 5, 2024 | 4:05 PM

GNCC Racing: Mike, first of all, thanks for doing this! It’s been a while and on behalf of the GNCC family, I’d like to say we miss you and we love you. Let’s dive right in. I want to go back to the beginning. When did you start riding, what was your first bike/ATV, and when, where did you start racing?

Mike Penland: Thank you for having me! I am honored to be here and have certainly missed being at GNCC as well. I got my first motorcycle for my 14th birthday which was in 1967. I got the bike on a Saturday, raced it that Sunday and won. I won the next race as well and my racing career took off from there. That first race was in Michigan. I still have the trophy in my shop. I would go up to Ohio to get my bikes directly from John Penton dealers, Robins Sport Cycle and Piasecki’s. I had the incredible opportunity to meet John Penton and along with my trophies, I have a photo of him and I in my shop as well. As for my first ATV, that was a 1988 Honda 300 4x4 that I got in 1989.

This weekend the GNCC Racing Nation celebrates Mike Penland at The General GNCC.
This weekend the GNCC Racing Nation celebrates Mike Penland at The General GNCC. ATV Riders

Tell us about those early days of you racing at the GNCC’s? You’re well known by the people in the know, as the “Godfather of 4X4 Racing.” Where did it all start to click for you at GNCC?

I made the shift to ATV racing once my kids weren’t babies anymore and because I didn’t want to race on Sundays. I knew I wanted to get back into racing but didn’t know where or how. My friend Terry Smith and I looked for opportunities for over a year before discovering GNCC. Terry came to me and said he found a series that raced on Saturdays, but the catch was it was ATVs, and it was a 2 hour race going over the river and through the woods, so to speak. I said I have a 4x4 so I can do that. I liked the concept because I wasn’t looking to do double and triple jumps. I wanted to push my limits with endurance and GNCC definitely offered that. My first GNCC race was at Buren Hammrick’s track that zig-zagged across the NC and SC state lines throughout the course.

It’s important for us to keep our history alive. Your rider resume speaks for itself. 12 GNCC Championships over the years, you’ve raced the Blackwater 100, and you’ve won the Baja 1,000 multiple times. I’m sure it’s nearly impossible to pick one memory that stands out as your favorite, so I’m going to ask for a minimum of three. If you’ve got more than that, please expand all you’d like.

1) I originally didn’t realize what a big deal winning a GNCC race was so winning my first GNCC National Championship was really incredible

2) Winning the Blackwater 100 was really pivotal in my career. I got more press and attention from winning that than I had winning numerous other national titles prior to. I was suddenly in almost every ATV magazine in publication. It opened a lot of doors for me.

3) Winning my second Baja 1000. I know most people would think I’d say winning the first one, but anyone can win once on a fluke. Winning the second one is what really let me, and others know we were serious and here to stay.

Stop by and shake hands, grab a poster and sticker, and talk some racing with Mike himself.
Stop by and shake hands, grab a poster and sticker, and talk some racing with Mike himself. ATV Riders

You were deeply involved in racing throughout many years and still an avid fan. What are some of the changes you’ve seen over the last several decades in the world of off- road racing?

Now this might not be the answer a lot of people want to hear but over the years, racing got easier. I mean the tracks weren’t as rugged and tough. They seemed to be geared towards making it so anybody could race and win instead of making it really challenging so only the best could win. Aside from that, the biggest change was corporate sponsorship. When I first started with GNCC and when look back at photos, it was just a bunch of random people coming in with machines on lawnmower trailers some racing in work boots and blue jeans. Now just look at it! The face has grown and changed tremendously!

I’ll put a little pressure on you, of the 4X4 Pro riders you’ve seen after your retirement who stands out as someone that’s impressed you over the last several seasons?

Oh wow. you are putting me on the spot. I honestly can’t even think of all the names. There are so many that have had great careers and are really good riders. Buchanan, Swift, Trantham and so many others.

4x4 Pro winner will receive the Mike Penland number one plate in Georgia.
4x4 Pro winner will receive the Mike Penland number one plate in Georgia. GNCC Racing

We talk about our GNCC Racing Family, you’re a huge part of our family. As a way to show our appreciation Tim Cotter and the Racer Productions crew made the decision to award our ATV 4X4 Pro Champion with the “Mike Penland” award. I hope that expresses how we feel about you and all your contributions over the years. That’s really a big deal!

I am so honored and humbled. Despite being a multi time National Champion and Sports Ambassador for GNCC, I still never dreamed of such an honor. I am just thankful to be here.

I got to meet you in my first season back in 2017, and on a personal level, I wanted to say thank you. The GNCC Racin’ Nation has been very welcoming to me over the years, but you were one the first to really seek me out and say hello. Which says less about me and more about you and the type of person you are, welcoming to anyone in our sport. We get very caught up in competition against one another on the race track, but at our core, we’re a family event. What kind of message would you send to all our competitors now?

GNCC is more than a race. It’s family. The GNCC family has been so good to me over the years. I’ve seen kids go from being babies to racing themselves and I’ve watch novice riders become champions which is incredible. You see a lot in 27 years! The people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made along the way really are like family to me. I don’t know many other series that can say that.

Mike has had a lot of accomplishments over the years, and has been a pioneer in ATV and UTV racing.
Mike has had a lot of accomplishments over the years, and has been a pioneer in ATV and UTV racing. ATV Riders

Mike, I know over the years you weren’t alone. You had a lot of amazing help and some great people around you as well. Who are the sponsors you’d like to thank that contributed to your success?

And who are the people you’d like to thank over the years? I never could have had the career I had if it weren’t for people and companies helping along the way. Maxxis started sponsoring me in 1993 and that really was a relationship that opened the doors for so many future sponsorships not only for myself but other racers in the industry. I rode for Kawasaki for 8 years then rode for Can-Am for 11 years. Any racer knows it’s more than just the machine itself which is why I also had incredible companies like HMF, SuperATV, Fox, Klotz, Blown Concepts, Twin Air, Rocoshea (sorry, I am typing this for Daddy, and I do not know how to spell that) and so many others that believed in me and helped make my race career possible. As far as individual people, you don’t have enough time for me to go through all of them lol. Over the years I have been so blessed to meet so many incredible people that have supported and cheered for me. The “OG squad” as my Sarah refers to of course, Trantham, Swift, Kilby, Beasley, Forrest, Edwards, David Jesse and his wife, my son Hoyt, my girls Chrissy and Sarah, my wife, Hans, Andy Blue, Ricky Stator and so many others. God knows who and what we need in our lives, and I believe he put these people and others in my life for a reason.