Ernie Moross

Ernie Moross (I wrote the Wikipedia entry on him) was a great personality of the early days of American auto racing. Like many of the first drivers, he was a competitor in the popular sport of bicycle racing in the 1890s. Instead of transitioning to driving automobiles, Moross began to promote motor racing. He became affiliated with Barney Oldfield when the latter joined Peerless to race the Green Dragon in 1904.
 
Ernie later established the Moross Amusement Company and went barnstorming with Oldfield. Derided by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and competitors who complied with their rules, Moross and Oldfield were seen as hucksters running staged races. Harsh, but the assessment had a measure of validity. Nonetheless, Oldfield-Moross combination was successful and made both men wealthy until they lost most of their financial holdings late in life during the Great Depression.
 
Moross' success with Oldfield caught the eye of Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Carl Fisher, who hired the Michigan native to become director of Speedway contests. Essentially, Ernie was the track's general manager and helped lead the Speedway during its construction, the 1909 Balloon National Championship Balloon Race, the August 1909 motorcycle and auto races, as well as the 1909 December speed trials, the May 1910 race meet, the June Aviation Show and the July 1910 race meet. Among Moross' creative brainstorms was the obstacle course utilizing wooden ramps at the May 1910 races. Check out my articles on the first Speedway motorcycle races and the very busy year the Speedway had in 1910.
 
It's unclear why Moross left the Speedway, but the changes management was making at the time clearly did not suit his style. The plethora of events Moross was producing was not yielding the financial results Speedway management desired. The move to stage a single race, the Indianapolis 500, offered little for the creative, active mind of Ernie Moross, who left to campaign a team of Benz racers with driver Bob Burman. Moross continued to campaign Benz racers through 1914, also working the driver Teddy Tetzlaff.
 
After Moross retired from auto racing his life continued on an odd, tumultuous trajectory. He ran for a Michigan state senate seat as a communist and lost. An activist, he and his wife once protested the cost of licensing fees for automobiles by locking themselves in their car after it was possessed by the local government. Devastated by the Great Depression, late in life he turned to prospecting for gold in the Nevada desert. Ernie Moross died penniless in Long Beach, California on April 4, 1949, at age 75.
 
First Super Speedway follower Robert Rampton provides an excellent expansion on our biography of Moross: Here is what I have dug up on Ernie Moross, one of my favorite personalities from this period of auto racing. The event that drastically altered his life and career, was Tetzlaff's 1914 run on the Utah salt at Salduro. Everything about this event was at odds with the AAA Contest Board. Local Utah organizers trumpeted that Tetzlaff had bested Burman's 1911 record for the mile at 142.85 mph. In reality, Teddy had only traveled through a measured half-mile course. The promoters simply doubled the time for the mile making it completely fraudulent. There is no record of any official sanction being granted by the AAA. It was also timed with stop-watches, also in violation with Contest Board regulations. A year later, Moross was fined and sanctioned for the event. He still promoted auto races as an outlaw for a short time. Got into air-racing as well. In 1917, in a big, splashy show, he offered the Blitzen Benz II as a prize for the AAA points champion for that year. It was a complete bust as no champion was crowned that year due to the war. I have turned up evidence that in the early '20s, he and his wife ventured to Texas, where he pursued a career in law enforcement as a Texas Ranger. By the end of the decade, he was indeed in Michigan, offending almost everyone he came in contact with. I turned up a story about him being hung in effigy by his angry neighbors over a trespassing incident. After the 1929 crash, he was broke, but not completely. During his racing years, he had purchased stock and ownership in cinnabar (mercury) mines in Nevada. He and his wife relocated in Goldfield. To make ends meet, he became the house dick at the Goldfield Hotel. He also called in a few financial favors from old auto racing contacts and raised enough cash to reopen at least one mine. With war clouds gathering, once again in Europe, he hoped to cash in big with war production. But he never was able to pull it off completely. He did die, pretty much penniless. Eddy Rickenbacker, attended his modest funeral and paid for his cremation and transport to Michigan where he was placed in the family crypt at the old cemetery in downtown Detroit. There you go.
 

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