Watching the Wheels – April 2023
by Mike Tanner, USTA Executive Vice President and CEO
Taking on the World
Ross’ rise from rural Tennessee to the global stage
Jordan ross, please get ready to meet the world. World, say hello to Jordan Ross.
For the uninitiated, Jordan is a young, up-and-coming driver who broke through in 2022, winning 153 races—mostly at Harrah’s Hoosier Park, in Indiana—and capturing the attention and respect of anyone who watched him and his skill in the bike. He will represent the United States at the World Driving Championship (WDC), in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany this August.
The WDC, established in 1970, is typically contested every two years—the pandemic caused its cancellation in 2021—in conjunction with the World Trotting Conference, and is the world’s preeminent driving tournament. For all of our nation’s driving talent and prominence on the world’s racing stage, U.S. drivers have won the competition only three times: in 1974, when Joe Marsh Jr. won in West Germany, Norway and France; in 1989, when Ron Pierce captured the honors in Canada; and again in 1995, when the United States hosted the competition and Dave Magee was a runaway victor. Ross, a 25-year-old driver from Covington, Tenn., will try to add his name to that very short list.
We assigned Ken Weingartner to profile Jordan and write the press release announcing his selection. Concurrently, Wendy Ross and Rich Johnston drove to Miami Valley Raceway, where Jordan is driving this winter, to film an on-camera interview, which was then posted on the USTA website and disseminated via our social media platforms. Check out both pieces and you’ll find a young man who is understated, humble and dedicated to his craft, and seemingly embarrassed by the attention he’s now receiving.
And I knew from reading James Platz’s excellent profile of him in Harness Racing Update last summer that Jordan had to be persuaded to become a driver, initially preferring to stay behind the scenes in relative anonymity as a second trainer.
This wasn’t at all what I expected. I had to learn more. So, I called his mother.
“Oh, that’s Jordan, all right,” Angie Ross told me by phone from her home, in Covington. “Quiet, humble, respectful, and he has a good heart. He’s always been there for our family. When times would get tough, he would always be the one to tell me that it’ll be all right. He’s just that way.”
Angie was born and raised in Covington, a town of slightly more than 8,000 people about 40 miles northeast of Memphis. It was there where Jordan grew up as the third of her six children. He was especially close with his grandfather, the late trainer Graham Ross Jr.—Angie’s dad—and it was through that relationship that Jordan was introduced to Standardbreds and harness racing. The connection was immediate and electric.
“He had a plan,” Angie explained. “It’s all he wanted to do. He would get home from school and immediately go to the barn to work with the horses. He was a good basketball player, but when he got to high school, he had to make a choice. Basketball practices were after school, and if he was going to play, he couldn’t be with the horses every afternoon. That was the end of basketball.”
Jordan graduated from Covington High School in 2016, and almost immediately left Tennessee to work in Illinois for trainer Robert Taylor, a friend of Graham Ross and owner Larry Poindexter, a mentor of Jordan’s from their hometown.
“I cried,” admitted Angie Ross. “I didn’t want him to go. But I knew that’s what he wanted. I wasn’t going to stand in the way of his dream.”
From there, it’s been a steady climb.
Jordan started his driving career in 2015, when he was winless in five starts. Over the next couple of years, he started finding the winner’s circle with regularity, primarily on the fair circuit, and eventually moved to larger Midwest venues like Hoosier Park and Dayton Raceway before taking a huge step forward in 2022, driving in 1,084 races and earning over $1.6 million in purses.
Angie Ross is justifiably proud of her son’s accomplishments and thrilled that his career will now take him overseas to represent his home country.
“When he called to tell me that he had been selected, he asked me not to say anything because it hadn’t been officially announced. I couldn’t sleep; I was just so excited for him. We’ll be bringing a few family members to Europe to support him. About the only thing I’m nervous about is flying. I flew once before and didn’t really like it. And this will be Jordan’s first time on an airplane. But we’ll get through it,” she said with a laugh.
Ross’ WDC participation will be unique in several ways. For one, he is believed to be the youngest driver ever to represent the U.S. at the competition. (Jason Bartlett had just turned 28 when he went to Norway for the 2009 edition.) Second, Ross is the first person of color that the U.S. has sent to the WDC. In a sport that is overwhelmingly white and skews older in age, Jordan is neither.
I asked Angie if, as the daughter of a trainer, she had ever worked with horses. She laughed.
“Nope. I’m too scared of them.”
Her son, however, has no such fear. And he’s quietly flying high toward Europe and a date with the world’s best drivers in August.
I wouldn’t bet against him.
The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at email@example.com.