Race Weekend Central

Jon Morley Rejuvenates Career in TCR With Roadshagger Racing

In Michelin Pilot Challenge’s TCR class in 2020, much of the season was dominated by Hyundai Veloster N TCRs.  Often times, the only team that truly able to take the fight to the Velosters fielded by Bryan Herta Autosport was a small Las Vegas-based team, Roadshagger Racing that fielded an Audi RS3 LMS Club Sport.  That car was (and still is) shared by Jon Morley and Gavin Ernstone.

Morley is a racing veteran, already 40 years of age, who came up through CART’s ladder series of the late 1990s and early 2000s.  He finished fifth in the Formula Dodge National Championship in 2000, racing against drivers such as current IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona competitor Bryan Sellers.  In 2001, Morley moved up to the Barber Dodge Pro Series, where he finished eighth in points.

This was no easy series back then.  Drivers such as Ryan Hunter-Reay, AJ Allmendinger, Roger Yasukawa and Matt Plumb were on the grid that year.  It was a highly competitive junior series.

Then, he more or less fell off the face of the earth.  If you look at Morley’s profile on Driver Database, there’s a giant donut hole in his resume following his time in the Barber Dodge Pro Series.

There are any number of reasons why a driver could drop off of the planet in the world of racing.  Most of them involve money, or the lack thereof.

In Morley’s case, once his dreams of getting into CART or the IRL came to an end, he settled into a career of coaching mixed with endurance racing on the West Coast.  A solid living (from the coaching), but done more or less in obscurity.

Unless you have a significant amount of money and/or sponsorship, it is very difficult to get an opportunity.  Sometimes, you have to get lucky.  In Morley’s case, meeting Ernstone was one of those lucky days.  Even then, it was a long time after that meeting before the duo made their way into IMSA competition.

“It was Gavin [that got me back into professional racing],” Morley said in 2020.  “I met Gavin at a racing school that I was teaching at in probably 2006 or 2007.  We hit it off.  He liked my coaching style.  He felt that it made sense to him and he improved when we worked together.”

At the time, Ernstone, a Las Vegas-based realtor focused on the higher end of the market, was driving in NASA competition in a Mazda RX-7.  While Ernstone’s skills behind the wheel improved under Morley’s tutelage, the RX-7 did not.  The first time they worked together, the session ended when the car burst into flames, ending that car’s racing career.

Ernstone sourced a BMW to replace the charred RX-7 shortly afterwards.  What followed was 10 years working together to improve Ernstone’s racing chops.  A couple of years into their teacher-student working relationship, Ernstone had a professional epiphany while working at a RE/MAX brokerage that chose to leave the brand.  That led him to strike out on his own in 2010 and form Simply Vegas Real Estate, a boutique luxury real estate firm that focuses on luxury homes in the Las Vegas area.

Simply Vegas has been very successful for the now 51-year old Ernstone.  According to Simply Vegas’ website, they are the third biggest residential real estate firm in Las Vegas based on list volume.  That success has provided Ernstone with the means to race.

The choice to race a TCR Audi came from Brett Strom, a competitor whom Morley and Ernstone raced against extensively out west.  Strom bought one of his own and let Ernstone try it out.  Within a minute or two of strapping in, Ernstone wanted one of his own.

Ultimately, Ernstrone and Strom teamed up to debut in the then-Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge at Lime Rock Park in 2018 as a two-car operation.  Even after being away for that long, being in the paddock came right back to him.

“It was great.  It was really exciting to [be back],” Morley said.  “The most interesting part was walking around that paddock and just seeing everyone that I still knew from back in the day.  The biggest thing has been re-connecting with drivers.  I raced against AJ Allmendinger in Barber Dodge, then didn’t see him.  He went off and had a whole career in different professional series, then I run into him and we pick up like it’s 15 or 16 years ago.”

Unfortunately for Strom, his day didn’t last very long.  Teammate David Depillo had contact with Max Faulkner and hit the wall on the second lap, ending his day.  Meanwhile, Morley qualified the No. 61 third in TCR.  Morley and Ernstone ended up finishing seventh that day in Connecticut.

While Strom ultimately ended up focusing on GT4 competition, first in SRO America, then in Creventic competition, Ernstone and Morley chose to stay in IMSA.  Morley admits that he was a bit uncomfortable with the Audi at first.

“When we did the two races in 2018, I was not comfortable with [the Audi],” Morley explained.  “I was driving [the car] the wrong way and it showed.”

This was due to the fact that most of Morley’s time behind the wheel in previous years had been in rear-wheel drive vehicles, such as the BMW that he had raced with Ernstone at places like Thunderhill.  What sorted out the car for Morley was the introduction of engineers that were able to show him the proper way to drive the car and get the most out of it once the Roadshagger Racing operation merged into eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing for 2019.

EEuroparts.com ran into financial trouble in the middle of 2019, resulting in the online parts retailer being sold.  The eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing team ended up shutting down as a result.  When that happened, Roadshagger Racing went independent again and kept some of the former eEuroparts.com ROWE Racing crewmembers.

Over the past two years, Ernstone has continued his progression.

“Every single weekend, [Ernstone] improves,” Morley said.  “He applies feedback really well.  He does better and better as the run goes on.  He excels in lower grip situations.  He went to the lead at Road America [in 2019] in the wet.”

After the interview for this piece wrapped, Morley explained what he felt was going to happen in the BMW Endurance Challenge at Daytona the next day.  He effectively stated that Ernstone was going to come up from the 11th spot in the grid and put him in the front within 45 minutes.  Sure enough, this happened, even with a drive-through penalty in the opening laps.  Morley and Ernstone ended up claiming their second TCR victory together that day.

The 2020 season ended up going great for the duo.  They scored a second win at Mid-Ohio on fuel mileage and were in the hunt for the championship right up to the final race at Sebring.  They ended up finishing third in points.

For 2021, they’ll be back for their third full season in TCR.  Both drivers were quick last week during the ROAR Before the 24 test sessions.  Morley was fastest in TCR the first day with a lap at 106.628 mph.  This held up as the fastest lap of the weekend until Atlanta Speedwerks’ Ryan Eversley topped him Sunday on his first all-out qualifying run since running for RealTime Racing in what is now TC America.  Meanwhile, Ernstone’s best lap of the weekend was sixth fastest, just a couple tenths of a second slower than Morley.  They could be dangerous not just this weekend, but for the whole season in TCR.

About the author

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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