The call came in one day, “Would you like to visit The Justice Private Automotive Collection after Christmas?” If you’re into some form of automotive racing, you’ve likely seen a Justice Brothers sticker on a car, or as an event sponsor. You’ve seen the stickers on off road trucks, sprint cars, midgets, NASCAR, drag racing, Daytona, LeMans, Indy, somewhere; it’s likely you saw it in passing but didn’t know the history behind that famous brand.
We had the opportunity to not only see where it all began, but to talk with none other than Ed Justice, Jr., himself, about the rich history behind his father, Ed Sr., and his uncles, Zeke and Gus – the team that was “Justice Brothers.”
The man himself, Ed Justice, Jr. If there was anyone to tell a handful of stories about how it all began, Ed can drop some names from yesterday that we’re all familiar with, and yet when he speaks to you, you’re already his friend.
We first walked in and were greeted with a number of midgets racecars from years gone by. They were all beautifully restored, and out in the open where we could see the cockpit that those daredevils rode in, with little to protect themselves. Just over one shoulder was the tire, kicking up dirt, and over the other shoulder was the exhaust, generating lots of heat. Ed Justice, Jr., told us, “Lots of guys would burn their arms during the race.”
Of course, things have changed over the years to protect drivers more than they were when the sport began, and today a driver can be catapulted over a fence completing a two-and-a-half gainer with a full three twists and come out of it with a few scratches and bruises.
Top: This car was built at a time when we had real craftsmen who formed the aluminum body and shaped all the panels. Would you race with tires that narrow?
Bottom: See that steering wheel in the center picture? Look at how much protection you have around it - that's the cockpit of an early racecar, and there's just not much to it. Today, it's a jungle gym climbing into a car.
Back in the day, rubbin’ wasn’t racing because that usually meant one – or both – drivers wrecked pretty hard. If you think racing is dangerous now, you won’t believe what it was like back then, when gearheads took what they learned from their time in the military and put it to work on racecars that were often hand built and formed by talented craftsmen.
The Museum And The History Of Justice Brothers
World War II hadn’t started yet, and Zeke, Ed, and Gus Justice were already playing around with hot rodding and racing. It was the 1930s, and the brothers were removing fenders and buying instructions on how to build a midget racer at home.
Ed headed out to California in the mid 1930s, and called Zeke about a job working with Frank Kurtis as the first employee of Kurtis-Kraft, the company well-known for the hundreds of midgets that were built in the early years of racing.
This was the body from the first Watson Roadster, and reportedly the only one with an aluminum tail. How did Justice Brothers come about it? It's a long story, but this 1-of-23 bodies ever built was found at the curb, awaiting to be hauled off to the dump before a friend picked it up and asked about it. That's a rare, one of a kind find that was ready to be thrown out!
After Ed’s time with the Air Force, he joined Zeke and they worked together at Kurtis-Kraft, and for extra income they opened Justice Brothers Race Car Repair & Fabrication. Together they worked at one shop during the day, and at their own on evenings and weekends.
While at Kurtis-Kraft, Ed convinced Zeke to use a special type of fastener on ‘Bullet’ Joe Garson’s midget, and that was the first use of the Dzus fastener in a racecar. Using Dzus fasteners worked out well, and eventually caught on with other drivers for a quick way to attach panels to their cars.
If you're wondering, yes - that is Princess Vespa's transportation from the movie Spaceballs, and the red car is none other than Syvester Stallone's ride from the movie Driven.
With success at races like the Indy 500, the Brothers moved to Florida and met with an Amoco Service Station owner in Daytona Beach who was starting a racing circuit of his own. This relationship with that station owner led the Justice Brothers to be the first sponsors of NASCAR.
Have you guessed who that Amoco Service Station owner was yet? You might recognize the name Bill France, the man who started NASCAR. This led the brothers to sponsor big names in NASCAR, like Lee Petty, and even went on to sponsor other venues of racing, including another name you might be familiar with: Don Garlits.
This is where it all began and there is so much history here to share. -Ed Justice, Jr.
It’s hard to find a racing venue where Justice Brothers weren’t a sponsor of some participants and winners, and there’s far too much to tell you about the history behind Justice Brothers.
For the rest of the history, for those of you who are in the Duarte, California area – just a stone’s throw from Irwindale – we suggest you pay The Justice Private Automotive Collection a visit. It won’t cost you anything but time.
Ed told us, “When we opened this my dad asked me how much we should charge. I asked him, ‘How many times have we seen people turn and walk away?’, so I told him we can’t charge people for this, this is where it all began and there is so much history here to share.”
You owe it to yourself to plan a visit whenever you’re in the area, just contact them for information at The Justice Private Automotive Collection, on display next to Justice Brothers, Inc. You don’t have to be into midgets or sprint cars, but if you’re into any form of racing, chances are you’ll walk away with a newfound respect for times when it all began in the 1930s. Enjoy the gallery from our tour, below.