The Ubiquitous Justice Brothers:Their Story and Racing Museum

The Justice Brother’s Museum in Duarte covers every imaginable angle in history. Of course the theme centers around the Justice Brothers and racing, but the eclectic collection has everything from a Pitts Bi-Plane and a Bob’s Big Boy mascot to a full camera collection. This isn’t just a museum for auto enthusiasts, it’s a living, breathing time capsule of Americana. Within this massive collection of historical items, there is also one of the largest collections of Kurtis Kraft race cars in the world. If you are a dirt track fan, this is a can’t miss visit.

A Pitts Bi-Plane greets visitors as they walk through the door of the Justice Brother's Museum.

We were lucky. We happen to know Ed Justice Jr., so we gave him a call and asked if we could visit the museum. Taking in the sights at the museum is a real pleasure but having Ed give you a guided tour of the museum is a dream come true. It’s not that Justice has some knowledge about the cars in the museum, and that he also has great insight into the men that created the Justice Brother’s organization, Ed Justice Jr. is a real historian of racing. It is his passion and his life. The man has spent hours chasing down details of every car on the premises and every driver that was behind the wheel of every car. He is organized and very detailed. Best of all, he is willing to share his wealth of information.

Ed Justice Jr. and Doug Dwyer pose for photos.

We took advantage of Ed’s phenomenal wealth of information as we went through each row of cars. At the end of the tour, we sat down with the man, and talked about the history of Justice Brothers. It was an amazing journey, told by someone that was there. Much like the museum, Ed’s story contained more information that could be shared in one brief article. The story of the Justice Brothers reminds us of vaguely of the movie Forrest Gump. Those scenes from the movie when anything of historical significance happened and the main character happened to be there… that pretty much explains the life of the Justice Brothers. Whenever anything of importance happened in auto racing, they were there.

To attempt re-telling the story would be woefully wrong, so we will present the video version of the Justice Brothers Story, as produced by MM Justice Brothers, Inc. and published on YouTube. To watch the complete story of the Justice Brothers in the three segments posted on Youtube, click the links below:

The Justice Brothers Story (Segment 1)

 

The Justice Brothers Story (Segment 2)

The Justice Brothers Story (Segment 3)

Why the Justice Brothers Museum is so Interesting.

From the beginning of the Indianapolis 500 through the 1970’s, Southern California was home to the merchants of speed that competed to win the biggest spectacle in motorsports. An unwritten training progression, mostly informal but a necessity if you wanted to get to the show, took place in Southern California with the Justice Brothers at the heart of it all. Open wheel drivers started by racing in sprint cars then moved into Champ cars and eventually to the Indy 500. When Midget car racing started in the 1930’s (in Southern California) the informal training program was complete. Because many of these team owners and racers came to California to gain experience and race against the best open wheel racers of the time, decades of history planted roots in tracks like Legion Ascot, Ascot Park, Gilmore Stadium and Orangeshow Speedway. Legends were born and made on these tracks, and it seems like the Justice Brothers were always there providing the support to grow these legends.

The Brother’s familiarity with the racers and teams, along with their previous work in race car building, tied the Brothers to many of the memories associated with the legends of that time. It was only natural that the Justice Brothers picked up and collected many of these cars when their days of racing were done. While the brothers may have started collecting for the memories associated with the cars, it eventually turned into a celebration and display from what many call the greatest era of open wheel racing.

We found a lot of cars in the museum that had significant historical importance in dirt track and oval track racing. It’s virtually impossible to cover each car and artifact in the space permitted here, but we have included a photo gallery at the end of this article. Photos alone are not going to take the place of visiting the Justice Brother’s Museum in person, so we highly recommend putting a trip to Duarte, California on your bucket list. It’s a must see for every American.

WARNING: If you are like us and seeing these race cars makes you want one… these cars and ones like them are not inexpensive. Many are one-of-a-kind and priceless.

Charlie Allen's 1939 Kurtis was the first Kurtis race car ever. The unique styling of the body diapered around the frame rails was only done on this car. (Click on images to enlarge)

The First Kurtis Kraft Race Car Built: Charlie Allen’s Offenhauser Powered 1939 Kurtis.

There can only be one first and the Justice Brother’s Museum has the first Kurtis Kraft race car ever built. Ed Justice Jr. tells us that “it doesn’t happen very often when all the things come together, like aerodynamics, balance and power to make an era changing car. Kurtis hit upon it. He put it all together to build the dominant race car in this period.”

Charlie Allen's 1939 Kurtis.

What made Charlie Allen’s 1939 Kurtis unique, other than it being the first Kurtis Kraft race car, is the way the body molded around the chassis’ frame rails. This body “diapered” over the frame was unique and never repeated, making the race car a true one-of-a-kind on several levels.

1933 Lewis “Master Valve Special” Sprint Car:

When it comes to unique one-of-a-kind race cars, the “Master Valve Special” Sprint Car has to rank at or near the top. Texan was the man behind this car. A West Texas oilman with a fifth grade education, Smith was as original as his engines. He designed and built San Antonio’s first open air movie theater, built and flew San Antonio’s first airplane in 1905, a motorcycle racer, auto race promoter and inventor. Smith was well ahead of his time, and the “Master Valve Special” proved it.

T. Noah Smith's 1933 Lewis Master Valve Special was years ahead of it's time and is as unique as a race car gets.

Noah Smith became obsessed with the idea of a rotary valve cylinder head, an idea that he thought would become a piece of equipment that would save motorist in fuel economy. In order to show his intention to the world, Smith hired race car builder Harry Lewis to build the Master Valve Special sprint car. Construction took three years and when it was finished, Smith took the car to Detroit to sell his idea to the car manufacturers. Believing that the cylinder head was only good for racing, they rejected Smith’s idea. The car raced only once with Harry Lewis behind the wheel. Completing 35 miles while averaging over 100 mph. The car was parked in a garage in San Antonio for the next 51 years.

Sadly, the Master Valve Special was only raced once.

Before Smith died in 1955, he invented the “Smith-Jiggler” conversion for Ford V8-60 engines.  Smith’s “Jiggler” was designed a replacement head and accessories that took the exhaust valve out of the V8-60 block, converting it to an overhead valve. The idea was to take the exhaust heat out of the block. They were offered for midget race engines and there was a street version. The “Jiggler” never caught on in the street cars and the racing version suffered from being banned in many series for fear that it would dominate the Offenhauser engines of the day. As a result, less than 100 of the “Jiggler” conversions were made. Smith’s 1933 “Master Valve Special” remains as one of the greatest “ahead-of-it’s-time” inventions.

1947 Kurtis Kraft Midget "Hollywood Spring & Axle Special"

1947 Kurtis Kraft Midget:

Known as the “Marvin Edwards – A.J. Foyt Midget” this Kurtis Kraft was built in 1947 as the 7th Kurtis Kraft midget out of the factory. Originally ordered by Marvin Edwards, the Arizona spring builder that became a specialist in race car springs. Edwards’ company, Hollywood Spring and Axle, was already making racing springs for Miller and Kurtis Cars when he decided to field his own team. Originally this midget was known as the “Hollywood Spring & Axle Special” and was wheeled by many drivers, most notably, Parnelli Jones.

The 1947 Kurtis Kraft Midget was driven by many drivers, including A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones.

The car was sold to A.J. Foyt who would place third or better in 33% of the races that he ran in this car. The last race Foyt drove in this car was a 100 lap event in the Astro Grand Prix in Houston, Texas in 1970. Foyt won the race despite not having driven a midget in over five years. The car was completely restored by Ed Justice Sr, one of the original builders of the car.

Floyd "Pop" Dreyer built 1939 Sprint Car.

1939 Sprint Car

This pre-war Sprint car might go unnoticed by some museum visitors, but not by us. Immediately the car stands out because of the wire wheels. Keeping wire wheels “true” is an art form that is all but dead in these days of CNC machined aluminum wheels. Everything about this Sprint car screams intricate art work. Detailed and hand built. Then you find out who built the car and everything starts to make sense. Dreyer is enshrined in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame on his merit as a car builder.

Dreyer's cars were built simple, safe and fast.

Floyd “Pop” Dreyer built this Sprinter in his Dreyer Racing shop in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dreyer was a super star in motorcycle racing before a broken back from a race incident forced him to retire in 1923. Pop is enshrined in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame for his racing career. After retiring from motorcycle racing, Dreyer moved to Indianapolis and became a welder for the Duesenberg Automobile Company. It wasn’t long before the racing bug came back and Dreyer was building midget race cars.

Dreyer is enshrined in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame.

An early innovator in lightweight equipment, he came up with many innovations in race car building. He is credited with being one of the first to build lightweight magnesium wheels for his race cars. Pop was enshrined in the Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame for his work in the field of car building. At a time when race cars tended to be home-built, Dreyer was able to construct cars in quantity at his race shop leading the way for other Midget and Sprint manufacturers.

Dreyer's sprint car suspension were well built and noticeably lower than others.

Dreyer built this Sprint Car in 1939 for the original owner, John Sloan. Sloan was the son of IMCA founder J. Alex Sloan. When the elder Sloan died in 1937, John took over managing the Sanctioning body. This sprint car competed in the IMCA Championship in 1939 under car owner, and IMCA President John Sloan. The Sprinter also raced in the AAA National Championship series in 1948.

#17 K&K Special, Star of the movie "To Please a Lady."

#17 K & K Special

Publicity still from the movie shows Clark Gable in the #17 K&K Special. (Photo from www.drivepast.com)

The #17 K&K Special midget race car was featured in the 1950 Hollywood movie “To Please a Lady” which starred Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck. Gable played midget race car driver Mike Brannan. In the film, Brannan’s career as a racer was destroyed by newspaper columnist Regina Forbes, played by Stanwyck. Brannan resorts to doing stunt shows and saving his money to buy an Indy Roadster and race in the big race.

The K&K Special midget car was a real race car from the period but it’s suspension work was different from the other midget cars of the day. Drivers reportedly did not like the car because it was unpredictable. The car never found it’s way to the center stage other than in the Hollywood film. That alone makes it a very collectable museum piece. Numbered with Mike Brannan’s car number from the movie, this midget is well preserved and could be the star in another film quite easily.

Photo shows Clark Gable in the midget during filming. The car's suspension made it a scary ride for drivers.

A. J. Foyt’s V6 Indy Engine

Race cars are not the only displays in the museum. There are vintage tools, trophies and programs from race tracks that have been lost to time. One of the more interesting pieces on display that doesn’t have a windscreen and engine cowl is a Chevy engine from A.J. Foyt’s mid to late 1980’s Indy Cars.

A. J. Foyt's 90 Degree Chevrolet V6 Indianapolis 500 engine.

The Chevrolet 90 degree V6 Indianapolis 500 engine is a unique collector’s item, not so much for success because the engine did not perform well on the big stage, but for the havoc that it created with the other teams and drivers. Foyt’s cars were able to qualify with this engine in 5 different Indianapolis 500s. This may not seem like a big deal given that the engines did not have huge success in the actual race, but qualifying for the race brought in a nice payday by itself. Many drivers accused this engine of being illegal and having an advantage during qualifying. In any case, Foyt’s 90 degree V6 Chevy engines have become very collectable.

View the photo gallery below for a detailed look at the Justice Brother’s Museum (Click on image to enlarge):

 

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About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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