For 60 years, racecars at Baja, Daytona, and Indianapolis have roared across the finish line with Justice Brothers logos on their sides and Justice Brothers products under their hoods. Ed Justice Sr., the last living founder of the famed automotive-products company, died of kidney failure on August 30. He was 87.
The youngest of six children, Justice was born in Paola, Kansas. He and his two brothers, Gus and Zeke, inherited the outgoing personality and sales skills of their auctioneer father. ("HM Justice, Auctioneer. I sell cows and also steers.") Their mother passed along a love for mechanics. The boys plastered their room with photos from early automotive magazines and fixed junked bicycles, which they rented from their front yard. As teenagers, they built a midget racecar and used it to tear around the streets of Paola. "The common opinion was the Justice boys probably won't live to see adulthood," says Ed Justice Jr., Justice's son and the company's CEO.
In the late 1930s, Justice drove Route 66 west to California and took a job at Douglas Aircraft. After Zeke joined him, both worked at the celebrated racecar builder Kurtis-Kraft. The craze for midget racing -- small cars on a dirt track -- was in full throttle. So popular were Kurtis-Kraft cars that the company offered them as kits, and Ed and Zeke launched Justice Brothers Racecar Repair & Fabrication to assemble them. The brothers also designed and built their own racer. They sold that car at a $2,500 profit and used the money to become distributors for a motor oil additive licensed from a retired inventor. Gus, who had been paralyzed in an auto accident at 21, joined them to manage finances, and Justice Brothers was born.
The brothers relocated to Florida and sold a line of fluids and additives to service stations. Among their customers was a man named Bill France, owner of an Amoco station. In 1948, France founded Nascar, and the Justices became its first multiteam sponsor. The Justice Brothers logo was ubiquitous on Nascar cars, shirts, and helmets. The Nascar association burnished Justice Brothers' reputation, as did its early use of television advertising. For 30 years, Justice pitched his company's expanding line of products, designed to make engines run smoother, cleaner, and quieter. Each ad ended with his trademark tag line: "Tell them Ed Justice sent you."
Justice retired in 1989 but remained a vital presence at the company, which had returned to California (it is now based in Duarte) and Route 66. His obsession was the Justice Brothers Museum of Early American Racing, three buildings crammed with fabled hot rods, movie cars, and memorabilia. Thousands of visitors each year received personal tours from Justice. Nascar driver Tim Huddleston recalls dropping by the museum on the day in 2000 that he signed on as Justice Brothers' Southern California distributor. "Ed Sr. was there, and he put my wife in the front seat and me in the back seat of a 1932 Ford Phaeton that had been owned by Louis B. Mayer," says Huddleston. "He fired that sucker up, hit the secret button inside the car that opened the museum wall, and took off out of there to take us to lunch. It was an awesome ride."
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan