INDIANAPOLIS – When you think about iconic families at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s usually the ones who’ve done the winning behind the wheel that stand out. If your surname is Andretti, Foyt or Unser, perhaps.
But it’s the families that are either behind-the-scenes or adorning of the cars that also have played a huge role in Indy history.
The Justice family out of Duarte, California is one of those such families.
For the family-owned and operated business, with all its automotive, equipment, agricultural and industrial products made in the U.S., this year marks their 71st year involved with the Indianapolis 500.
Early beginnings dating to 1946
The year was 1946. The Speedway had survived out of World War II, back in action after a five-year absence since the most recent 500-mile race. George Robson won that year’s race (below).
And that’s where the Justice legacy at the speedway began. Zeke Justice, one of the three Justice brothers along with Ed and Gus, had been working at multi-millionaire Joel Thorne’s owned shop. He’d become friends with Frank Kurtis; Zeke Justice became part of the Robson crew.
Ed Justice Sr., meanwhile, got a quick ride into the Speedway grounds with a fairly notable name in IMS history… a one Mr. Tony Hulman. He figured out the significance of riding in with Hulman once Hulman drove into the Speedway, waving to the guards rather than stopping.
By 1949, the brothers sponsored a car in the Indianapolis 500 to help promote their product. They struck a deal with rookie Bayliss Leverett, with Zeke on the pit crew, and the car would finish 24th.
The next year saw Frank Kurtis suggest Zeke would write a letter for Zeke and his brother to sponsor Kurtis’ entry in the 1950 Indianapolis 500.
The car was painted up in the now famous Justice Brothers yellow paint scheme, and had a guy named Johnnie Parsons behind the wheel. And he won it.
We’ll let Ed Justice Jr., President and CEO of Justice Brothers, Inc., pick up the story from there.
“The radio coverage was unbelievable,” Justice told NBC Sports. “Every lap of the 200 laps, it was, ‘It’s Freddie Agabashian, there’s Vukovich coming through the turn, he’s gonna go on underneath! Bill’s trying… and lap after lap… he’s going by on the backstraight!’ Every lap was like that.
“But this race, there’s nothing like it. Honest to God. My family being involved… is obviously what got me hooked. That whole thing on IMS Radio was showbiz. But they sold it!
“Yeah, Freddie Agabashian was the announcer for IMS Radio Network. We had him as a team car in 1950 to Parsons. That was the car Frank Kurtis threw in for free! That was my earliest experience of this race.
“Then the next step for me was a year or two where only my uncle went back to the race and my dad didn’t. I went to closed circuit theater coverage to see Indy 500. That was an experience! You go into the theater, and it’s a regular moviehouse. They’d have the coverage.”
Then there was the rest of the 1950s. In 1952, the Justice Brothers sponsored the Granatelli brothers and placed second with Jim Rathmann.
“Jim Rathmann – my uncle knew him from the west coast –he’d drive,” Justice explained. “Going into that race, they had a Cadillac motor. There was no way it could qualify. But they got a ton of media coverage. ‘Hey do you think the Cadillac could qualify?’ It worked for everybody! It worked for the team; it worked for my dad and uncles as sponsors. It gave the media a narrative and something to sell papers.
“So when it comes time to qualify, the Cadillac comes out (of the car), and we qualify with an Offy. We finish second. Andy (Granatelli) tells me 10 or 15 years ago, he thought, ‘Rathmann could have won that.’”
They got to work with early Indy legend Lou Moore a year later in 1953 when Zeke Justice would partner with him. Moore won five Indianapolis 500s as an owner from 1938 to 1949.
Since those early glory years, the list of names who the Justice family has supported but is not limited to: A.J. Watson, A.J. Foyt, Don Branson, Joe Hunt, Steve Kinser, Buddy Lazier, Eddie Cheever, PJ Jones, Ron Hemelgarn, Greg Ray and Rocky Moran.
Hitting the 40-year in a row mark
For Justice Jr., this year marks his 40th consecutive Indianapolis 500 on site.
So his first in 1977, when A.J. Foyt Jr. became the first driver to win a fourth Indianapolis 500, stands out for numerous reasons.
“My first year was amazing,” Justice explained. “A.J. Foyt wins his fourth. He was a very good friend of ours. We’re with him in the garage, then the suites in Turn 2. It was an amazing thing. I had been around IndyCars actively at Riverside, and then in 1970, Ontario Motor Speedway opened. So I went there every year. For some of ‘70 to ‘77, I’d been attending races in Ontario, and we’d also been going to Phoenix… I was glad to see it back on the calendar.
“Indy stirs the soul. Once you start going back there, you realize… ‘I’ve spent well over a year of my life in Indianapolis,’ when you start adding it all up. It’s not an insignificant amount of time! I’ve witnessed so many great things. I’ve watched race from all different viewpoints.”
Among the viewpoints? Justice isn’t just carrying on the family legacy, but he’s also been at the race as a photographer, a writer, a radio host – and through all elements – a fan.
“The Indy 500 is like no other, and you witness it even more having been on it so many directions – radio, Car & Driver, Motor Trend, Road & Track,” he says.
The Townsend Bell connection
The origins of the Justice Brothers logo appearing on the Townsend Bell’s No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda, which carries co-primary sponsorship from California Pizza Kitchen and Robert Graham this month, goes back 15 years to when Bell was busy winning the Indy Lights championship in 2001.
Bell drove then with Dorricott Racing – a group that includes familiar names like Shane Senaviratne (runs U.S. RaceTronics in the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo North America series), Gerald Tyler (who’s worked with Bell in sports cars) and others – en route to winning that year’s crown.
“He’s a first class guy and one of the most professionals I’ve ever dealt with,” Justice says of Bell. “It’s no secret to me that Townsend’s been able to achieve what he has. He’s the real deal. He understands how to run Indy.”
Bell described the California connection that is making up his 2016 Indianapolis 500 program.
“It’s just incredible. I was born in San Francisco, lived there until I was 12 and then I migrated to the central coast, Santa Barbara, and now I live here in Los Angeles,” Bell said during the sponsorship announcement in Long Beach.
“As I came south in the ’80s and early ’90s, that’s when CPK was just starting out of Beverly Hills and really exploded, I think, in the early ’90s. It’s just hand in glove.
“I think the fact that California has always had such a strong tradition in Indianapolis with so many drivers being from here, several teams started here, race cars were built here, Dan Gurney, for instance, just down the road in Orange County with All-American Racers, so Southern California has always had a presence, but for a California driver to go to the biggest race in the world with some California brands, including Robert Graham that started in Abbot Kinney in Venice just up the road, CPK in Beverly Hills, it’s pretty awesome.
“We’re also going to have Justice Brothers involved. Ed Justice is here today. Their family and their business has been 70 years in Southern California and at Indianapolis. All around I just couldn’t be happier.”
Hopes and goals for the 100th running
Bell is renowned as one of Indy’s best one-off entries; Andretti Autosport is a three-time winning entrant into the race.
All this gives Justice hope that there could be an upset in the offing because the combination is there to pull it off.
“This is my first time here with the Andretti family,” he said. “We look back at Lou Moore for us in 1953. Lou was the first to win 500… he was Roger Penske of his day. Prior to our ‘50 win, his cars won in ’47, ’48, ’49. Blue Crown Specials. And we beat them in the 1950s!
“To pair up with the Andretti team, a first-class Indy winning team, and with Townsend… I was talking to Justin Bell at (Mazda Raceway) Laguna (Seca). He goes, ‘That boy can win it.’
“We have a legitimate fair shot with a chance to make it to victory lane. It’s the 100th anniversary and our 71st turn around here.”