Given his connections, pedigree, and dreams, one might well have predicted a storied racing career for a young Ed Justice Jr. After all, the Justice family was, quite literally, present at the beginning.
In December 1947, a Daytona, Fla., gas station owner named Bill France Sr. assembled a group of racing enthusiasts for a meeting at the Ebony Bar in the local Streamline Hotel. Trying to organize the expanding stock car racing scene in the postwar southeastern U.S., the men discussed everything from drivers’ payments to a coherent set of rules.
By February, after a series of meetings, the group emerged with a collection of rules, bylaws, and procedures that, in their totality, formed the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, “NASCAR.”
Among NASCAR’s founding fathers were the Justice Brothers: Zeke, Gus, and Ed Sr., a trio of Kansas-born, California transplants who had landed in Northern Florida just as the region’s racing scene was transitioning from its bootlegging roots into an organized sport. The brothers brought with them sophisticated backgrounds in racing and aerospace, which used to great acclaim for men like Joel Thorne and Frank Kurtis (of Kurtis-Kraft), helping the Thorne Engineering team win the 1946 Indianapolis 500.
Once in Florida, they wasted little time in leaving their imprint on stock car racing. Shortly after the fabled Streamline meeting, the Justice Brothers became the first sponsors of NASCAR, providing the sport’s first uniforms and backing the earliest series winners, including, among others, Johnny Mantz, who won NASCAR’s first-ever 500-mile race, the 1950 Southern 500, held at the newly-built Darlington (SC) Raceway. That same year, Johnnie Parsons piloted a Justice Brothers-backed car to victory in the Indy 500.
From the 1940s through today, you can name any form of motorsport and chances are good that the Justice Brothers logo has been (and continues to be) in the mix and on the podium. One need only scroll through the company’s Instagram feed to appreciate the depth and breadth of the family’s commitment to motorsports past and present. It seems that every winner from Lee Petty and Don Garlits to Eddie Cheever and AJ Foyt can thank the Justice Brothers for their support over the years.
Despite all of this, Ed Justice Sr. leveraged every ounce of his persuasive powers to keep his son, Ed Jr., out of race cars. Having served during World War II, the elder Justice witnessed more than his share of death and destruction. He then returned home and immersed himself in the most dangerous period of racing—an era which combined, with lethal efficiency, immensely powerful engines with primitive brakes and suspension, all coupled with virtually no safety measures. Catastrophic crashes such as those at Le Mans in 1955 and at the 1957 Mille Miglia grabbed the largest headlines, but death and injury touched all corners of racing at the time. Ed Sr. watched all of this—including the 1964 death of his friend Glenn “Fireball” Roberts in Charlotte—and made sure to steer his son toward other pursuits.
From an early age, Ed Jr. showed a passion and talent for the visual arts and dreamed of becoming a cartoonist. His father, to his great credit, recognized and encouraged this interest. In addition to potentially sparing his son’s life and health, this fatherly concern turned out to be a great favor to racing fans, as Ed Jr. became one of the best and hardest working motorsports photographers of his era.
He began shooting for Petersen Publishing—in outlets such as Car Craft and their specialty publications division—at age 14. For a kid who grew up idolizing race car drivers and wanted to spend every waking second at the track, photography became the perfect outlet (be sure to follow the Instagram treasure trove that is @edjusticejr).
To his “photographer” job title Ed Jr. would eventually add radio host, published author, award-winning graphic designer, and lecturer at Art Center College of Design. All of this while serving as President and CEO of Justice Brothers Inc. In his mid-40s, he even became the youngest-ever member inducted into the "Old Timers Club" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—without ever having driven a single lap.
Of all his achievements in the world of cars and motorsports, however, one stands out for Ed Jr.: the accumulation of friends—many of them stars in their fields—he has made over the years.
“I really enjoy being around drivers and teams because I’ve learned so much on how to conduct my life by listening to their experiences,” says Ed. “Cars are great, but they’re only inanimate objects. The friends we meet through these cars are the real prize.”
Not bad for a kid whose father refused to let him race.