The museum is home to some of the most unique and interesting early American Midget racers in the world. Check the Justice Brothers Pitts aerobatic bi-plane hanging in the entry.
Ever since a horse was attached to a wheeled vehicle, and there were a pair of wheeled vehicles, man has competed in speed contests. From Roman times until today nothing has changed except the vehicles and power source. With the introduction of the mass produced car in the early part of the last century, a whole new level of competition has emerged. From one horsepower to many hundreds, and even thousands of horsepower, race vehicles have evolved on land and water.
Race cars have taken many sizes and shapes since the invention of the internal combustion engine. Unfortunately, they have been overlooked by many auto enthusiasts as being true engineering marvels in their own right. Purpose-built race cars evolved from smoking, unsafe, totally non-aerodynamic hulks in the ’teens, to sleek, fast, and somewhat safer vehicles by the Thirties. What are we talking about? Circle track Midget race cars, which are actually the predecessors of today’s NASCAR!
Following WWII, engineering advances due to wartime innovations greatly improved the design and horsepower of many kinds of race cars. Experimentation in aerodynamics, engine and chassis components has continued until today, with Indianapolis and NASCAR race cars normally exceeding 200-plus mph! But all these incredible accomplishments had humble beginnings more than eight decades ago.
The Ford V-8/60 flathead is fitted with an Edelbrock intake with dual two-barrel carbs. Th
Exquisite American craftsmanship and engineering prowess produced racing works of art to equal the European masters. It takes a certain vision to fully appreciate and collect these icons of early American oval track racing, and the three Justice Brothers had that vision for many years. In the mid-thirties they built their first Midget from mail order plans supplied by Floyd Clymer, and much to the sheriff’s chagrin, raced it around the streets of Paola, Kansas.
The Justice Private Automotive Collection On Display Next To Justice Brothers, Inc., contains more than 200 race, or race-related vehicles on display. We decided to select one restored or original example that raced from the Twenties through the Sixties, and briefly examine the changes in styling and technology. Each vehicle has a unique history and story, which will appeal to any true circle track racing enthusiast.
The car looks almost identical today as it did six decades ago. Because of its historical
This is the 220-CID 1939 Offenhauser engine No. 117 built by Meyer & Drake Engineering
1933 Smith “Master Valve Special”
The Master Valve Special was the first Midget sprint car to utilize a patented rotary valve head which was mounted on a 1928 Chevy engine. This innovative design was the brainchild of T. Noah Smith, a man with a fifth grade education. This car was built by Harry Lewis between 1930 and 1933, and originally was intended to be raced at the Indianapolis 500. Smith and Lewis took the vehicle to Detroit to try and sell the rotary valve technology, but could find no interest from the vehicle manufacturers of the day.
While never racing at the Indy 500, the Master Valve Special was raced by Harry Lewis only once, from Laredo to Monterrey, Mexico. He completed 35 miles and averaged 100 mph, which was an exceptional feat and demonstration of dependability for the time. This beautiful example was then retired to a San Antonio garage for 51 years before being brought back to its original condition. It’s one of the oldest race cars displayed in the collection.
1939 Kurtis/Allen No. 23 Midget
Nicknamed the “Jewel Box” in the early ’40s, this is the first Kurtis-Kraft Midget ever built. It’s arguably one of the most famous of the early Midget race cars, particularly due to the body being “diapered” around the chassis. For the first time true aerodynamic design was being introduced into Midget racing. Power in early Midget racers was usually provided by Ford’s versatile V-8/60 flathead, which was inexpensive but prone to overheating. This example is powered by the more efficient, and more expensive Offenhauser, or Offy, engine.
Charlie Allen owned and raced this car in Forties and was extremely successful. The Offy engine all but dominated Midget racing for several decades. Eventually, this car was used in the movie The Big Wheel starring Mickey Rooney in 1949, driven by Rooney’s stand-in Charlie Allen, and re-named “FOUR BITS” for the feature. It’s also the first race car to have a quick-change rear end.
1947 Kurtis-Kraft Midget No. 93
This car has a great history. The chassis is No. 121 with the build invoice dated July 24, 1947, from Kurtis-Kraft. It’s powered by the traditional V-8/60 Ford flathead built for racing. The car was originally ordered and built for Buzz Lowe, a racer living in Los Angeles. He campaigned the car during the 1947-1948 racing season then sold it to a racer in Lincoln, Nebraska. It stayed in the Midwest until 1987 when it returned to its original owner, Mr. Lowe, who again took it racing in 1998 when he was 81 years old.
Engine technology allowed for smaller, more powerful engines, which, when coupled with chassis design, produced better racing results.
Number 93 is completely documented with the original order sheet from Kurtis-Kraft totaling $1396.20, and the engine building invoice from Smith & Jones Racing Equipment totaling slightly over $800. Today it has a place of honor in the Justice museum along with the original invoices on display.
1947 Kurtis-Kraft Dutch Hurd No. 7 Midget
This Kurtis-Kraft Midget was owned and campaigned by Dutch Hurd from 1947 through 1963. It had several different drivers during its racing career, including Parnelli Jones and Allen Heath. The car was raced continuously from 1948 to 1958 when Heath won the overall URA championship and the prestigious Riverside 500, which was a 2.5-mile road course. Shortly after its last race in 1968, it was badly damaged in an accident, and then acquired by one of its original pit crew Frank Howard. This historic race car was purchased by the museum in 1985 and totally restored in October 1991.
The car features a Kurtis-Kraft all aluminum body and chassis No. 165, the original upholstery, and sports its later years red and white color scheme. It is constantly on display in the museum.
The engine is a Ford V-8/60 flathead fitted with an Edelbrock intake and fueled by dual tw
The Chevy II Special is powered by a 153-inch, inline overhead valve Chevy II four-cylinde
1960s Edmunds “Chevy II Special”
This Edmunds chassis “Chevy II Special” is a perfect example of how the Midget racer evolved in the ’60s. Safety was now a primary consideration when designing a Midget race car. This example exhibits many of the changes made to protect the driver and make the car more manageable.
Larger tires and upgraded suspension fostered better handling on dirt or pavement, and the vehicle design was less cumbersome. Engine technology allowed for smaller, more powerful engines, which, when coupled with chassis design, produced better racing results.
It’s amazing that through decades of design changes, external beauty is still apparent. Attractive paint and plenty of chrome thrilled racing fans as much in the ’60s as in the ’20s.
Visit www.circletrack.com for more info and pictures!