George Cureton’s NHRA World Champion Tokyo Rose coming hard off the line at Cecil County, 1968. George was a great driver who relied on the best parts to help earn his 1967 championship crown. (Photo Courtesy Michael Mihalko)
World Champion George Cureton was a bit of a late bloomer in the sport of drag racing; he didn’t take his first serious stab at it until 1965 behind the wheel of an I/SA 1955 Chevrolet. Though the Chevy didn’t run too badly, he distinctively recalled continuously being frustrated by Ed Beyer’s Pontiac. In 1966, George sold the 1955 and purchased the sedan delivery in hopes of turning things around.
Fellow Delaware racer Alex Jarrell, who happened to be both a friend and a customer of Bill Jenkins, was a guiding force in George’s drag racing career. It was through this connection that George had Jenkins build the 225-hp 265 engine for the sedan delivery. George provided the block and heads while Bill supplied the rest. A complete Jenkins Competition–built small-block for your Chevy stocker, from carburetor to oil pan, could run as much as $2,500; not cheap by any means but for the money you were guaranteed an engine that ran below your class record. The first time out for George and Rose, doing precisely that, was one of his most memorable moments. Though the exact elapsed time cannot be recalled, George distinctly remembers it being close to .2 second under the G/SA class record of 13.62. While Jenkins built the engine, George and Alex prepared the chassis and well-known East Coast Pontiac racer Freddie Borcherdt prepared the 4-speed Hydramatic transmission.
George recalled that he and Grumpy Jenkins always seemed to be at the same track at the same time: “He always paid attention to the car, standing behind the starting line watching the car run. If he felt the car wasn’t running right or if he picked up on something while watching you, he’d tell you. He didn’t necessarily fix it for you, but he’d tell you what needed to be done, you’d do it, and it worked.” George went on to say that the sedan delivery was apart so many times being protested, “At $50 a pop, I made a lot of money as it always proved to be legal.”
Though he had originally pegged the car to be called Big Orange, the paint applied to cover the sedan delivery’s original black paint didn’t turn out quite the way George had hoped: “We mixed a Mustang orange with a metallic, which I thought would come out a metallic orange but it came out a rose color. I kind of liked the oriental theme, so that’s how the Tokyo Rose name came about.”
The car was damaged one evening while being flat-towed to Capitol Raceway in Maryland. The choice was either be hit and run off the road by an errant driver or take to the median; George chose the median and caused extensive damage to the car when it rolled onto its side. The car was repaired and painted the more familiar marina blue.
George sold the delivery in 1969 to parts unknown after taking L/SA at the NHRA Nationals. He replaced the delivery with a fuel-injected, 370-inch 1958 Pontiac that had more or less been built by Truppi-Kling. George bought the car at a great price after the previous owner had run out of money: “It was an ugly dark green before I painted it. It was still ugly after the paint, but did look better with a change of color.”
Freddie Borcherdt went through the transmission and fuel injection, which proved to be too finicky: “Seeing the success they were having with the fuel injection on the West Coast (Lowe, Brown, Chiesa, etc.), I figured that was the way to go. But the car proved to be inconsistent.” Apparently it loved the cool air but once the temperature and humidity climbed, the power fell off. Outside of grabbing the M/SA MPH record (102.38) in May, the Chieftan showed little success and was sold after only one season.
George found greater success with the purchase of Bobby Warren’s NHRA World Finals–winning Chevy Nova. George took possession of the Nova (minus transmission) immediately after the win and chose to run the car in K/SA. With the Nova, George earned the Division One points championship, his second in three years.
A 1966 L/SA Chevy II was George’s last ride before retiring from drag racing in 1980. Still living in Delaware, George is enjoying his retirement, the horse track, and some great drag strip memories.
George Cureton’s L/SA 1958 Pontiac was an inconsistent performer; the fuel injection proved to be sensitive to East Coast weather conditions. The 370-inch V-8-powered car was gone by the end of 1970 as George moved on, purchasing Bobby Warren’s World Championship-winning Nova. (Photo Courtesy Carl Rubrecht)