At the close of the 2019 racing season, the Central Illinois Dragway in the town of Havana was placed for sale by Frank Hutto, who had owned the facility since 2011. The 64-acre property was advertised for a sizable $850,000 price tag.
Multiple potential dial buyers are said to have contacted Hutto during the winter months to learn details about the available track. Questions such as included maintenance equipment, timing system, and more resulted in no returned calls by many who claimed interest in the facility. Dustin and Leslie Cronic were the couple who finally made a deal happen.
Stepping in to take on the challenge, the husband and wife team recently relocated back to Dustin’s hometown of Bloomington, Illinois, and opened an automotive shop. Their business, 309 Autoworx, specializes in general repair and performance tuning.
“Back in December, I learned about the track being for sale, and I joked with my wife that I was going to buy that track,” Cronic recalls. “My wife told me, ‘the hell you are going to buy that track.’ Despite that, I continued to keep an eye on the progress of it being for sale.”
As the new year approached, the advertised asking price for the track dropped by $200,000. Cronic did not actually discuss if this new lower price was a motivating factor for him, but other sales tactics had the entire Central Illinois racing community in a stir.
The new asking price was combined with a social post threatening that “property will be offered to all prospective buyers from here on out, (not just parties who wanted to keep it as a drag strip).” Those comments created an entirely new flurry of concern. The community wondered not only if there would be a 2020 race season, but if there would be a future track at all.
My wife had the idea of offering fifty-lifetime passes for track memberships,” Chronic explains. “It will include admission, reserved seating, and VIP treatment. Members will be a part of the track for life. – Dustin Cronic
“I had been visiting with some investors,” Cronic said. “We thought we had it all lined out. We approached Hutto and made the offer. The purchase effort progressed, but when it was time to write the check, all of our investors backed out.”
Cronic continues, “We still moved forward with Frank (Hutto,) and made him an offer that we thought we could live with and still make everything happen. To a little bit of a surprise out of nowhere, he accepted it.”
Dustin and Leslie traveled to Denver to meet with the Huttos. “We took the weekend to meet with him and the previous managers while signing a contract with a payment system agreement,” he says.
The Cronics are now excited to move forward.
I jokingly asked Dustin if he glanced at his wife during their meeting as to say, ‘wow, this is happening?’ He responded, “She’s more excited now than I am. I am focused on the repair shop while she and my sister are taking a big part in the track.”
The financial hurdles are just beginning for the Cronics. Though no specific dollar amounts were discussed, they have invested an initial payment and now have months lined out for the revenue needed to continue. Cronic explains, “if we don’t get any other financial sources in on this, the odds of the track opening on time or this year are going to be strongly impacted.”
Cronic is very committed to generating the needed income by locking in previous and new track and event sponsors. Sponsor dollars are sorely needed not only to cover the finances but also to invest in additional track features such as a new timing system that he admits is very much needed.
The Cronics want to create new events on the property, in addition to drag racing. Their ideas go far beyond the weekly dragstrip business plan as it has functioned up to this point. “At the dragstrip, we want to offer heads-up, diesel events, no-prep, and roll racing, on top bracket events,” Cronic says. “With a large amount of additional acreage as part of the facility, we are working to develop concerts, motorcycle events, and many other opportunities to generate revenue.”
“I’m out shaking hands and visiting prospective track sponsors right now,” explained Cronic. “We must generate some dollars to move forward from this point to consider opening the gates. We hope we can at minimum get some test ‘n tune events happening soon.”
The hit of the current public Coronavirus lockdown in Illinois has undoubtedly hampered the aggressive marketing effort along with any plans to open the track sooner than later.
Many hardcore racers in the region have their eyes glued to social media to see what happens next for the young couple taking on this formidable business effort for them.