When high school sweethearts Wayne and Patty Styles bought Centerville Dragway back in 1992, they probably had no idea that three decades later, they’d still be operating this central Arkansas dragstrip, even relocating to the track and making the property their permanent residence!
For Wayne and Patty, this unique way of life continues to be a family affair, along with their daughter, Sunny, and her husband, Eric, and their kids, Sophie, Bella, and Court. “They’re here for every race…we couldn’t do it without them!” smiles Wayne.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #183, the Sportsman Special Issue, in July/August of 2023.]
There’s been massive improvements performed on the facility over the years, without losing an ounce of the track’s small-town charm. Originally constructed in 1977, when the Styles purchased the track from its builder, Wendell Frame, the track had no lights or even scoreboards. “We wanted to have a Saturday night program from the beginning, and people were all the time asking us why we didn’t, and we had to explain that we didn’t have any lights!” laughs Patty.
The Styles operated the track just as it was for the first year, then began putting up lights and making other improvements as they were able during their second year of ownership. Back in those days, Wayne and Patty were still living in the town of Fort Smith, where Wayne owned a Mac Tools business, and they would make the 1.5-hour commute to the dragstrip on weekends. A comfortable brick home just happened to be on the property that they moved into and rented in 1996, eventually buying it. “It’s so much nicer living on site and saves so much time from commuting back and forth,” says Wayne.
While updates to the track were always being performed, a major renovation took place in 2017, which included a complete overhaul to the racing surface, featuring brand-new concrete that extends to the 750-foot mark, with new concrete walls added as well. Afterwards, a new concession stand was built, along with new fencing installed.
In 2021, the improvements continued with repaving and widening all the return roads, as well as adding more pit parking, giving the facility room to park about 30 more race cars, all while accommodating more modern rigs. “Back when we first bought the track, we could easily fit about 200 race cars here, but these days everybody has a huge toterhome, and if you put 200 of those rigs in here, you hardly had room to turn around, so the additional space really helps out,” says Patty.
A major milestone for this track was also accomplished in 2021 when Centerville Dragway became sanctioned for the first time in its then-44-year history, as the Styles signed a deal with IHRA. “It’s true, we had never once been sanctioned in the track’s history, but the motivation to do it is because IHRA has really good insurance for the racers, and having the opportunity to go to the team finals at the end of the year was something our racers expressed a huge interest in doing. We’re now in our third year with IHRA and it’s worked out great,” says Wayne.
Drag Illustrated was on hand for the recent Ironman event, of which the track typically holds one each year. Winners from this particular event include Shaud Blakely, Jalen Whitmore, Nathan Cunningham, Jack Lineberry, Bentley Surrett and Phillip Jones Alexander.
Along with IHRA points, Centerville also has a very unique track points system in which eight events are scheduled from March to roughly July, after which, a points champion is crowned. Then, eight more point bracket races are scheduled for the second half of the season, which usually runs until November, with brand-new champions crowned. “We’ve done it this way since we first bought the track,” says Patty. “Of course, our IHRA points deal is completely different from our track points. Our IHRA points season is from May to September.”
Centerville Dragway is typically open every Saturday and every other Sunday. Bracket racing is very successful here, and features a handful of special events such as the two-day Thanksgiving race that’s usually very heavily attended. The Outlaw Small Tire shootout with indexes is a monthly attraction that works well at Centerville. “We also have a stick shift race that’s grown tremendously, and we usually do that in July, August, and September,” says Wayne.
Another popular gathering is the “Jackson’s Junkers,” where teams are selected and they race against another team, all while driving low-buck bracket entries that have a value not to exceed $1,200. It’s a fun-loving group of racers who have their own Facebook page and specialize in racing on a tight budget. “We have a lot of little races that work well for us, and we also just had the Titans of 10.5 here for the first time ever, and it was a great race for us,” says Wayne.
Centerville Dragway is open nearly year-round, including early January when a huge New Year’s race is contested. For Wayne and Patty, the racers have become more like family. “Oh sure, we think about retirement, but then we quickly ask ourselves, ‘What would we do then?’” laughs Patty.
Visitors show up from time to time and make a lasting impression. “We had a guy visit the track on Saturday from France! He was so excited to be able to get a t-shirt! It’s people like that and hearing their stories that we love,” Patty adds.
So, with no real plans of changing course anytime soon, Wayne and Patty continue living life here at the track and operating it weekly, much to the delight of the people who visit from both near and far.