By JOHN GORALSKI
Tony Membrino and Dean Michanczyk banter across the table at Hearthstone Pub like a couple of old friends.
Michanczyk’s eyes widen as Membrino talks about an upcoming race at Stafford Motor Speedway which will test his limits and push his endurance on the short track. Membrino smiles in appreciation as Michanczyk tells a visitor about his company’s recent decision to sponsor the local racer.
Membrino is cutting his teeth in the SK Modified division at the Stafford racetrack, and Hearthstone Pub has teamed up to bring that excitement back to Plantsville center. It’s a match made in heaven.
“A lot of people are interested in the NASCAR circuit, so knowing somebody like Tony and his clan makes it so much better,” said Michanczyk. “Why not take advantage of it? Why not support somebody from your hometown? Isn’t that what it’s all about.”
Last weekend, Membrino powered his way across the finish line in the top 20 of the featured race. For the first time in his career, the local driver survived a 100-lap marathon. It has pushed him into 17th place in the point standings after eight races.
“It’s been a learning curve,” said the former SK Light points champion. “It’s a whole new field of drivers, and there are probably four or five former national champions in my field. These are guys that have been doing it for 20-plus years. They know their racecars like the back of their hand, and they know Stafford Motor Speedway like the back of their hands, but we’ve had some strong runs. We crept our way into the top five with the big guys. It’s just that, at the end of the race, luck hasn’t gone our way…yet.”
Michanczyk has always had a knack at spying diamonds in the rough. He grew Dean’s Stove & Spa, Inc. from a small local business into an industry leader. That business served as the cornerstone for his company’s Plantsville campus that has expanded to include a good part of Plantsville’s center, including Hearthstone Pub. Now, he’s finishing construction on a new pavilion that is designed to enhance the rail-trail project that runs alongside the property.
It’s all part of a $2 million renovation project designed to attract people to Plantsville. That’s where the sponsorship comes in. Michanczyk envisions public promotions with the Hearthstone Pub racecar and its driver.
“This is about bringing people into Plantsville. This area was run down for so many years, and we really feel like we’re an anchor store for trying to improve the downtown,” he said. “You have to have a reason for attracting people, and let’s face it. Cars are fun,” Michanczyk said. “I’m still a kid at heart myself. Who doesn’t like to see a racecar up close? If we can do it—especially with someone from our hometown—we can have a little fun with it. We want to have some car nights. We’d like to have other people bring their cars down here, too.”
For his part, Membrino earned himself a sponsor. The Hearthstone Pub logo has already been splashed across the hood of his vehicle. As he continues to have success at Stafford Motor Speedway, Membrino hopes to be a sort of ambassador for Plainville’s growing economy.
“This was a great opportunity because that hometown support is something that I really like to stress. Corporate NASCAR touches on it, too,” Membrino said. “I want to take advantage of that hometown mentality and support. I want to take advantage of as much exposure as I can in the local area because I grew up in this town. It’s special for me to join forces with a local business. We’re hoping to bring more exposure and promotion to our brand. It’s good for the sport.”
Membrino still has nine more races to chase a checkered flag in his rookie season. He is still in the running for rookie honors in the SK Modified points standings, but Membrino is looking ahead to a long and fruitful partnership. After all, that’s the ultimate goal.
“It’s about bringing people together and giving them something to talk about,” Michanczyk said. “That’s the only way that this works—if it’s a win-win situation.”
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