By JOHN GORALSKI
Caution flags were waving like banners at the Olympics, and Tony Membrino Jr. was never able to get into a rhythm at Stafford Motor Speedway.
On Friday, Aug. 5, Membrino clawed his way up to third place in the SK Light feature race when yet another caution was thrown. On the restart, two cars drifted up the track, Membrino slowed, and that’s when his luck finally gave out.
“A car came from out of nowhere, and he was actually hitting the wall trying to drive around us,” said the Stafford points leader. “He ended up hitting my right front tire pretty hard, and it ended up breaking and bending some suspension parts.”
Membrino was still able to finish the race, but he never got back up to speed. He restarted around 12th place, managed to climb a few spots, but limped into the finish line in eighth place.
The Southington driver was still able to maintain his point lead in the division, but with a third place finish in the feature, Joey Ferrigno moved into a tie for the top spot.
“It could have been worse, but it’s just disappointing to have what looked like a podium finish get taken away from something stupid like that,” said Membrino. “Thankfully, having the most wins in the division (5) comes in handy. It acts as the tie-breaker and keeps me at the top of the standings.”
Despite the setback, Membrino returned to the short track on Saturday at the New London-Waterford Speedbowl for the annual Wings and Wheels event. A quick patch-job repair enabled Membrino to hold onto his points lead in the SK Light division.
“The hit broke the sway bar linkage, bent the caster bar, and some other parts,” he said. “We have a few spares in our crash kit, so we fixed what was damaged. Since everything was starting a few hours earlier the next day at Waterford, we brought our short track rear end and swapped them right there.”
It took a while to get his bearings as he struggled against the track in the early races. Membrino counted five different combinations of rubber compounds throughout the day, but he still managed to win his qualifying race. He entered the feature ranked 11th, but once again he struggled in the later laps.
“I started off good for five laps. I made passes quick, but once the tires got hot, I couldn’t do anything after that,” he said. “It just wouldn’t rotate. I got to 6th and got stuck there. I had a few looks for 5th, but I couldn’t finish it off.”
Membrino fell from 11th to 6th in the race, but it was enough to maintain his lead in the points standings. With the victory, Cory Dimatteo climbed within 18 points of Membrino, but the Southington driver continues to be in control of his own destiny.
“It was an unfortunate finish, but a good learning experience,” said Membrino.
Membrino will return to action this weekend for a chance to regain sole possession of the top spot at Stafford. He will begin at Stafford on Friday, Aug. 12 for the Facebook Friday/SK Light Xtra D race. Gates open at 3 p.m. Heat races begin at 6:15 p.m. with feature events to follow.
“This week was an off-week for us with tires, next week we’ll have good ones going on,” he said. “Barring any catastrophes, I expect us to be right there contending for and hopefully taking down another win.”