By JOHN GORALSKI
Southington’s Tony Membrino entered the Fall Final at Stafford with an 18-point lead in the SK Light division and a chance to clinch the points race with a top 10 finish. On Saturday, Oct. 8, the checkered flag was just the icing on the cake as Membrino capped his championship run with his seventh victory of the season.
The win was Membrino’s 17th career victory at Stafford and his 15th in the SK Light division, moving him up to second place on Stafford’s SK Light Modified all-time win list. The victory also marked Membrino’s 24th SK Light career victory at tracks throughout the state, and that makes the Southington driver the winningest SK Light Modified team since the division’s inception in 2006.
“I am so unbelievably proud and thankful to be able to have accomplished all of that, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of everyone that’s been with me since day one and everyone that has come along over the years,” Membrino said. “I owe this all to them. We’ll have time to celebrate this championship in November at the Stafford banquet, but we’ve still got two more races on our schedule and one more championship to fight for.”
Membrino’s victory couldn’t have been scripted any better. He entered the final qualifying heat in the third position but moved up to the pole position when the top car elected to move to the back. He got a good jump off the start, got out in front, and ran away with the eight-lap qualifier.
Membrino’s lead at the finish was the whole length of the final straightaway.
“The car was as close to perfect as it could get,” he said. “It gave me a ton of confidence in what we were going to have for the feature.”
His win in the qualifying heat earned him fifth position for the 20-lap feature, and Membrino was side-by-side with veteran Joey Ferrigno, his main rival in the points race. Membrino dropped back to 10th place at the end of the first lap but battled back to fifth when a caution came out on lap four.
On the restart, Membrino’s day nearly ended when one of the front cars stopped fast, forcing a bottleneck on the track.
“I got hit so hard from behind it lifted the back of the car off of the ground and when it came back down it almost shot into a car to my left, and then cars in front of me started spinning,” he said. “I just held my breath and went as easy as I could and somehow made it through in one piece.”
“The thought of playing it safe may have occurred to me during the days and hours leading up to the race,” he said, “but when the opportunity to win presented itself, that thought went out the window.”
Ferrigno went low into turn three, and Membrino moved in over the top. For three laps the two battled side by side at the front before Membrino grabbed the lead with nine laps to go. A caution with five laps left tightened up the pack, but Membrino got out in front, protected the low track, and held on for the checkered flag.
“When I finally got to victory lane, the first person there waiting to congratulate me was Joey,” Membrino said. “He’s been a true sportsman all year long, and my hat goes off to him and his team for the great run they had this season and for their part in making this a truly enjoyable season-long battle.”
Membrino finished with 704 points to capture the division title at Stafford over Ferrigno (678) and Joe Graf Jr. (670).
Next up is the World Series at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park on Saturday, Oct. 15. Membrino will try to remain undefeated at Thompson since last year’s World Series.
Then, the final stop will be Bemer’s Big Show: Battle On The Sound at New London-Waterford Speedbowl on Oct. 23 where Membrino has a chance to set another record with division titles at multiple tracks.
“I have to give my team and supporters their due credit,” he said. “This incredible season and this championship would not have been had it not been for them—my father, first and foremost, Ed Flemke, all of the guys and girls on our TMR team—for putting in the tremendous effort to make this happen. I thank Raceworks Chassis, T/A Engines, and Magnus Transmissions for a truly lethal package of a racecar, and all of our partners and sponsors for their unwavering support.”