Back behind the wheel, not missing a beat
By NICK SCHWIEN
The decision for Monte Honas off the track mirrored his life on it.
If anyone ever has seen the sport compact driver from Ellis on the dirt oval, they'd understand why he went for the big payoff.
Honas, who suffered a severe back injury as a sophomore football player in high school that left him with chronic pain, had a choice after the 2012 racing season.
After consulting with five doctors and heavy consideration with family and his soon-to-be-wife, Honas decided to try a risky surgery in Hays to fuse his back into shape.
The risk was great, especially for someone in their 20s.
"I got to the point where I could only be in a vehicle 15 to 20 minutes, then my legs would go numb," said Honas, who was hit in the back as a sophomore, breaking his spine in two spots. "I had a sharp pain in my back."
Four years after the initial incident that caused the pain, Honas decided to undergo the procedure to fix it.
In consultation with five doctors before the decision, they were 50-50 on whether someone as young as Honas should have the surgery due to the risks of nerve damage or paralysis.
But not long after Honas won the sport compact title at Fall Nationals at RPM Speedway in Hays last year, he was headed for surgery.
He spent three days in the hospital before being allowed to go home.
Then, Honas was bed-ridden for a while, then wasn't allowed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for three months.
He didn't expect to be back until nearly a year after his last victory in Hays. Honas initially planned to have a shot at returning behind the wheel -- if things went as scheduled -- for Fall Nationals VII, which begins Thursday at RPM.
Things didn't go according to plans, though.
"I didn't plan to come back until Fall Nationals," said Honas, who won twice in 2012 at RPM while taking the track title in a battle with Shyla Hughes.
Instead, Honas was ahead of schedule, and doctors were amazed by his progress.
"I was thinking at least a year," he said. "It was only about five months. It was a really fast recovery. They said the risk was low enough for me to give it a shot."
Honas missed the first two races at RPM this season as he awaited the medical release -- and his marriage to his fiancÃ©, Kylie Morel.
Neither of those races were for track points, though. The first night of track points, April 20, Honas still hadn't been released.
By the time the next race rolled around, May 4, Honas was back behind the wheel.
"I saw how everyone was doing," Honas said. "It looked like everyone was fast, and I knew I would be hesitant with my back."
Honas was hesitant, but just for hot laps that night. By the time the heat race rolled around, the thoughts in his mind about his back were long gone.
So was his competition in the feature. Honas easily won his first feature of the season that night.
That started a stretch of 10 straight victories for Honas in his red No. 19H sport compact -- a feat unseen in RPM history.
He finished second in track points this year after missing the first points night. But he's been on a mission since.
"It feels pretty good," Honas said about the consecutive wins. "But if I go out and don't do good, I feel I've let people down. A lot of people are hoping I'll do good, and I don't want to let them down."
Honas will face a steady wave of competition Thursday at 7 p.m. when the first day of Fall Nationals VII begins. That night, sport compacts will run heat races and their feature. All other divisions will be on hand for a test-and-tune with IMCA modifieds, stocks, Northern sport mods and hobby stocks battling for big bucks Friday and Saturday.
Honas, who is expecting to move into the hobby stock class next year, has defied the odds this year en route to his historic run at RPM. Now, the season finale awaits.
"I asked (the doctors) before the surgery about racing, and they weren't too excited about it," said Honas, who hasn't had pain and can be in a vehicle long periods of time now. "After the surgery and how I've gotten along with it, they're comfortable with me racing again."
Doctors are comfortable with him doing it.
It's the competitors who aren't.