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NICK SCHWIEN ⠢ Hays Daily News Monte Honas (19H) battles Art Herzog (9H) for the lead during a sport compact heat race Sept. 15 at RPM Speedway in Hays.

NICK SCHWIEN ⠢ Hays Daily News Shyla Hughes (18H) battles Dean Herzog for position during a sport compact heat race Sept. 15 at RPM Speedway in Hays.

Honas weathers ups, downs to take sport compact title

There's nothing like knowing exactly what you have to do to secure a track championship, then having things go the wrong way on the final night of racing.

Welcome to Monte Honas' life. The sport compact driver from Ellis had an eight-point lead on Shyla Hughes entering the Sept. 15 races at RPM Speedway in Hays.

It was a comfortable spot for Honas, especially after winning his heat that night.

Then, things got interesting.

"It was very nerve-racking," he said. "My car was running 230 degrees at the start of the feature. I wasn't sure I could finish the race."

A total of 14 cars started the night's 12-lap feature, and Honas -- thanks to a high point average at the track this year -- started ninth. Hughes started eighth.

"I had to finish nine cars ahead of him,"  Hughes said.

She did finish ahead of Honas, just not by enough cars to take the title.

Hughes made it to tech lane with a third-place finish, while Honas struggled to a sixth-place outing while only 10 cars finished the race.

That allowed Honas to escape with an ailing car to win the track title by a mere five points ahead of Hughes.

"I knew I had to finish no more than eight cars behind her," Honas said. "I was counting cars between us during the race."

It was an up-and-down season for Honas and Hughes at RPM. Honas went through three motors this season, and Hughes started off near the back of the pack until working to the front during the last several races.

"I was a little bit surprised,"  Hughes said. "I didn't think I'd be up there with Monte. It was a challenge at times. It was tough."

Hughes started the season with an eighth-place finish as Honas won the season-opener. She then finished ninth the next race, while Honas was second.

That put her in an early hole. But she rebounded to win the May 5 race as Honas finished seventh.

Hughes tied with Trevor Schmidt with three wins at RPM, the most by any sport compact driver. Honas was second with two wins.

"It means quite a bit,"  Honas said about the title. "We put in a lot of work this year, so it means a lot."

A total of 24 drivers competed in the sport compact class this year. The division is considered a beginner's class by many.

But the action this year didn't showcase that. Six drivers made their way to victory lane in Hays.

"In this class, it is a beginner's class," Honas said. "But it's probably one of the most competitive classes out there. You're not sure who's going to win any night."

Honas added his name to a list of drivers that includes Dave Juenemann, Jesse Dunlap and Michael Smith as drivers to win track titles in Hays. Juenemann and Dunlap each won two crowns. The class began competing at RPM in 2007.

NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net