NASCAR lost one of the great ones on Tuesday with the passing of Steve Byrnes at the age of 56 after a long battle with head and neck cancer. Byrnes was well loved by everyone in the NASCAR community and fans all over, as evidenced by the outpourings of support for “Byrnsie” during his battle with cancer and the renaming of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway — the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer.
A week or so before the Bristol race, fans, drivers, sponsors and other broadcasters participated in a #SteveSelfie movement on Twitter, posting selfies in support of, perhaps, NASCAR’s favorite broadcaster. That followed with news of the renaming of the Bristol race. Sunday’s race brought a new supportive hashtag of #ByrnesStrong, Byrnes’ name above the windows of race cars in the event, and fans and crew members holding signs from Stand Up To Cancer that read, “I Stand for Steve.” It was all very touching, and very deserving.
I admit, during Sunday’s race, I got rather frustrated by rain delay after rain delay. Looking back now, though, I think those weather interruptions were all kind of fitting. After all, they extended a tribute that would have lasted only a few hours into one that lasted all day and into the night. And according to Twitter, our “Byrnsie” was able to see it all from the TV in his hospital room.
Unfortunately, I never got to know Byrnes well, but I was fortunate to speak to him on several occasions while working onsite at various tracks on the NASCAR circuit since beginning this crazy ride of writing about NASCAR on a part-time basis around 200 and going full-time in 2009. Although I work in the print/oneline writing arena, and Byrnes was a TV broadcaster, I always looked to him as a mentor, of sorts, and what a mentor to have. And before that, I always looked forward to Byrnes’ reporting and feature pieces on the old TNN network after becoming a fan of the sport in the 1990s
Byrnes not only made time for his fellow reporters, both aspiring and veteran, he was also kind and understanding of competitors and fans. He took a break in the early days of Twitter because of rudeness of others, but when he returned, Byrnes himself was anything but. I did notice that he always favorited or responded to any and every tweet I ever sended his way. What I didn’t realize was that Byrnes did the same for everyone who ever showed him some “Twitter love.” That’s just the kind of guy he was. He wanted to make sure that everyone, including fans he never met, knew that he received and saw their tweets. He never wanted to leave anyone guessing whether or not he noticed their tweets to him.
Byrnes will definitely be missed by all those whose lives he touched, either in person or through the television. Prayers go out to his wife Karen and son Bryson and the rest of the Byrnes family.
I’ll close this with a couple of favorite Byrnes quotes I ran across on a cancer blog:
“Be present. Be grateful for this day and what you have.”
“I’ve made a conscious decision to help others, because when I help others, that in turn helps myself.”
Also, here are a few photos of Byrnes from throughout his NASCAR broadcasting careet, courtesy of FOX Sports and used with permission: