CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Column by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Karen Goins-Byrnes photo —
It’s been 365 days since the NASCAR world got a piece of news that shook us all the way to the core, and in a lot of ways, it still seems slightly unreal.
One year ago today, legendary FOX broadcaster and longtime media personality Steve Byrnes lost his valiant fight to stage IV head and neck cancer just days after the spring Bristol race was renamed in his honor. Matt Kenseth won that race, and just four days ago, his teammate Carl Edwards won the most recent edition of the race that has always stood as one of NASCAR’s most-coveted trophies.
But those a year has gone by, and hearts have begun to heal since “Byrnesie” left our midst and went on to higher plains, I couldn’t help but look back on the void that has ached in my heart since his passing last April.
Steve was a mentor-from-afar to myself and so many other young journalists over the years, and as I said in my column on this date one year ago, he truly created the mold (or many parts of it at least) for what a dignified and humble broadcaster in the sport of NASCAR should be. I can’t count the times I would say to myself, “I need to remember that,” or picked up a lesson from a TV broadcast he did or a post I happened to catch online. He did his job at the race track and away from it with poise and passion, always taking time to guide the next generation.
That was just who Steve was. He wanted to help everybody, even if he didn’t know them or didn’t realize he was at the time — his goal was to make the world a better place and to teach just by being in it. He led by quiet example, not by making a spectacle, and it was all of those “little things” that stuck out.
“Steve always wanted to get the story … he never wanted to be the story,” said NASCAR on FOX lead announcer Mike Joy of his longtime colleague. “He did his job with a combination of humor and grace and professionalism. Every time someone would come to me and say, ‘I want to do this. Who should I emulate?’ … I would always tell them to be like Steve Byrnes.”
“I had to ask him the last time I saw him, ‘Who’s going to be my role model now?’ That’s how I would describe Steve though, is role model.”
Eight weeks I’ve turned on either FOX or FOX Sports 1 to watch the opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of this new season, and it just doesn’t quite feel the same. That unforgettable and inevitable presence that Steve always carried anytime he was on-camera or on-microphone isn’t there anymore, and though those who have combined to take over in his stead succeed daily in carrying on his legacy and the respect he brought to the reporting position … they just aren’t Steve.
To be frank but still to give all those at FOX the massive respect they deserve, I’m human … and I miss him.
He’s not gone though. Not just by his memory, but by the strength that he taught all of us to live by as he did through his incredibly-brave fight against cancer, Steve lives on in all of us who knew him and all who were touched by his presence along the way. To me, that is a daily, solemn and heart-warming reminder of just how big one person can be and how big an impact we can all have, even when we might not realize it or ever be trying to.
That was one of the things I always appreciated and respected about Steve: He helped you, but it was never about him. It was all about you. He was selfless, and it’s a trait that I’m learning more and more about every day in my own right.
And Steve’s legacy smiles daily at the NASCAR Race Hub studio he called his home as he built the program into one of FOX’s shining stars in their programming lineup, the studio that was renamed in his honor after he departed from this world last April. The dedication on the marker, which was unveiled by his now-13 year old son Bryson, reads as follows:
This studio is dedicated in memory of and in utmost appreciation for the time Steve Byrnes spent not only within its four walls, but in our lives. A FOX Sports broadcaster whose NASCAR career spanned three decades, Byrnes consistently led by example both on the air and off, garnering the rare, profound respect and admiration of every competitor he covered and the countless colleagues he encountered. Few put more passion into their work, honesty into their friendships or effort into mentoring others than Byrnes.
His legacy of hard work, integrity, professionalism, humility, fairness and faith served as an inspiration to his thousands of friends and extended to the millions of viewers who watched him over the years. Byrnes became a tangible example of strength, courage and fortitude to all who witnessed his cancer battle and his inspiring personal crusade to “Be Present” in every moment of his family members’ lives. For his FOX Sports family, his memory is forever present in this studio and in our hearts.
“Have an awesome night, everyone!” – Steve Byrnes, in closing each night’s NASCAR Race Hub broadcast.
I don’t think I would be too remiss if I extended that next-to-last line slightly. I feel that studio marks a place where all of us, regardless of affiliation, can truly say that Steve’s memory lives on. One of the happiest places in his life was on-camera — you could see it in his eyes every time he offered a nugget how much he loved what he did and how passionate he was about his work, not just for himself but for those he interacted with along the way.
Because, in the end, that was what Steve strove to accomplish. In my humble opinion, he did so as well as anyone.
So on this one-year marker of Byrnes’ passing, I pause not to mourn what we’ve lost, but reflect on what I personally — and we all as a community — have gained from the time we knew him. Renewed love for family and friends, true professionalism and respect, lessons on how to teach (and learn) from those around us … the list I can think of myself goes on near-endlessly.
But above all, Steve left us one important lesson; it’s a lesson that as I’ve scaled back my travel this year and turned my focus to the people who care most about me and whom I care most about, I’ve tried to carry forward and remind myself of each day.
Be there for your friends. Be there for your family. Make sure you can soak in the moments that matter, because you never know if there will be another opportunity. If we all do that more each day, then there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re making the world a better place, a place that Steve would continue to be proud of.
We’re heading to Richmond for you, Byrnesie. We miss you, we love you, and we’re thinking about you.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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