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What I Like About You

What I Like About You: Steve Byrnes
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By Carol Einarsson | 04/14/2015
Category: What I Like About You
 

CHEERS and JEERS will be pushed back a day this week,
for something much more important, and will be published Wednesday instead.




I had the idea last year that I wanted to write this article, but procrastinated because I knew as soon as I published it, I'd think of another thing for the list. Or five more things. Or ten. But when I realized his birthday landed on Tuesday this year, and he's now reached rock star status by having his name on the Bristol race, well, this was clearly the time to write it.

And as I sit here trying to begin, I'm just looking at the rough list I've jotted down. I'd hoped to put it in somewhat of a chronological order, but it doesn't seem that's going to happen. Rather, I'll just start, and hope it sorts itself out by the time I finish. The format will be a little different, and probably at times, scattered. But here goes...

The biggest connection I share with my friend Steve is that we are both parents of boys. Oh, the boy stories we've shared. They'll forever be my favorite.

Steve is an amazing dad. Amazing dads are made by men of great character. I remember when he was faced with making a trek to the race in California versus staying closer to home when his dear wife, Karen, was on bed rest with their son Bryson. He stayed home that weekend. When Bryson finally made his big debut in July of 2002, Steve described it as "like falling in love for the first time. Warm, fuzzy, and jittery all at the same time." As an observer, I can tell you that's when it was clear that NASCAR was not Steve's first priority.

Steve has the biggest heart in NASCAR. A big, big heart for people, and if he can do something nice for someone, he will. Every time. Every single time. My first credentials at a race track were thanks to favors pulled in by Steve Byrnes. A tag around my neck read "NBC Sports", and I had a little boy in tow with a similar tag. It started with a question that my assistant had, "Do you think Elliott Sadler reads CHEERS and JEERS?" His reason for asking was simple -- he wanted to know if Elliott had ever read any of the comments about my assistant, which was his way of wondering if his favorite driver had any inkling that he existed. I asked the question of Steve Byrnes, and it just snowballed. Before I knew it, Steve had made some calls, and Colby was going to MEET Elliott Sadler! And then, race tickets (which at the time, in Kansas, were out of the question on a single-mom kinda budget), and credentials. Colby was over the moon. Steve had taken a simple question from a little boy, and made a lifetime memory for him. He was like Willy Wonka taking Charlie in the elevator at the chocolate factory.


Some people have a growth chart on a door
frame at home. We had a better way.


Back in the Trackside days on Speed, we'd go back stage to visit with him in the few minutes he could spare before and after the show. Steve, the way you always spoke to Colby in that "man to man" way, never as a "man to boy", touched my heart. You made my boy feel special, and how does a mom ever thank someone for that? But to you, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary, because that's the heart you have for everyone.

That time before I had media parking, and we were still "tram people". You rescued us with a ride out to the far lot after the trams had stopped running. Being tram people was humbling. Not having to walk a mile to our car after the race was a blessing!

Your advice: "Don't drink the Kool Aid." I hope you remember what that was about. And don't worry, I never did. You're one of the funniest people I know!

An unexpected text message in 2010, "Cheers and Jeers was smokin' this week!" I went back and corresponded the date of that text to the article it referenced, and while I never knew what made that one special, the encouraging texts always put new wind in my sails!

"Don't let them ruin your brand." Every year at Kansas, you would have some words of direction and advice, and without fail, you were spot-on every single time. Race Journal Online would not exist without your advice to protect my brand, and the only way to do that was to ensure I had control over it when others were trying to bury it. RJO was born that day in Kansas.

You're NASCAR's Johnny Carson. Johnny had a way with people. He made them shine. It was his show, and they were merely his guests. But no matter if he was talking to the biggest celebrity, or an old lady from Iowa, he took a back seat and made sure the spotlight was on them. You are Johnny to us. When you interview people on any show, you position yourself as the pedestal lifting them up. It's a rare quality, the humility that you exhibit, but it's a beautiful and inspiring thing to see. Though he's come out of his shell significantly in the past couple of years, I especially remember interviews you did with Dale Jr. years ago. This shy kid that would seem ill at ease with anyone else interviewing him, would shine when he spoke to you. Looking you in the eye like he didn't with anyone else, you could see a whole different level of comfort. He trusted you more than anyone else in the media, and that is a testament to you.

The lawsuits... You've been the one unwavering media friend that never distanced yourself when things got ugly. You've given me a backbone, and made me confident that I was legit. I know my place in the world and it's not a grand one in NASCAR media, but you've always made me feel like I belonged. "NASCAR needs you." Not me, individually, but you saw (and embraced) the value of local freelance writers even before NASCAR did.  And you reminded me that I do belong, and people don't bother threatening lawsuits against "nobodies" in the sport. Yeah, you've gotta be somebody to have pending litigation! When others pulled back and suddenly had a case of the "I don't recall" syndrome, you didn't. Like a big brother, I knew I could come to you with concerns, and you'd reassure me.

The media center bullying that found me crying in my car in the Wal-Mart parking lot at Kansas -- you pulled no punches and told me straight away your thoughts on my bully, wrapping up the pep talk and telling me, "You've worked hard to earn a spot in this sport, and you don't have to apologize to him or anyone else." I'd left the track that day in tears, but when I returned, I had my confidence back.

I like that no matter how many times (and how many different ways) I've asked you the question if you thought Dale Earnhardt intended to wreck Terry Labonte at Bristol (the infamous cage-rattling), your answer remains the same, "I think Dale intended to win the race regardless." How fitting that they've named a race at the best race track in your honor. Sure, you've worked tirelessly for decades in motorsports journalism and been a stalwart presence in NASCAR, but dare I say, having your name on a Bristol race? Yeah, you've arrived, Steve Byrnes. You're big time now!

A text message: Will you be in Kansas? And your reply: "I will not be in KS. I decided to be a dad first." The essence of who you are right there in seven words: I decided to be a dad first.

I don't even think you remember this, but Gogurt was sponsoring someone, and when the driver came on Trackside bearing gifts of this "portable yogurt", as Larry Mac called it, your response was one of the funniest things I've ever heard. Perhaps it was your inflection, but I still laugh when I think of it, "I maintain that ALL yogurt is portable!"

Grace. I know you didn't ever intend to be the hero you are to so many, but the battle you are fighting, and the grace with which you're doing so is an inspiration to so many. You are teaching the world so many life lessons in how to live, how to prioritize, how to be thankful in any and all situations, and you are blessing us in immeasurable ways.

Finally, I asked my assistant to tell me his favorite Steve Byrnes memory, and this is what the boy-turned-man had to say about YOU, Mr. Byrnes --




A little boy's memories
that will last a lifetime.


"All the times sitting backstage at the Trackside stage. I remember I always anticipated him coming back so we could talk. It was just always so exciting to be able to go back there. As a kid, NASCAR was always my favorite thing there was. And to be able to meet him, who I'd seen on TV since I was even younger, and meet the drivers back stage talking to them; all because of Steve. It was so cool. I remember sitting back there eating some of the snacks and just waiting for him to come back after filming for NASCAR Live or Trackside and talking to him. And all the other memories I have with drivers that I have him to thank for. There was a time Booty Barker was on the show, and we were talking back there. I swear Booty remembers me every time I see him, too. Every time we would go to the track after that I seemed to always see him and he would always nod at me. Now that Speed Channel is no more, and the shows are a lot different now, it seems those memories mean a lot more to me."

These thoughts are just a drop in the bucket of the memories that make me smile; the many, many things I like about you. Thank you, my dear friend, for all that you mean to my family. I pray you have an amazing birthday, and that there are many, many more to come!


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Comments:
tybeecat
04/13/2015 8:51 pm (1)
wonderful tribute. Thanks for writing it. We miss Steve Byrnes.
Bill B
04/14/2015 6:31 am (2)
Very nice.
grumpyone
04/14/2015 6:56 am (3)
Very nice writing Carol, we can only say a prayer for Steve and hope that he has other powers in is life that feel the same as we do.
a different Bill
04/14/2015 9:50 am (4)
A wonderful article Carol, too long in coming. I'd bet there are thousands who could write just as much about how he has touched them. My thoughts and prayers go out to him, his family, and to friends like you today.
oldtimeracindude
04/14/2015 12:01 pm (5)
Great column.
Glenpen
04/15/2015 6:35 am (6)
Amazing article!
eddo
04/16/2015 12:31 am (7)
good stuff right here. Thanks for sharing about Steve.

:)

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