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Steve Byrnes back in the race after struggle with cancer

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.
GSC1KJ7LJ.3Photographer
Brian Gomsak - Fox Sports
Steve Byrnes at “Race Hub” set at Fox Sports 1 in Charlotte.

Steve Byrnes was at a Charlotte Knights baseball game last July with his wife and son when he realized something wasn’t right. He felt a bump on his tongue.

“I’m not a run-to-the-doctor kind of guy, but I went anyway,” says Byrnes, a veteran motorsports expert for Fox Sports 1.

Soon, he had his diagnosis: throat cancer that had spread to a lymph node. Byrnes is not a smoker or drinker.

“My world turned upside down,” says Byrnes, 54. Soon he went on leave from his job as co-host with Danielle Trotta and Adam Alexander of “NASCAR Race Hub” produced at Fox Sports 1’s Charlotte production center.

His doctors recommended chemotherapy and 37 radiation treatments, and they advised him that he was in for an uncomfortable 10 weeks. He was. He never felt ill from the cancer, but the treatment was debilitating. He got so sick from chemo that he went nearly a week without eating. By the end of the treatments, he’d lost 50 pounds.

He worried that the radiation might harm his vocal cords and put him out of work. His nephew pitches for Belmont Abbey College, and he worried that he might not live long enough to get to the games. And he realized that his wife and son, who is 11, come first in life.

“You start thinking about mortality. It forces you to face things.”

Byrnes is doing fine now. His checkups have been good, and he will be reporting from Florida this weekend for his 30th trip to the Daytona 500.

He was also touched by support from friends and those in the industry. Dale Earnhardt Jr. called him to say he’d help in any way possible. Jimmie Johnson texted him encouragement from the champions banquet. Carl Edwards gave Byrnes the trophy he won at Richmond. Michael Waltrip kept sending funny texts to raise Byrnes’ spirit.

Byrnes grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington and was a high school quarterback. He got his first television job as a weekend producer for the ABC affiliate in Washington in 1981 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

He went on to host “Darrell Waltrip’s Racers” on TNN in 1999, narrated a two-hour documentary on the History Channel about the evolution of stock car racing, co-hosted “Inside NASCAR” on TNN and has been involved in Fox and Speed channel coverage for years.

He met his wife, Karen, when she was in motorsports marketing. She told him that she had a policy against dating anyone in the sport. “So I told her that one of us was going to have to quit our job,” Byrnes says. They’ve been married for 20 years and live in Fort Mill, S.C. Their son, Bryson, is involved in football and basketball.

Byrnes offers this advice to others: “If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked. Don’t wait around.”

Media Movers

Big honors for Charlotte radio personalities this week. Paul Schadt of WKKT-FM (“Kat” 96.9) was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame and learned that he and his team – Meg Butterly and Geof Knight – had won the Academy of Country Music’s national radio award. Schadt has been on the air in Charlotte for 33 years. … Sheri Lynch of WLNK-FM ( “Link” 107.9) won a prestigious Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media Foundation for outstanding talk show. …

Greg Wood and Chris Wilcox are expanding their reach. Beginning Monday, their morning show on WEND-FM (“End” 106.5) will be simulcast by WVBZ-FM (“Buzz” 105.7) in Greensboro. “Woody & Wilcox” debuted in Charlotte in 2010. … Phil Orban succeeds Tiffany Wright as sports director of WSOC (Channel 9). Orban comes from the ABC affiliate in Richmond, Va., and will start near the end of March. …

Channel 9 chief meteorologist Steve Udelson marked the 10th year of his annual “Steve’s Coats for Kids” drive with a record number of donations: 16,583 coats were collected for distribution by the Crisis Assistance Ministry. … WFAE-FM (NPR, 90.7) names three new directors to its board: Kobi Kennedy Brinson of Bank of America, Stephen Ward of UNC Charlotte and Ed Williams, retired Observer editorial page editor. Newly elected executive officers are chair, Nash Long III of Hunton & Williams LLP; vice chair Jonathan Buchan of McGuireWoods LLP, treasurer Martha Schweppe of Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, secretary Cyrus Johnson Jr. of Womble Carlyle and president Roger Sarow of WFAE. …

Chris Sexson joins Creative Loafing as publisher. He most recently was publisher of Detroit’s alternative weekly, Metro Times. … Charlotte production designer Jim Gloster has won an Art Directors Guild Award for his work on HBO’s “Veep” in which he transformed an area of Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to stand in for a scene about Helsinki, Finland. … Vince Coakley, former WBT-AM (1110) afternoon host and 12th Congressional District candidate, has joined WORD-FM (106.3) in Spartanburg as Sunday afternoon host.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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