Media Scene

How Steve Byrnes shaped young media talent

By Mark Washburn, mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

Steve Byrnes on the “NASCAR Race Hub” set in Charlotte.
Steve Byrnes on the “NASCAR Race Hub” set in Charlotte. Brian Gomsak/www.gomsak.com

When Steve Byrnes of Fox Sports 1’s “NASCAR Race Hub” died last week, he left a void in the NASCAR media corps that was three decades deep. But he also shaped the future of that team through his quiet mentoring through the years.

Byrnes, 56, of Fort Mill, S.C., died of a recurrence of the cancer he first noticed while sitting in the stands of a Charlotte Knights game in 2013 with his wife and son. He felt a bump on his tongue and thought it odd enough to get checked out by the doctor.

It was throat cancer that had spread to a lymph node. Byrnes, not a smoker or drinker, had 37 radiation treatments. That beat the disorder for a while and cost him 50 pounds, but it roared back late last year.

Byrnes was a popular figure on the NASCAR circuit among his colleagues and those in the sport. He covered the Daytona 500 30 times.

He met his wife, Karen Byrnes, when she was in motor-sports 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 said in a 2014 interview with the Observer. They were married 22 years. Their son, Bryson, 12, is a sixth grader at Charlotte Christian School and involved in football and basketball.

His co-host on Fox Sports 1’s “NASCAR Race Hub,” Danielle Trotta, says she didn’t know much about the sport when she started in 2010 and he took her in.

“Steve Byrnes was my savior. He taught me how to come into this sport with humility and how to go through it and gain respect. Steve was in this business for all the right reasons.”

Kaitlyn Vincie, now a reporter for “NASCAR Race Hub,” says she got a chance to shadow Byrnes and his pit spotter Walter Cox when she was low on the professional ladder.

“I had told Steve I was interested in doing pit road reporting, and he said, ‘Yeah, why don’t you come along and see what it’s like? I can try and teach you a few things.’ Looking back on that, I was learning from one of the very best, and that was evident from the respect everyone has for him – the competitors, fellow media, the viewers, the fans.”

In 2003, Alan Cavanna – who joined “NASCAR Race Hub” this year after working his way up in the sport through WSOC (Channel 9) and NASCAR.com – was a lowly production assistant at Fox. He met Byrnes at the hot dog table in the media tent.

“I told him all I ever wanted to do was be a NASCAR television reporter,” says Cavanna. “And he gave me his business card and told me to keep in touch, and I thought that was the coolest thing.”

Cavanna, named Broadcaster of the Year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2013, still carries the card in his wallet, and fond memories of Byrnes and his support through the years.

“He was always helpful, always kind. That was really inspiring to me. He could have been very intimidating, but he was so accommodating. And that’s what I’ll always remember.”

Washburn: 704-358-5007;

Twitter: @WashburnChObs.

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