Anyone who's a part of the NASCAR community has a unique story that explains what sparked their interest to this particular motorsports series. Whether it was a family member who was involved in the sport or a set of circumstances that led them to become a part of stock car racing, there is always the interesting past that leads that individual into where they are today.
In the case of FOX Sports and Speed Channel's Steve Byrnes, his story is one of the more incredible experiences and has led to an amazing career in motorsports broadcasting and journalism. What started as a mere job after college led to a remarkable career in covering the NASCAR series for the past 25 years.
Byrnes, like Mike Massaro of ESPN, was well aware of racing when he was growing up in Maryland. It seemed like racing was going to be a part of his life, as his career path led him to hosting and working along side some of the sport's greatest talents in the racing and journalism industry in the mid 1980s.
He's worked with the racing greats like Darrell Waltrip, Ned Jarrett, and Buddy Baker as well as some of broadcasting's best like Eli Gold and Mike Joy. To say the least, his mentors and peers have exchanged stories and great ideas that have shaped him into one of the best pit reporters and analysts in the business.
As he is on-camera, Byrnes is very particular to detail and a true, consummate professional. Prepared, diligent, and also hilarious, the longtime reporter/broadcaster is prepared for his 10th season at FOX Sports.
Looking back at his career and toward the future of the sport, I had the chance to interview Byrnes this past week. Learn and get to know about Steve Byrnes, who I found out did not host Blue's Clues (much to the chagrin of my sister).
Rob Tiongson: Hard to believe, but the 2010 NASCAR season marks your 10th season as a member of NASCAR on FOX's crew as a pit reporter. How's it been like to be a part of perhaps, one of the biggest contributors to the sport's bloom in mainstream America over the past nine years?
Steve Byrnes: It’s an honor to be part of the NASCAR on FOX team since 2001. Our boss, David Hill told us in a meeting before our very first Daytona 500 to go out and have fun...a message we took to heart.
He also told us as long as our information is good, we can have fun. He also added, “If your information isn’t good, and you try to have fun, you’ll look foolish.” Mr. Hill has also preached to us to explain the “why” of our sport.
NASCAR can be very technical, and we try to provide something for everyone. I’m lucky to work with people whom I like and respect. I am very blessed to work with friends. As far as announcers go, we are all proud of our product, and work hard to put our show first.
RT: What are, perhaps, your top five most memorable moments so far as a pit reporter for FOX?
SB : In terms of “memorable moments” on FOX, there are many. Anytime I interview a first time winner in victory lane, it’s exciting. The drivers won’t say it, but pulling into victory lane validates their careers.
Couple of races stand out though: Ricky Craven’s battle with Kurt Busch at Darlington, Bobby Hamilton’s caution free win at Talladega, Carl Edwards first career win at Atlanta, battling with Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick’s win at Atlanta in the 29 car after Dale Earnhardt’s passing and Steve Park’s win at Rockingham.
RT: Some old school fans may recall you from your days with TNN and TBS. Did you ever envision that the sport would grow from a sport with cars with chrome bumpers to a sport with the cars utilizing wings and splitters?
SB: My first “gig” in NASCAR was as the producer and co-host of Inside NASCAR back in 1985. I think the next year we moved to TNN, The Nashville Network. I’d be lying if I said I thought the sport would grow to the point it has today, but I felt there was a lot of potential.
I covered the Washington Redskins right out of college, and NASCAR had, and still has many similarities to the NFL, as it was colorful, exciting, intense.
In terms of the cars, and their respective technologies, I truthfully thought they were pretty sophisticated back in 1985.
RT: For some of the B/R Creatures around the world, tell us how you first ventured into the motorsports journalism realm. I understand that you worked for WJLA and WCIV back in the early 80s as a sports reporter.
SB: I got into motorsports in a “backwards” way. I helped produce a Redskins pre-game show right out of college while working at WJLA in Washington D.C. And I fell in love with “long form” magazine television programs.
WJLA owned a station in Charleston, SC (WCIV) and they sent me there to do my on-air “apprenticeship.” I worked as a sports anchor/reporter for two years there and really enjoyed it. A friend of mine in Charlotte called and told me about a NASCAR magazine show starting up and I jumped on it.
Truthfully, I figured I’d spend about two years in that job, but I fell in love with the sport, and the area, and never left.
RT: Having to travel on the road to the first 16 races of the year (14 point races), your colleagues and the drivers/teams become a sort of family for you at each track. Who are some of the people you'd consider as friends at the track?
SB: Traveling is a challenge as I have a wife and a seven year old son. They travel with me some, and we try to take my son to fun places.
Last year, we left for Phoenix early in the week and had fun. Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond and I work together all year long for SPEED calling practices and qualifying shows, and of course “Trackside.” They are great friends. Producers Mark Smith, and Barry Landis are also buddies.
We don’t have a lot of free time to be honest, but I enjoy spending time with John Roberts and the Sadler boys, Hermie and Elliott.
Rutledge Wood is riot and I got to know Kyle Petty last year. Kyle and Rutledge are very funny. Michael Waltrip and I text each other trivia questions and jokes at odd times. DW loves to talk about Kentucky basketball and old races.
RT: Being a pit reporter, you get the opportunity to interview drivers immediately after a race, particularly in Victory Lane. Of all the years you've been covering NASCAR, which driver has the most exciting post-race celebration, or the driver you know is truly relishing their win?
SB: I think interviewing Greg Biffle in Victory Lane at Dover in 2005 was special. He had visited Walter Reed Hospital earlier that week and dedicated the trophy to a soldier who had lost some limbs in battle.
Martin Truex at Dover in 2007 was pretty cool as well. The look on his face was true elation.
I also really enjoyed talking to Tony Stewart in the winner’s circle at Lowe’s Motor Speedway after winning the All-Star race last May, his first win in the Cup series as an owner.
RT: Who were some of your racing idols growing up in Maryland? Were there any local racers or drivers in any touring series that you followed?
SB: Growing up in the D.C. suburbs of Maryland, I was aware of local racers Jack Bland, Reds Cagle, and Dickie Boswell, but my racing hero was Cale Yarborough.
RT: Off the track, what do you enjoy doing most to relax?
SB: Off the track I have a few passions. I love working out at a YMCA near our home. The ex-jock in me won’t go away. I also love to landscape, and have studied a lot about that. I just love getting my hands in the dirt. I also love watching my nephews play baseball and football.
RT: In your opinion, what was the greatest moment of the 2009 season in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series?
SB: In the Sprint Cup, Jimmie Johnson’s pass on Denny Hamlin in the spring Martinsville race. For the Nationwide Series, Carl Edwards' last corner pass of Marcos Ambrose in Montreal. With the Trucks, I'd have to go with Timothy Peters' first win at Martinsville.
RT: For any aspiring journalists who want to get into NASCAR, what advice would you like to give? Any particular "correct" path up the ladder of success?
SB: Career path? First, you’ve got to have a goal and focus on it. Second, raise your hand! Volunteer to do anything that gets you closer to your goal. Third, don’t give up. There is no correct path. You have to dedicate yourself to your own path.
RT: Free Association Time, Steve. Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind when you read the following:
RT: Ideal racing.
SB: Richmond. I want more tracks under a mile.
RT: The best racing facility.
SB: Darlington — I'm old school.
RT: Rain tires.
SB: No thanks.
RT: Favorite music.
SB: Southern rock.
RT: The one thing you would change if you were the President of NASCAR.
SB: Shorten the weekends and award more points for winning.
SB: I know where to go for refuge and safety.
RT: The water gun toy attack on the Hollywood Hotel in 2001.
SB: I was in Nazareth, PA to do play-by-play for the Nationwide race, but I endorse the plot.
RT: The one sporting event you have yet to cover.
SB: The Super Bowl.
SB: Feeling proud of who I work for and with.
RT: As we look into the future of the sport, what changes do you predict will happen with NASCAR?
SB: The future? I’m not Humpy Wheeler. This sport has surpassed my imagination.
RT: Just to be sure for any readers who may be into Blue's Clues, you are not in any way that Steve from the show, right?
SB: When my son was young, I did indeed watch Blue’s Clues, but no, I never hosted the show. I’m into Chowder, Fairly Odd Parents, and SpongeBob now.