NASCAR on FOX anchor Steve Byrnes dies after long bout with cancer

Longtime NASCAR on FOX anchor Steve Byrnes died Tuesday at the age of 56, his family said.

Byrnes had battled head and neck cancer after being diagnosed in September 2014.

A fixture on FOX’s NASCAR broadcasts, Byrnes enjoyed a successful and highly respected television broadcasting career for 30 years. He joined the FOX Sports family in 2001, hosting and reporting for multiple NASCAR programs and serving as a pit road reporter for NASCAR on FOX’s broadcast of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races from 2001-2014. Most recently, he was the play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports 1 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and was co-host of NASCAR Race Hub for the network.

"From the very beginning of NASCAR on FOX, Steve Byrnes was one of the linchpins of the broadcast team. His passion for the sport — his passion for everyone involved with the sport — shone through week in and week out," David Hill, 21st Century FOX senior executive vice president, said in a statement.

As his cancer fight went on, the NASCAR community rallied behind his cause. Last weekend’s Sprint Cup race in Bristol, Tenn., was renamed the Food City 500 in support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer in his honor.

Byrnes did not attend the race, but he watched it on TV and tweeted a response to a fan who asked if he made it through the entire rain-delayed event.

"I went the distance," Byrnes tweeted.

Byrnes was a popular figure at the track, and reaction immediately poured in from the NASCAR community upon news of his death:

Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose late father was a friend of Byrnes, referenced the "love and appreciation" so many felt toward the broadcaster: 

NASCAR chairman Brian France said Byrnes was a "true inspiration."

"His level of professionalism was matched only by the warmth he showed everyone he met," France said in a statement. "He battled cancer with tenacity, and was a true inspiration to everyone in the NASCAR family. Simply stated, we’ll miss Steve dearly. Our thoughts are especially with his wife Karen and son Bryson during this difficult time."

Even President Obama chimed in during Kevin Harvick’s traditional champion’s visit to the White House.

"I want to offer my condolences to everyone in the NASCAR community on the passing of a legendary reporter and broadcaster, Steve Byrnes," Obama said. "I know a lot of fans’ thoughts and prayers today are with his wife, Karen, and his son, Bryson."

In the days leading up to the Bristol race, support for Byrnes was everywhere around the track. Cars bore Byrnes’ name rather than the drivers’, along with a special decal. Several drivers offered their well wishes in a video segment. FOX’s "RaceDay" paid a video tribute to Byrnes as well:

"We lost a beloved member of the FOX Sports family today, and we extend our prayers and deepest sympathies to the Byrnes family," FOX Sports President & COO Eric Shanks said in a statement. "It was an honor over the past year to learn just how much Steve was loved and respected throughout the NASCAR community, which was evident this weekend in Bristol."

Byrnes’ enthusiasm for his work was evident everywhere he went. Legendary driver Richard Petty cited his passion as the thing that "made (Byrnes) stand out as one of the best at what he did."

"He was always humble too, and I never saw him treat anyone unfairly," Petty said. "That’s just how he did his job and lived his life."

Byrnes is survived by his wife of 22 years, Karen Byrnes; son Bryson, 12; parents Jerry and Claire Byrnes of Charlotte; sister Betsy Byrnes of Charlotte; brother Dan Byrnes and wife Tammy of Charlotte; nephews Tyler, 21, and Dylan Byrnes, 17; and niece Samantha Byrnes, 13, of Charlotte.

Byrnes was born April 14, 1959, in Chicago, and was raised in New Carrollton, Md. He was a 1981 graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in Radio, Television and Film, and played football for one year at James Madison University before transferring to the University of Maryland. You can read his family’s announcement here.