Note To A Friend: Wood Wishes Byrnes A Speedy Recovery
When you have a friend who is sick, it tends to make you slow down and think of all the great times you've spent together. I've been thinking over and over in my head how I could express the love and appreciation I have for my friend, so I decided to just sit down and type it out.
I met Steve Byrnes on my very first day of work with the SPEED Channel in February 2005. I had been hired just weeks before as the DJ and emcee for the Stage that travels with NASCAR and is a mainstay for fans. Steve greets almost everyone the same way: a handshake, a smile and sincerity. He wanted to know who I was, where I was from and what I was going to be doing alongside him. I answered all of those as best as I could and went about my duties.
I would be announcing Steve and all of our other talent on Stage before the shows. During commercials, I would play music and try to pump up the crowd before we went back to taping. I noticed instantly how many fans loved Steve and realized that he was a huge part of this new job to me, so I decided to start asking questions.
Every day I would go in with a couple of questions for Steve. Sometimes the questions were about him, some were about NASCAR, and some were about absolutely nothing at all. I just wanted to be around someone who was so good at their job and so comfortable with who they were.
I took the job with SPEED through another marketing company for one reason and one reason alone: To work as hard as I could to try and get myself on TV. What was I going to talk about on TV? I had no clue, but I had the determination to at least give it a real shot. Steve had once been in my shoes with a dream in his head and the drive to try and make it a reality.
I listened intently to all his answers. I would go back to doing my job with all of his words floating around in my head. Sometimes I would find myself replaying the conversations to my wife so that she could help me think of follow-up questions to the things I hadn't thought to ask him. What I remember so clearly about that time nine years ago is that Steve always made time for me. I was never bothering him at all with my curiosity. He told me stories about how he started working in TV, the trials and tribulations of changing networks and the constant changing of bosses in the TV world. He always spoke to me about passion and finding the side of anything that I could talk about and show that I cared.
Sometimes we'd talk about his family, which was always his favorite topic. He would light up when he'd talk about his wife, Karen, and their son, Bryson. He would talk of all the cool things she was able to accomplish in the sport. Knowing that they met through work always seemed so right to me. When I met them for the first time, it really completed who Steve is to me, even to this day -- hardworking, honest man who loves NASCAR and loves his family more than anything.
As time went on, I realized that Steve was more to me than just my friend. Whether he knew it or not, he had become my mentor. Someone that I trusted with all my questions and I knew would always give me the best advice I could get, and even have the care to be honest with me if he had to tell me something that wasn't the most pleasant thing to hear.
We all have good days and bad days, but what I learned watching Steve at the Stage all those years is that we're blessed in this industry to do something that not everyone gets the opportunity to do. So even if you're tired, worn out or upset, remember that and show people you love this job every time that light on the camera goes on and every time a fan sticks their hand out to say hello. I never saw Steve get snarky like so many insecure TV on-air people can be. I never saw him try to tear other people down like so many of those same people did. What I saw was a guy that no matter what was going on, he'd put a smile on his face and do what he was so good at, which was being a man who loved what he was doing.
When I first got a chance to be on TV for SPEED, after I told my wife and my family, Steve was the first person I wanted to share that news with. He was so genuinely proud of me and I think he knew in his heart that I wouldn't waste the opportunity. Every time I was on Trackside Live with Steve, he was cheery and positive, and in my heart, I always felt how big that visual seal of approval was. With Steve ushering me into this amazing sport and its devoted fans, it made me feel like I could do anything as long as I was myself and loved what I was doing.
As the years have rolled on, I've still asked Byrnesy tons of questions. We always talk about our families and what they're doing, and trying to juggle our time between family and career. I remember vividly when I first heard Steve was going to come off the traveling sideshow that was NASCAR and focus on hosting NASCAR Race Hub full time. I was so completely excited for him to get the chance to be home more and to continue to do what he loves so much. But on the other hand, I was really sad that I wouldn't get to spend time with the guy who I felt like made the difference between me making it on TV or not. And surprise, Steve made Race Hub a great show that people watch to see his love of and perspective on this sport.
Steve Byrnes is a Terp. He's not just any Terp though, he's a fighting Terp. And right now, he's got a big fight ahead of him. But just like every other obstacle that's come before him, I know that he's going to march right through it with grace and charm, and the biggest calf muscles I've ever seen (if you've ever seen him in his early-morning gym shorts, this makes a lot more sense).
Too many times in this life, we miss the opportunity to tell the people we care about just how much they mean to us, so I wanted to do that right now. Steve, I love you. You're a great man and a great friend. You've helped me so much on so many occasions, without wondering how that might benefit you. Not only do I admire the man you are and your work ethic on-air, but I respect and love the man that you are away from work, too. I can never tell you "thank you enough" for what you've done for me and what it has meant to me and my family, but I'll do my best to try. I love you.
Now, kick this thing's ass and get back to work soon because in the end, anyone that's been "filling in" for you can never truly "fill in" for the wonderful Steve Byrnes. To quote one of your favorite movies, O Brother Where Art Thou, you, my friend, are "Bonafide."
"He's a suitor!"