DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In thinking of NASCAR beat writers and analysts names like ESPN's Bob Pockrass, the Daytona Beach News-Journal's Godwin Kelly and the AP's Jenna Fryer come to mind.
Whether doing a feature profile on a driver, reporting on penalties handed out following a race or even daily tweets on any number of subjects, these three come to mind.
On the television side, analysts and reporters like Dr. Jerry Punch, Jaimie Little and even Alan Bestwick who switched to IndyCar Racing with ESPN come to mind.
An analyst who could match wits with the best of the names listed above, was Steve Byrnes, the soft-spoken FOX Sports NASCAR analyst who died Tuesday, April 21, after a courageous fight with cancer. He was 56 years old.
"His level of professionalism was matched only by the warmth he showed everyone he met," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a prepared statement from Daytona Beach. "He battled cancer with tenacity, and was a true inspiration to everyone in the NASCAR family. Simply stated, we'll miss Steve dearly."
Byrnes had been a mainstay with FOX's NASCAR coverage since 2001.
Before that he covered auto racing for CBS, TNN, TBS and The History Channel, dating back to the 1980s.
Pinnacle of Steve Byrnes interviews: Sit-down with late Dale Earnhardt's mom on Richard Childress bringing back No. 3 for grandson-racer Austin Dillon
One of Byrnes' best pre-set interviews was with Dale Earnhardt's moth, Martha Earnhardt. It was a poignant interview with the matriarch of the Earnhardt family done on the eve of last year's Dayton 500.
One of the touchy questions was whether she had an issue with Richard Childress having his grandson, Austin Dillon, assigned the No. 3, the iconic number synonymous with the seven-time NASCAR champion and 1998 Daytona 500 winner.
In just over 4 minutes, Byrnes covered a lot of ground on sensitive topics with her, like seeing the No. 3 back on the track again at Daytona: "I have mixed feelings because I was told I would never see another No. 3 on the race track after Dale died," she said, adding, she understood it was Childress' number when he raced and this was his grandson. But she made a point that she wouldn't be pleased if the paint scheme on the car was black like her son's.
Reflections on Byrnes' passing
NASCAR writer Marty Smith reminisced in a column after Byrnes' death when he he was told the diagnosis after visiting the doctor: It was early August 2013 when Byrnes' doctor called with the news: throat cancer, which had spread to a lymph node. Byrnes wasn't panicked, especially. But his life rushed at him like a freight train, thoughts of and fears for his family, not so much himself.
Smith reflected on how Byrnes felt after the reality of the situation at hand -- cancer. "When you hear that word -- I'm not going to lie -- I had uncomfortable moments," said Byrnes, 54, a veteran Fox Sports motor-sports broadcaster. "'Will I see my son grow up?' He's 11 now. 'What's going to happen to my family?' You think all those deep thoughts that we don't really ever want to deal with."
Goofy & serious sides to Byrnes' on-air persona: Interviewing cardboard cutout to serious chat with ex-crew chief Todd Parrott on his illicit drug use
The cancer had been an ugly turn for Byrnes the past 20 months and casual racing fans might not have even known about it until his passing as he was low key, despite the uncertainty as to when his wife and son would have to go on without him -- never mind the role of broadcaster.
Byrnes, a fixture in NASCAR coverage knew when to be goofy like the time he imitated the schtick of pro wrestler "Nature Boy" Ric Flair as the "stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin' n' dealin' son of a gun!"
Byrnes once interviewed a cutout cardboard of a racing figure. But there was the serious, down to-earth brass tacks interviewer who sat down with former crew chief Todd Parrott about his illicit drug use and how that forced him out of racing.
Byrnes' approach on serious topics like drug use endeared him with fans who appreciated the flashy antics once in a while, but more so for substance of his interviewing.
Perhaps ESPN's Pockrass said it best of Byrnes legacy in the world of motorsports in a tweet: "Best & sad last 20 months. Awesome to see how Steve Byrnes impacted lives, earned love from fans he never even met.