Steve Byrnes lost his long battle with cancer today at the age of 56.
The end came more quickly than any of us had hoped, and certainly more quickly than we were prepared for. Steve was able to watch Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway – an event named in his honor – but took a turn for the worse late yesterday and passed away today with Karen -- his loving wife of 22 years -- and his 12-year old son Bryson at his bedside.
Steve was a frequent guest on our Sirius XM Speedway show for many years, and was gracious enough to co-host the program along with me during Speedweeks 2015 at Daytona. Illness prevented him from traveling to Daytona Beach for the first time in decades, and he was feeling badly about that. We felt bad, as well, and thought we might all feel better by making Steve a part of our program, if only for a day.
Four hours can be a long pull -- even for a healthy host – and by the end of the program, Steve admitted that his backside was beginning to drag.
I assured him that his mere presence was making the show better, whether he had anything to say or not.
In addition to being a top-notch guest, Steve was a good friend. He was the kind of person you put on your short-list; the list of people you knew could count on to brighten every day and never let you down.
There are no words to explain what Steve’s family and many friends are experiencing today. None of us were ready for this. We knew that his cancer was both aggressive and deadly. We knew his treatment protocol was not working as well as he and his doctors had hoped. We knew that he had suffered some serious setbacks in the last couple of weeks; blood clots and a bout with pneumonia that made his future anything but certain.
But we also knew that Steve Byrnes was a fighter. We knew of the amazing support system he had in place -- led by Karen and Bryson, who have been absolute rocks throughout this ordeal -- and hoped against hope that our friend would somehow beat the odds and prevail. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Steve Byrnes was tough, but cancer was tougher.
Back on January 14th of this year, Steve joined us on Sirius XM Speedway to update his condition. We hadn’t heard much from him in the weeks following the news that his cancer had returned, but he spoke eloquently about the important lessons learned from his battle with cancer.
Most of those lessons involved family and friends, the importance of holding loved ones close and treasuring every day we are granted on the planet. Those lessons seem all the more poignant today, now that he’s gone.
Steve’s final public words came Sunday night, when he responded to a fan asking via Twitter if he had watched the rain-delayed Bristol race, in its entirety. His response consisted of only four words, but those four words said all that needed to be said.
“I went the distance,” he wrote.
Yes you did, brother, and you made us all proud. Safe travels, and Godspeed.