Saturday, December 8, 2007

Steve Byrnes Answers Your NASCAR TV Questions

A big thank you to Steve Byrnes from NASCAR on Fox and SPEED for taking time out of his busy off-season schedule to answer some questions offered by Daly Planet readers.

Here are the questions, along with his answers. The comments section will also be open for your reaction to this first "Ask a Real TV Person Stuff" feature. Here we go:

Q - Stricklinfan enjoyed the movie "Dale." Are there any other Dale Sr. stories that stick-out in your mind?
A - Dale Sr. was a lot of fun away from the track, but he didn't like to talk about racing and he didn't like to be treated like someone special. I was with him at his hunting lodge in Alabama and I had been dating my wife for about five months. He said, "Byrnes, you love that girl Karen?" I said, "yes, I do." He replied, "marry her and don't mess it up." I took his advice. He was a good man who did not try to hide his imperfections. Thanks for your questions, Stricklinfan, I enjoy thinking about him.

Q - KB wondered what a typical SPEED race weekend is like at a NASCAR track when you have to do all the different shows and things. How do you prepare?
A - KB, time is our enemy in terms of preparation. If I don't come to the track prepared I would be way behind. We have a conference call on Tuesday morning to discuss our show guests, and what kind of footage we want to support our questions or thoughts. The NASCAR PR reps from the teams send out press releases that I read. NASCAR itself also sends out updated stats. I also spend time on the phone calling drivers or crew chiefs to follow-up on something that happened the previous weekend.

I fly in on Thursday afternoon, and head right to the hotel. Friday morning I get to the track by 7AM and set-up at the SPEED Stage. John Roberts and I share an office backstage. We have a NASCAR timing and scoring feed that we use to keep an eye on practice if it is not televised. The Producer of Trackside and NASCAR Live, Mark Smith, brings me formats, promo copy and we go over the formats for the shows. Over the seven years of NASCAR on Fox, I have developed systems and habits to prepare, but I am always tweaking on them and trying to be more efficient. Thanks.

Q - Franna in TX wondered if you could interview any driver, past or present, who would it be?
A - Franna, interesting question. I've been very fortunate because I started as the first Producer and co-host of "Inside NASCAR" back in 1985 with Ned Jarrett. Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison were still active, so I interviewed them and got to know them as people. Junior Johnson was still at the track every week and was a great interview. I've always been fascinated by Fireball Roberts. He passed away in 1965 after a wreck at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Ned Jarrett pulled Fireball from his burning car and nearly saved his life. Fireball was very articulate and charismatic. My second choice would be Curtis Turner. I like the old school guys!

Q - Mike wonders since you have had so many different jobs in NASCAR TV, which one do you like the most?
A - Mike, I've had a lot of different jobs because I'm not great any any one thing. I decided long ago that I would have a longer career if I was just "good" at a lot of different things. I guess my favorite is hosting Trackside. We laugh the entire time, even during commercials. The guests always seem to have fun as well. As Larry McReynolds says, "Nobody can accuse us of taking ourselves too seriously." I hope my bosses don't read this, but its a shame they actually pay me to do's that much fun.

Q - Elena asked what was your biggest on-air NASCAR blooper and can you tell us the story?
A - Elena, I've certainly had my share doing 23 years of live TV in NASCAR. Fortunately, I haven't had any major blunders. This past year, I was hosting NASCAR Live one week. We don't use any scripts or Teleprompter for any of our shows, they are all live. We do use a format, or run-down which provides the order of the show. I was on-camera, completely forgot was what next, and could not find my run-down. The Producer, Mark Smith, recognized my "deer in the headlights" look and said in my ear, "go to Bob Dillner." Needless to say, I was relieved.

Q - Alex wonders as you were growing up, did you always want to be involved in racing? If so, was that as a driver or a TV person?
A - Alex, I grew up in Maryland and my dad was a Federal Government employee who worked in Washington DC. I have very little exposure to racing. I wanted to play for the Washington Redskins and wear number nine like my hero Sonny Jurgensen. My dad did take me to a track in Beltsville, MD where I saw Harry Gant race. Beltsville Speedway is now a shopping mall. I have an uncle in Florida who owned a dirt Late Model car and in the summer of 1979 I lived down there and went racing with him several times. He also took me to the Firecracker 400 in Daytona that summer, which was my first taste of big time stock car racing. When I got into racing back in 1985, I didn't think I would be around it that long...but I never left!

Q - Andy asks the question you must hear all the time. How did Sterling Marlin react the first time he heard your impression of him?
A - Andy, he is a great sport about it. My wife, Karen, is from Nashville and knows Sterling well. She asked him if it bothered him, and he said, "nah, he's pretty damn good!" During a rain delay on Fox one time, he interviewed me as him and vice-versa. He's a funny guy, and I hope he stays around because he is good for the sport.

Q - Jill wonders what you think is the biggest NASCAR story of 2007?
A - Jill, many people think it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving for Hendrick Motorsports. My personal opinion is the Car of Tomorrow. It has had a huge impact on drivers, mechanics, crew chiefs, owners, etc... Quite frankly, it is still a big story.

Q - Like lots of TV viewers, Sophia wonders why you guys on Trackside sit with your backs to the crowd?
A - Sophia, the reason we do that is so the people at home can see the crowd having fun. It is very similar to College Gameday on ESPN. When we faced the crowd when we first started, all anyone could see on TV was the gray background of the SPEED Stage.

Q - Tammy asks who decides which personalities get to be guests on Trackside?
A - As I mentioned earlier, we have a Tuesday conference call where that is a topic. Sometimes, the guests are recent winners but other times they have been booked weeks in advance. The Cup drivers have busy schedules that often require advance booking. We also make suggestions or requests to our Producer Mark Smith who then coordinates all the logistics.

Q - Bill is curious about your typical day when you are working as a pit reporter for NASCAR on Fox. Can you walk us through your day?
A - Bill, the day starts early. All four of us, Matt Yocum, Dick Berggren, Krista Voda and myself arrive even before the NASCAR garage opens at 7AM. Our Pit Producer, Pam Miller, gives us our pit road assignments the night before, so that we can spend the early morning hours in the garage talking to those teams. Usually, the engine tuners crank the motors around 9AM, so we go to our office trailer and have a meeting and start preparing notes and stats for our assigned teams. I like Sunday mornings, it is very hectic at first and then calms down. Each of us also has a Pit Spotter who helps us monitor team radio communications. Walter Cox is the name of my Spotter, he has been with me since 2001 and does a great job.

Q - Jason asks what else would you like to do in broadcasting? What is next for you in your career?
A - I am very fortunate that I currently have many different roles in television. I've been approached about doing a radio talk show and think that would be fun. Matt Yocum really enjoys doing his show on Sirius with Tony Stewart.

Q - Matt wonders if there is a specific TV announcer who motivated you to major in Communications at the University of Maryland and inspired your TV career?
A - There was a sports anchor in Washington, DC named Glenn Brenner who was a lot of fun to watch. When people say to me, "you really seem to enjoy your job," I think of Glenn. Unfortunately, he passed away while he was still in the prime of his career. My first job was at WJLA in Washington, DC. My boss was Tim Brant, who still does college football for ESPN and was an extremely hard worker and very aggressive. I learned many lessons from him as well.

Q - LP would like to know if some of the drivers ever express their opinions, good or bad, about the TV coverage of the sport to you?
A - Yes, LP they do and some are good and some are bad. Sometimes, I ask their opinion about what they like and don't like and sometimes they offer...suggestions. It's all professional. For example, Tony Stewart knows I have a job to do even if he is mad. He has been angry when I've approached him, but I respect him and have never taken his frustration personally. By the way, he is a good man who donates a lot of money to worthy causes.

Q - Lots of viewers asked if you would consider doing another daily NASCAR show like Totally NASCAR?
A - I would love to. Krista Voda and I were just talking about that. I hosted that show for three years and loved it. I actually left after the 2003 season so I could spend more time home with my wife Karen and our baby Bryson. Back then, I was working seven days a week for five months straight and I just decided to slow down some. A lot of the announcers at SPEED have been lobbying to get a daily NASCAR show back on-the-air.

Q - Richard wonders if you have ever been in a passenger car or a race car with Dale Earnhardt Sr?
A - Richard, I was in a passenger car with the Big E on many occasions. My favorite was at the aforementioned hunting lodge in Alabama. We went out around midnight in a Chevy Blazer riding around his property without the headlights on. We were flying through dry creek beds. I was terrified, but could not stop laughing. It's a great memory.

Q - Chris asks what are some of your favorite drivers this season from any type of racing series?
A - Chris, I work with Elliott Sadler and Carl Edwards on SPEED, and they are both terrific men and LOTS of fun. Jimmie Johnson is so humble, and just a regular guy. I knew him when he raced ASA and he hasn't changed a bit. We had Helio Castroneves on Trackside last year and he was hilarious and charming. Casey Mears is quiet but a very good dude. It is hard to pick a favorite. Harvick, Biffle and Junior are all down-to-earth and easy to work with.

One of my all-time favorites was Neil Bonnett. He opened up his home to me years ago for a couple of nights. I produced many of the NASCAR episodes of Neil Bonnett's Winners on the old Nashville Network. We spent a lot of time together, and I miss him very much. I was blessed to work on a project with he and Dale Senior for a year and a half. They were great friends, and fun to be around.

DW was great when he was driving, and he and I worked together on a show for The Family Channel back in 1995. Darrell has a wonderful family. Ned Jarrett and I worked together for six years and you won't meet a finer man. I have absolutely been a lucky man to work with men of such high character.

Q - Ann asks the most popular question. Are you and Larry McReynolds and Jeff Hammond buddies in real life?
A - Ann, I am blessed to have them as good friends. They are more than great teammates to me. We spend a lot of time together and talk about families, kids, business and so much more. When my wife was going through a complicated pregnancy, including eight weeks of bed rest, Larry Mac's wife volunteered to take care of her while I was traveling. While we tease Jeff about being a tough guy, he is one of the kindest men I have ever met. I am proud to call them friends.

Q - One final question from JD in South Florida (just because I can). Can you help us understand the intensity of Larry Mac? He seems to be the best ambassador for NASCAR that the sport has ever had. Fans always ask me what the real Larry Mac is like, can you help us out?
A - JD, Larry Mac is the hardest working guy I have ever met. He is so passionate about the sport, his career, his family, everything. I worry about him sometimes to be honest only because he works so hard. He also participates in many charity events and hosts a golf tournament every year for various causes. On the other hand, Larry has a great sense of humor and a jukebox in his head. He will just start singing everything from Peter Frampton to the Ohio Players to Toby Keith. He is also a huge Atlanta Braves fan and in football pulls for the Carolina Panthers. He does like to smoke the occasional cigar, and it is sometimes with a glass of fancy red wine.

The most impressive thing about Larry Mac is that he calls his wife and kids three times every day and concludes every call with "I love you a lot!"

Once again, we would like to thank Steve for taking the time to answer some questions for The Daly Planet readers. Hopefully, this helped give you a little better insight into Steve as a person, and also answer some of the fundamental TV questions that you have been pondering about how things are done behind-the-scenes in "TV land."

We appreciate everyone who asked a question, and we will be announcing the next TV personality who will participate in our series on Monday, December 10th. As always, we welcome comments from readers. Simply click on the COMMENTS button below, and follow the instructions. Thanks again for taking the time to stop by The Daly Planet.