Tag Archives: Steve Byrnes

For Danielle Trotta, dedication and mentors paved way to success

Danielle Trotta is the perfect role model for those trying to get into NASCAR and broadcasting. (Credit: FoxSports.com)
Danielle Trotta is the perfect role model for those trying to get into NASCAR and broadcasting. (Credit: FoxSports.com)

Danielle Trotta never backs down from a challenge.

She is known as the smiling co-host on NASCAR Race Hub, but the Westchester, New York native climbed to the top with determination. She knew early on what she wanted to do and how to achieve it.

“I just got really lucky,” Trotta told Up Top The Pit Box over the phone. “I did TV in high school. [Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana] had a broadcast station, a radio channel, everything. It helped me get a huge leg up because I was doing reports at 16.”

Moving with her family landed her in Charlotte, where she attended college. She obtained a Journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and became a sports intern at WBTV, the local TV station. That’s when it became cutthroat.

Trotta said, “I worked really hard. That was probably the most work I have ever done. I was an editor, a photographer, and I eventually became the weekend reporter. The slot opened up, and I walked into [her boss’s office] and told him I wanted the position. I knew I could do it. He said, ‘But you have no experience.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it for free!’ So he let me do it.”

Three months later, she landed the job—and got paid for it. Those beginning years are where she learned some of the best tips and tricks. “[Being a sports intern and a weekend reporter] really taught me everything I use to this day. It was me and a few interns…you have to learn how to keep it together…and make it all come together.”

She covered various sports—including NASCAR—while at WBTV, and the SPEED channel hired her in 2010. To say she was nervous would be an understatement.

“I didn’t know the intricacies of the sport. Every night, race fans tune in, and they’ve been race fans for 20, 30, 40, 50 years. I felt vulnerable and overwhelmed. I cried in the bathroom during my first week.”

Eventually, Trotta realized “it just takes repetition” and found her place while co-hosting Race Hub. It’s been five years since she joined the program, and she’s happy with her job—but still seeking more. Hosting the pre-race show for the NASCAR XFINITY Series races was the answer.

“It was important to me in 2015 to move up and get into the garage. I had to be where the sport is [to report on it]…this is my dream job, and I’m excited to grow with FOX. I always like to challenge myself—and my bosses—to give me new sports.”

That determination burned within her since the beginning, but it took two special people to help unleash it. One of them was Delano Little, the sports reporter and news anchor at WBTV who acted as her “cheerleader and motivator.”

“[Little] brought me into the business and raised me from a little puppy,” she said with a laugh. “He was the man who helped build that foundation [for my career]. He showed me that, if I wanted to be in this business, I had to really work for it.”

Her other mentor was Steve Byrnes. The two worked together on Race Hub, where her co-host helped her learn about NASCAR.

“[Byrnes] really took me under his wing when he didn’t have to. I was always able to call him and ask about the business and the sport. He taught me that there are always ways to grow and better yourself.”

Byrnes passed away in April 2015 after a long-fought battle with cancer. The entire sport—including Trotta—is still trying to cope with his absence.

“It’s been tough to lose him,” she said, adding, “He was a great dad and husband, and he was always happy to help others. Every time I talk to someone, they mention that Steve helped them with this or taught them that. It really speaks to the kind of person he was.”

That helpfulness is something Trotta tries to carry within herself. Her years of experience provide her with advice worth sharing.

She encourages young people to start early, saying, “I was in TV competitions at 15, where I had to report stories against other high school students. It’s never too early. Go to a college that sets you up for success. It is crucial to get an internship at a TV station. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have that internship [at WBTV].”

Her other tip is to take risks, noting how she got her weekend reporting position at the Charlotte TV station.

“I walked into that office and said, ‘Give me a shot,’ and they did. There were hundreds of audition tapes of people who wanted that job, but I got it. That’s the power of getting your foot in the door.”

With persistence, Trotta worked hard and burst onto the NASCAR scene—and she’s here to stay.

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Steve Byrnes, a grateful heart

Steve Byrnes found the ‘can’ in cancer.

When he underwent his first bout with the disease, the Fox Sports reporter knew he couldn’t back down. He mustered the strength to watch his son Bryson’s football games. He watched funny movies with his wife Karen. He smiled throughout his entire battle, even after it returned.

He refused to let cancer ruin his life.

That’s why losing him hurts so bad.

Early on, Steve gave me advice for my career. He told me to not give up and to swear less. We kept in touch, and I looked at him as the standard. I had the honor of interviewing him last fall on the one-year anniversary of his cancer diagnosis. As we spoke, he talked about his work, health, and family. One major thing became apparent.

He was selfless. All he cared about was how the treatments affected his family. He never complained, and he appreciated every single day.

“It’s about having a grateful heart.”

Those words echo now as I type. Steve was the epitome of a grateful heart, and that was obvious during the past weekend. He reiterated how thankful he was to be in the race name, for the signs, hashtag and opportunity to honor him, Karen, and Bryson.

This humility made him great at his job. Over decades, he acquired credibility and forged relationships with some of the sport’s best racers. It was a different era back then, where reporters and drivers stayed at the same hotel. Friendships were created, and the one he had with Dale Earnhardt Sr. was overwhelmingly genuine. The seven-time champion taught him about life and how to treat people.

“[Earnhardt] treated everyone the same.”

So did Steve.

He was one of the last connections to that era, where he interviewed drivers we now consider legends. That—along with his selflessness and strength—makes him a legend.

The world has lost a remarkable man. I’m grateful we got to know him.

Godspeed, Steve.

One year after cancer diagnosis, Byrnes looks back on life

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(Credit: Fox Sports)

Cancer.

It’s a word that holds a variety of meanings to people across the world. Some associate it with fear, others think of flooding medical bills. When asked what the word ‘cancer’ meant to him, Steve Byrnes’ answer was simple: “Fight.”

Last fall, the host of Race Hub was diagnosed with head and neck cancer that spread to his throat and lymph nodes. It was a day that changed his life –and how he looked at that life—forever.

 

How Byrnes ended up covering NASCAR was a self-described “accident.” After playing football at James Madison University, he transferred to the University of Maryland, majoring in broadcasting. Charleston, South Carolina became his home when he landed a job as a sport anchor. That’s when racing entered the picture.

“One of my friends moved to Charlotte, and he called me, saying they were looking for someone to host a NASCAR program…I got the job and started working at Sunbelt Video in 1995.”

Sunbelt Video, a small company with “not even 10 people there,” went through multiple transitions before settling into its current form as the NASCAR Media Group. Byrnes and that handful of people became the frontrunners for reporting on the series and its personalities.

“Only half the races were televised,” he pointed out. “We were sometimes the only cameras there if TV wasn’t covering the event. It made for connections with drivers. You know, this was the time before motor homes, so a lot of the times, we’d share hotels with the drivers…some of my best conversations came from sitting around the hotel pool with Neil Bonnett and his crew.”

That simpler era led to a unique friendship with one of the sport’s largest personalities, Dale Earnhardt.

Byrnes said, “My relationship with Dale Earnhardt was pretty unusual…it was a much more personal relationship. One time, Dale asked me what kind of VCR to buy…I understood his personality and his friendships. With him, he could wrap his arm around you one day, and the next he wouldn’t even look at you. I accepted him and his personality, and I think that’s what made us close.”

“The thing with Earnhardt was…his big thing with him was respect. In his mind, respect on the racetrack was earned. In life, it was the same way. [Earnhardt] had this big regret about not finishing high school. So, the way he looked at people had nothing to do with education or profession. He treated everyone the same.”

It is advice that Byrnes thinks about every day while doing his job. Being the face of Race Hub isn’t easy work. Juggling that with his new role as a NASCAR Camping World Truck commentator? It’s a trip.

“When Rick [Allen, FS1’s lead NCWTS commentator] left, it was difficult because he was so immersed in the Truck series. He’s a great guy, a good friend of mine, but it just got complicated [for him to balance responsibilities].”

Allen was doing juggling of his own; along with his Fox obligations, he began hosting NASCAR America on NBCSN. Signed on to join their NASCAR on NBC coverage in 2015, it soon turned into a hassle. Byrnes stepped in, splitting the race load with fellow FS1 broadcaster Adam Alexander.

His transition was more about the content than the dynamic. “It was a huge transition in not covering [the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series]. In 1995, I was at the first Truck race at Phoenix. I remember I really enjoyed it, and I was a Truck reporter before I moved to Fox in the late ‘90s. But [being in the booth] requires a different skill set. When you’re doing play-by-play, you see the entire track, the race as a whole. The other thing is that, on Race Hub, the time for each segment is very restrictive. During the race, things are pretty organic.”

It is a role he is thrilled to take on, even after a difficult year.

 

“One day, I was on Race Hub, and one day, I wasn’t.”

Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes requires immediate attention, and that’s what happened; Byrnes took chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. It resulted in his wife, Karen, becoming his caretaker.

Despite the rigorous treatments, his faith never wavered.

“I wasn’t going to let cancer take away my happiness. I went to every one of [his son] Bryson’s football games. It didn’t matter how sick I was, I wanted to be there. There were times me and my wife would just sit on the couch and watch funny movies all day. [Cancer] puts perspective on what is and isn’t important.”

Everything in his career –pit reporting, hosting, things that took over his thoughts constantly—paled in comparison to his family. Out of the bad came something good, and he wants to share that good with other survivors. “I want people to know your biggest resource is people who have fought the same battle. It’s not a death sentence.”

“You have to be grateful for every single day. I felt that way during treatment, and I still feel that way now. It’s about having a grateful heart.”

Steve Byrnes fought hard and came out victorious, returning to TV and taking on an extra broadcasting position. Though it may be overwhelming at times, there’s no doubt that he’s thankful he has the opportunity to take that on.

Cancer. It changed him for the better.