Jeff Byrd had fans' best interest at heart

March, 28, 2012

The moment confirmation came out Wednesday that Bristol Motor Speedway will indeed bow to fans and -- how do you put this? -- re-reconfigure the track, I thought immediately of the best friend NASCAR fans ever had, the late Jeff Byrd.

No one on this planet cared more about you, who pay your hard-earned money for tickets, than he did.

"JayByrd" was the track president who had Bristol redone in 2007. He was the one who took the blame for it, and felt so bad about it, until the day he died in 2010, at age 60, of brain cancer.

I thought of the wee hours in the parking lot at Bristol after the 2008 night race, the first one that laid a blatant egg, on the new surface, widened from the old one.

Byrd drove a golf cart around, stopping at each straggling gaggle of fans and saying, simply, "Y'all, we're sorry."

As he drove toward a group of reporters, I shouted jokingly at him:

"JayByrd! Have you overnighted Carl Edwards his certified check for a million dollars for saving your event?"

Kyle Busch had dominated, leading 415 consecutive laps so smoothly, that David Poole of the Charlotte Observer, also gone now, dubbed the place anew: "Mini-Michigan."

But at the end of the race, Edwards had taken Rowdy out to win, and there had ensued a slamming match on the cool-down lap that -- finally, finally that evening -- satiated that traditionally enormous "Bristol Night Race" crowd.

So, I kidded, had Byrd compensated Edwards?

Byrd got out of his cart, walked over to me, put his head on my shoulder and cried out loud.

He was half-kidding, but half-serious.

"Do you think Carl saved my job?" he said as he mock-sobbed.

Byrd knew that night he'd made a mistake that would be hard to undo. Knowing the man as I had since 1974, I can assure you that he was sorrier for you the fan than for himself, as the BMS president who had to answer to track-owning mogul Bruton Smith.

Byrd's full intentions were to make the racing better for the fans. That you were displeased made him heartsick.

Smith didn't go into details Wednesday about what will be done to the track, whether an attempt will be made to return it exactly to the Bristol many of us thought was the best and most action-packed track on the tour.

The details will come later, but …

"The race fans have spoken," Smith said in a statement.

But Byrd had heard you that hot August night nearly four years ago, and he told you up front that he was sorry.

If he hadn't gotten sick, I suspect he would have moved sooner.

So please don't feel vindictive now that Bristol has yielded.

Just know that your late dear friend meant well by you.



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