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Woody: Flowers, Byrd Will Be Missed

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 22 2010

Jeff Byrd, former president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. He did things the right way. (Photo courtesy of Bristol Motor Speedway)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

They were different in style, personality and disposition, but for decades they shared a common bond in stock car racing.

Retired motorsports writer Jack Flowers died last week at his home near Charlotte, followed by the announcement that Jeff Byrd, president and GM of Bristol Motor Speedway, had lost a lengthy battle with illness.

Both were good friends of mine and as I read accounts of their passing it dawned on me how different they were, yet also how similar.

Flowers was a sports-writing original who believed in getting news in the newspaper. Sometimes he stepped on a toe or two in the process. But there was never any denying his affection for the sport and the people he covered. Even when he grew frail and weak he still made an occasional appearance in a press box. It was his home, and the men and women there were his family.

For some 40 years I spent countless hours with Jack on golf courses and in hospitality rooms around the racing circuit. He took his golf as seriously as his writing, but when the final putt was made and the final story filed, his work hat came off and his party hat went on.

In recent years Jack was forced to steer his ship through some choppy waters, and never once complained. He remained as cheerful in hard times as in good times. Jack Flowers was a trooper.

I hadn’t seen Jeff Byrd for sometime but I’d kept up with his battle through mutual friends. I knew the prognosis was not good.

Before arriving at Bristol, Jeff spent 23 years with the R.J. Reynolds Company and before that he’d been a sports writer. I figure that that’s why he always identified with the media – he was one of us – and he went out of his way to assist us in every way.

During Bristol’s glory years the track didn’t require a lot of publicity – there was a waiting list for tickets. But just because Jeff didn’t need us didn’t mean he ignored us. He could recall a time when newspaper stories were vital to generate interest and bring in fans, and he remained loyal to the media of that era.

If you ever needed anything from Bristol, help was just one Jeff Byrd phone call away.

The same applied to the folks who worked for him. No racetrack ever had a more cooperative, media-friendly staff than Bristol – and still does – and it started at the top.

Most of today’s NASCAR fans don’t know who Jack Flowers and Jeff Byrd were. Jack’s by-line had just about faded from print, and Jeff was a behind-the-scenes executive who allowed others to reap the awards and attention.

But without them and others who shared their dedication, stock car racing wouldn’t have made the giant strides it made during its midlife growth.

I’ll miss them, and so will the sport.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 22 2010
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