CHARLOTTE _ Throughout much of the 2010 season, one of the biggest topics discussed by the media, NASCAR officials and track representatives was lackluster attendance. There were empty seats at Daytona, Talladega, Martinsville and even Bristol – regardless of the quality of racing on the track.

The NFL’s ratings have at times embarrassed NASCAR’s and its attendance numbers are rarely mentioned. The leader in most categories when it comes to American sports, the NFL is often the bar that NASCAR works tirelessly to reach. However, when I attended this weekend’s Carolina Panthers game, the experience simply reinforced my love of NASCAR and showed the NFL is not all it is cracked up to be.

I will make a disclaimer in this article by explaining for non-NFL fans that the Carolina Panthers are arguably the worst team in the league. With a record of 1-11 going into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons – their record was 11-1 – it was pretty much assumed this former NFC South rivalry would be a dud of a game (kind of like a race at Auto Club Speedway, but I digress).

Despite that, and chilly temperatures, my neighbor James and I made the trek to Bank of America Stadium for my first Sunday sporting event since the Chase race at Talladega.

Pulling into the parking lot adjacent to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we shelled out $20 and stopped the car in a sparsely filled lot about three blocks from the stadium. We were by ourselves, and with only a few people around, we decided it would be better to walk around the Hall of Fame.

Unlike attending a NASCAR event, there were only a few people tailgating, drinking beverages of their choice and playing games. We could see four people using a small grill in one corner of the lot and two kids throwing a football in the distance. In fact, people were using the same parking lot for other Uptown Charlotte attractions, not just the game.

Anytime I have attended a race as a fan, or as the journalist I am lucky enough to call myself today, I have always found people more than willing to invite you into their little party for the weekend or just the day. I have always felt a great sense of community and a willingness to give whenever walking through a parking lot of a NASCAR race. Friends and strangers alike talking, laughing, drinking, playing games, arguing their favorite and least favorite drivers. This was absent where we were this past Sunday.

Walking to our seats there was more of a sense of community than we encountered in the parking lot – brought on mostly by the Eagles jersey I had on. However, this was nothing like the experience one has walking around a NASCAR race.

Once we decided to head into the game we could not believe the amount of empty seats around us. The stadium’s seating is listed as 73,778 and the Panthers’ post game report listed Sunday’s ‘paid’ attendance as 71,235. According to that report, there were only 2,543 empty seats – in other terms, 96.5% of the stadium was full. Judging by the picture taken by my neighbor James above, I would say that was a bit of an overstatement. Granted, the NFL takes into account Permanent Seat Licenses (PSLs), which are paid for in advance.

Next came the actual game. Perhaps this is where NASCAR was able to distinguish itself from the NFL. Sitting there, a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I hope for a decent game, but had no dog in the fight – no pun intended.

Sitting in our seats, the facility was top of the line. The seats were well spaced and the view of Uptown Charlotte was amazing. However, unlike a NASCAR race, we were not able to bring in a cooler, nor could James smoke a cigarette anywhere in the facility. While this may be a small bone of contention, I can imagine if a rule like that was implemented at a NASCAR race the number of empty seats would triple.

After the game got underway, it struck me how much down time there was on the field. The old criticism of NASCAR is how boring it is to watch. ‘How can you watch cars go around in circles for hours?’ is something I heard as a kid, and still hear to this day.

Yet, sitting in Bank of America Stadium Sunday afternoon, I found myself wanting more action and less television time outs and pauses. While some may see NASCAR as boring, I find it entirely compelling to watch the non-stop action take place on the track and pit road.

While I may be a bit biased towards NASCAR, and Sunday’s game was admittedly among the worst in the league that day, I still contend that NASCAR is better than the NFL in person. To me, it seems the NFL is a much more television friendly medium, whereas NASCAR is best viewed in person. Perhaps this is one of the reasons there is such a vast difference in ratings numbers between the two sports.

Most may look to the NFL as the epitome of American sports, but I always have and always will prefer watching cars go around in circles.

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