If you're a NASCAR fan watching races on TV, you've probably noticed more empty seats than usual, even at traditionally-sold out venues like Bristol, Martinsville and Darlington.

It's no accident. Since 2009, an independent study done by Public Notice with help from Race Fans 4 Freedom says track attendance has dropped below 4 million, and it's happened in correlation with the unemployment rate skyrocketing. While there has been some slippage in the sport, it was still considered very healthy until around 2008-2009.  When the economy began to tank, and the unemployment rates began to climb to record highs, NASCAR attendance and sponsor money dropped.

It used to be you had to be put on a six month to one year waiting list to get Bristol Motor Speedway tickets.  Not anymore.  Same for Martinsville and other legendary tracks.  The study shows a direct correlation between the economic downturn, and the loss of fans and sponsor money for the sport.

NASCAR fans are considered one of the 'best' targets for advertising.  Recent studies show at least 3 out of every 4  fans  make purchases based upon sponsors of their favorite driver.  For example, Mountain Dew has seen--despite the economy--a rise in their consumption of traditional Dew as well as their Amp Energy Drink, because it's all over the 88 car of Dale Earnhardt Jr.   For years, Valvoline made millions off their logo being all over the legendary #6 car of Mark Martin.

But with unemployment high,  stock prices of race teams, race tracks, and sponsors having dropped, and big businesses tightening,  there aren't as many BIG sponsors anymore.  Less money, fewer competitive teams,  fewer tickets sold; and high gas prices have not helped either.

Could the 'NASCAR' economy play a factor in November?  Considering the frosty response received by First Lady Michelle Obama last fall at a race,  could be.     The NASCAR economy trickles down regionally and locally too.   Northwest area race tracks have had to tighten up and really push for fans to stay alive.   A number of them have closed since the boom days of the 90's and early 2000's--including Spanaway near Seattle,  Tri-City Raceway in W. Richland,  Portland Speedway, and Spokane Raceway Park closed before being revived by casino money.

NASCAR fans tend to be politically conservative, even among Southern Democrats, and often vote "with their wallets."  What the long-term effect on the sport, as well as the outcome in November will be, remains to be seen.