If you ever find yourself in Charlotte for a Carolina Panthers game, make sure to stop by Pecan Parking Lot B-3, just north of the Bank of America Stadium, for the tailgating experience of a lifetime. There you’ll find Dan Ortel and his Pantherfanz crew, an international cast of hundreds, partying alongside their custom black bus.
As you approach, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the smell of Ortel’s trailer smoker, nicknamed the “Joker Smoker” in memory of late Pantherfanz founder Marc “Joker” Stanton. The Pantherfanz menu varies from game to game, and Ortel’s expertise has landed him an appearance with Bobby Flay on the Food Network for his BBQ pork shoulder, as well as a published hot wings recipe on Delish.com.
Next, you’ll hear the sound of hundreds of partying fans. The number of people is astounding some Sundays—last season, Ortel happily welcomed 250+ Ravens fans to his tailgate for their Week 11 game (pictured above). Plus, the Pantherfanz have a Canadian Chapter—a group of canucks they met years ago who come down every year for golfing and a Panthers game. Ortel, a.k.a. “DJ Dano,” spins tunes for his pre-gamers. One of the most popular moments on gameday is the Panterfanz’ Tailgate Touchdown Competition: Ortel blasts a certain well-known Sir Mixalot track while tailgaters show-off their best touchdown celebrations. The Pantherfanz tailgate is so popular that even team president Danny Morrison stops by before most games to say hello and taste whatever’s on the smoker. And Ortel, ex-navy himself, is always excited by gameday visits from veterans of the Operation Welcome Home program.
By the time you’ve taken in the smells and sounds of the Pantherfanz experience, you’ll arrive to see their Big Black Bus. They acquired a school bus in 2002, cut off the back third of the vehicle to make a tailgating platform, and painted it black with a giant Panthers logo. They added eight blue seats from Veterans Stadium (the Eagles’ former home) in the back. Ironically, the Panthers’ greatest win in team history came against the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game just a year after the Big Black Bus was put into use. The inside of the bus is decorated with countless autographs from Panthers players, cheerleaders and staff.
Pantherfanz were honored earlier this year with a first-place trophy in the Panthers Pride Ride competition at Carolina’s NFL Draft party. How did they friends celebrate? Ortel explained, “We went up on stage and drank beer out [of the trophy cup], kind of like the Stanley Cup, if you will.”
Ortel is also a member of the Pro Football Ultimate Fan Association. “Hate the team, don’t hate the fan,” is Ortel’s favorite tailgating adage. He’s made connections with so many tailgaters of so many different teams over the past decade thanks to his friendly and welcoming Pantherfanz crew. “I can honestly say that I can go to just about any city in the country and someone would share their tailgate, feed me, give me beverages, or let me stay at their house.”