Tough financial news for Speedway Motorsports Inc

For all the talk of recovery in the world of NASCAR, there's still the sobering reality of hard economic news, as we saw this week with the release of the fourth quarter results of Speedway Motorsports (NYSE: TRK).

The news wasn't good. In the fourth quarter, SMI lost $15.2 million, or 36 cents per share, compared to a loss of $4.9 million, or 11 cents per share, in the same quarter of 2008. Revenue dropped from $130.6 million to $90.5 million.

There were, however, extenuating circumstances. One was the change in scheduling of the Atlanta race from October 2008 to September 2009; that pushed the race into the third quarter from the fourth. Also contributing to the bottom-line problems were the huge discounts in tickets to draw fans.

Finally, SMI was forced to take an $18.9 million writedown because of the decline in value of its interest in Motorsports Authentics, the NASCAR souvenir company. Motorsports Authentics' problems are well-documented; the company is on the edge of bankruptcy and owes millions to entities including many NASCAR teams. SMI chief Bruton Smith has called the investment in Motorsports Authentics "the worst decision I have ever made in my business life."

The news is not totally dire, however; the company projects earnings of between $1 and $1.40 on sales of between $500 million and $533 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had higher expectations of the company, projecting profits of $1.44 per share on sales of $536.4 million.

It would be easy -- and wrong -- to project the health of the sport based on a snapshot like this. But what's clear is that NASCAR's recovery will be coming along a bit slower than the economy as a whole.

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