Despite a downturn that has curbed crowds and concession sales at some NASCAR races, the owner of Lowe's Motor Speedway on Wednesday reported a $7 million profit in the third quarter – a more than $20million swing from a $13.6million loss a year earlier.
Speedway Motorsports, which also owns six other major tracks, also posted $112.3million in revenues, up 29 percent from $87.6 million in the third quarter of 2007.
However, the Concord-based company held more NASCAR races than in the same period a year earlier – thanks to the recently-purchased New Hampshire Motor Speedway – and hosted a National Hot Rod Association event at a new dragway at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
In addition, last year's third-quarter loss included big losses at Motorsports Authentics, a joint merchandising venture with International Speedway Corp.
Adjusting for those factors, Speedway Motorsports' profit for the third quarter is slightly down from a year earlier, company executives said.
Still, revenues are at a record high, executives said, and weaker ticket and merchandise sales have been offset by steady corporate partnerships and more money from TV broadcasts.
“We're pleased that our events continue to please the public,” said Marcus Smith, the company's president and chief operating officer. “More people are consuming motor racing more often than ever before.”
Shares in Speedway Motorsports closed Wednesday at $15.55, up 8 cents or 0.5 percent. The stock has gained 27 percent since last week, but is down nearly 60 percent from a high of $38.44 a year ago.
High gas prices and the overall economic downturn have challenged NASCAR and racing venues this year. At Lowe's Motor Speedway this past spring, crowds were up at the Sprint All-Star Race – a less expensive event that usually draws more local fans – but down for the costlier Coca-Cola 600, which brings people from across the U.S.
Smith – whose father, Bruton, is the chairman and chief executive of Speedway Motorsports – said crowds at most races have been slightly down, but walk-up traffic is up. Bad weather also has hurt attendance at some events, he said.
Sponsorships and luxury suite rentals have remained strong despite belt-tightening by many corporations, Smith said.
With the announcement Wednesday afternoon that Shelby Automobiles will sponsor the March 1 race in Las Vegas, Speedway Motorsports has sold the naming rights for all Sprint Cup races at its venues next year, he said.
Smith expected the level of sponsorships to remain steady into 2009.
“Even in the face of an uncertain economy,” he said, “people are not going to stop advertising.”
Speedway Motorsports is “doing very well in a difficult environment,” said Gene Fox, an owner of the Cardinal Capital Management investment firm, during a conference call the company held Wednesday with analysts, shareholders and the media.
Smith, though, continued to praise the loyalty of fans, noting that campgrounds at some tracks have had waiting lists during race weekends.
Even in the downturn, he said, fans show up “rain or shine, gas prices up or down.”