Stock tips and quips at high speed

Jim Cramer, TV host and stock adviser to the masses, came to race week Friday, dropping in on a sport as loud and high-speed as he is.

Cramer taped a TV special for NBC, called “The American Dream with Jim Cramer,” at Lowe's Motor Speedway. More than 150 Charlotte-area residents – some NASCAR fans, all Cramer enthusiasts – showed up to hear him talk finance with them and with hot-shot drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.

He talked about a range of investment sectors: housing (it will come back), race cars (Speedway Motorsports got Kentucky Speedway for a song) and oil (“The only way you can get your revenge is to own the companies who do the drilling”).

Sleeves rolled up in trademark fashion, Cramer talked about the economic downturn in a makeshift studio beside the track. “It's a difficult time in this country; I know it is,” he told the audience, who chanted his name and did the wave just before he appeared. “The thing not to do is to give up.”

Cramer, 53, is host of CNBC's nightly “Mad Money with Jim Cramer,” where he advises viewers on investments while rarely speaking below a yell. His fans, Cramericans, are mostly individual investors who love his in-your-face enthusiasm, his gazillion props, and his killer sound effects: “train wreck,” “headchop,” “hogs,” “hallelujah” or “man out window,” depending on his opinion of a stock. He shows up as himself in the just-released movie, “Iron Man.”

“You wouldn't normally watch a show about stocks,” said Tina Laminack, 36 and a technology manager from Huntersville. “But he makes it fun.” For Friday's taping, she brought a poster that read “Am I Diversified?” – a reference to a “Mad Money” segment where Cramer reviews viewers' portfolios.

Her husband, Mark, likes how Cramer draws attention to unconventional investment sectors. “Who would have thought of aerospace and agriculture?” he said.

Cramer, Harvard-educated and a former hedge fund manager, is relentlessly quotable and unfailingly blunt, recently calling himself “the most rapacious capitalist that's ever lived,” and constantly reminding viewers that “I'm about making money, not about making friends.” In a report this week, he said Wachovia Corp.'s stock isn't worth owning “unless this management vanishes from the face of the banking earth.”

Cramer's fans say they appreciate his honesty and the way he owns up to mistakes. Patrick McNulty wishes “Mad Money” had been around when he bought into the tech bubble. “I lost a lot of money in that, because no one told me when to get out,” said the 51-year-old McNulty, who owns Pat's Custom Carpentry in Charlotte.

“He's helping us little guys,” McNulty added.

Fans also like how he explains the methodology for choosing stocks, rather than just telling them which stocks to buy. He constantly reminds viewers to put time and brainpower into choosing stocks: Listen to the investor conference calls, he says. Read the quarterly reports. “It's buy and homework, not buy and hold,” he said Friday.

Ashley Leake and his wife, Rene, opened an E-Trade account after picking up those tips from Cramer. “That's done better than our retirement accounts,” said Ashley Leake, a 31-year-old chemist. The company reports they read, he said, “are so dry and boring.

“But if you're serious, you have to do it.”

The show taped Friday, “The American Dream with Jim Cramer,” is scheduled to air this summer on NBC. It's the first of several planned specials where Cramer will travel to different cities. The speedway, he said, is a good backdrop for talking about stocks, since there are brand names of public companies everywhere.

The first time Cramer mentioned on “Mad Money” that he'd be going to NASCAR, he got 400 e-mails of support, according to a news release. In one e-mail, a fan wrote, “Racing and the stock market are like a game of chess at 200mph.”