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Plus: Lockwood on Carter on Bush

Fans of drag racing might want to keep an eye out for “Pipes,” an Arkansas-produced, nationally aired show now playing on ESPN2 at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays and 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

Created by Little Rock’s JM Associates — which produces a number of fishing-themed shows for ESPN, including “The Fishin’ Hole,” the network’s longest-running show other than “SportsCenter” — “Pipes” is hosted by KATV Channel 7’s Joan Early and top-fuel racer Matt Hartford.

The show features 12 three-man teams — many of them from Central Arkansas — going for broke in bracket-style competition. To keep things interesting, teams are given money for parts before each round — $1,500 the first round, $3,500 the second and $5,000 the third — and a short time frame to install those parts. Before the parts are installed, each team makes a baseline run to determine how fast their car is. The goal is to have the most-improved time in the quarter mile after each round of parts installation. The garage portion of the show is shot in Little Rock, while the racing is filmed at Centerville Drag Strip near Russellville.

With a grand prize of $40,000 in cash, tools and other prizes at stake, the action — both on and off the track — is fast and furious. Bryan Lin knows firsthand. In the latest episode of “Pipes,” he and two of his buddies fielded a 2006 Nissan 350Z under the flag of his speed shop, Motorsports Authority in Conway.

Though Lin and his crew bought a racing clutch with their second-round dough, the clock ran out before they could install it. They were eliminated in the second round.

Lin said that though teams can eventually add everything from nitrous to turbos to their cars, the show’s “most improved time” stipulation keeps everyone honest.

“The goal is not to have a crazy souped-up vehicle to begin with,” Lin said. “The goal is to improve the most per round. If you improve too much per round, you eliminate yourself for the next round.”

The show debuted on March 31, so it’s getting down to the nitty-gritty. For more information, check out the website at www.pipestv.com.

A call to Frank Lockwood, religion page editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, finds a good bit of behind-the-scenes insight on his recent scoop featuring Jimmy Carter’s none-too-complimentary views on George W. Bush. In Lockwood’s interview with Carter, an account of which first appeared in the D-G on May 19, Carter calls the Bush administration “the worst in history” — a presidency that had led to an “overt reversal of America’s basic values.” (Carter has since called his remarks “careless or misinterpreted,” leading the D-G to print a transcript pf that part of the interview.) Chock full of similar bombshells, the story soon landed on the international wires, where it was picked up by newspapers and websites around the world.

Lockwood said his call to the former president was set up by the publisher of a new audio book series featuring Sunday school lessons recorded at Carter’s church in Plains, Ga. Lockwood said that soon after the interview began, Carter brought up the Iraq war. Sensing that the normally reserved 39th president was willing to talk politics, Lockwood moved up a query he had been saving for the end of his interview: How does George W. Bush compare to Richard Nixon?

Carter’s television must have been stuck on Fox News that day, because the question led to a series of amazingly candid responses by Carter, a “very surprised” reporter, and a story that was so sure to hit the big time that D-G editors dusted off a copyright tag for the byline (something deputy editor Frank Fellone said he can’t recall being done since the editorial reign of John Robert Starr).

Even for a veteran Washington correspondent and statehouse reporter like Lockwood, the national and international attention has been amazing.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever made Al Jazeera,” Lockwood said, laughing.

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