ST. LOUIS (May 4) — A few years ago, NHRA officials expanded the timing system to a fourth decimal point so that races decided by less than one thousandth of a second would have a definitive winner. On Sunday afternoon at Gateway International Raceway, reigning series champion Jeg Coughlin Jr. and veteran Kurt Johnson almost needed another digit to decide who won their head-to-head race as their quarter-mile contest came down to one-10 thousandths of a second (.0001 seconds).

The almost imperceptible amount of time made the quarterfinal race, which favored Johnson, the closest drag race of the entire season in all four professional classes. In fact, Johnson’s winning 6.620 at 209.33 mph shows up dead-even on video footage against Coughlin’s 6.623 at 208.01 mph because Coughlin had a slight .011- to .014-second advantage at the starting line. It was a statistical tie.

“We were welded together out there and I thought I’d edged him right at the stripe,” Coughlin said. “Then I glanced over and my win light wasn’t on so I realized he’d taken the win. Holy mackerel that was close. That was a thrill no matter who won.

“Naturally, we wish we’d have gotten the win but I just don’t know how you can be upset with the effort of this Chevrolet Cobalt or my race team. We’ve got a great car right now and we came as close as you can get to taking the win that round. It just wasn’t our day. I’d imagine that race will be the closest of the year, even 17 events from now when it’s all said and done.”

A 52-time national event winner, Coughlin opened with a steady win over two-time champion Jim Yates. Coughlin left first — .032 to .041 — and never trailed, winning with a 6.619 at 208.01 mph to Yates’ 6.623 at 206.57 mph.

“You have to go rounds every weekend to keep pace so at least we got another round win under our belts,” Coughlin said. “We’ve got a weekend off now for Mother’s Day so we’ll use it to perform some maintenance on the racecar and get ready for Bristol. That’s one of my favorite racetracks in the world so I’m already excited about the event.”

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