It’s a quiet summer morning in Coney Island, New York, and in front of a Starbucks about 40 police officers are having a morning briefing before spanning out to try to keep the thousands of visitors to the beach safe. It’s a big day for not only the neighborhood but for the country as it’s the 4th of July, the birthday to The United States. More than 100,000 people are expected to pack it’s streets, boardwalks and sand in a sign that a city that is always on the verge of dying is slowly coming back to life. New York City, which Coney Island is a part of, is ready to unleash its most American ritual, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

A quiet stadium before the madness

Held every year on July 4th, it is normally held on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues, today it is at Maimonides Park, a local baseball stadium. In past years as many as 50,000 would show up to watch the event, but today only about 7,000 would get to see a record smashed, and I got to be one of the lucky ones to see 76 dogs get eaten in 10 minutes.

Eating icon Joey Chesnutt walks into the stadium

The roots to this all-American event are covered in mist and legend. The story goes that on a hot July 4th, four immigrants held a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous stand to see which one of them was the most patriotic. In some telling’s of the story, the winner’s name is Jim Mullen and it is said that the event has happened every year since, except 1941 and 1971. There seems to be no proof that any of this is true and in some early years, there was more than one event every summer. A few years ago it was revealed that the story of it’s start was made up but still, the news will run with the story. Whatever the truth is, the event has grown over the years to become as American as apple pie and baseball.

homemade signs are everywhere, as if this was rock concert

It is the height of the yearly calendar on the competitive eating circuit, and yes that is a thing. People travel in normal years from all over the world to see and take part in the contest. In 2011 women joined ranks when Sonya Thomas ate 40 dogs. In past years men and women battled against each other but now have their own contest. It is shown each year on ESPN, as a “sporting event” somewhere between lawn bowling and marbles.

The hardware that everyone is after

A few interesting notes from over the years, well at least to me they are. In 1967, the contest ran for an hour and a trucker named Walter Paul ate 127 dogs. Which would be about 21 in today’s ten minute time frame. In 1972 there were two events, one on Memorial Day and the second one on Labor Day. In a newspaper story for the 1973 event, it was listed as being the 23rd annual contest, short of the 57 years if the 1916 date was correct.  In early years the time to eat the dogs would run from three and half minutes to 12, with ten the standard since 2008. In 1984, the first non American won when Birgit Felden from West German won. In 1994, the third place was Curtis Silwa, he founded the Guardian Angels in the 70’s, who is running for mayor of New York City as a Repbulician in 2021.

The 2001 event saw the record be smashed by Japanese eating legend, Takeru Kobayashi. In 2000 the record was set at 25, however Kobayashi ended up eating an amazing 50 dogs in 12 minutes. He would go on to win the next 5 years.

The event in a few pictures.

At the Kentucky Derby hats are the thing that it seems everyone has to hear. However those hats are for the snobs of the rich. Any event that lies about how old it is and is about breaking one of the deadly sins needs a hate to go with it. The foam hot dog was the item to wear, and the best part was they were free.

Is there a better way to root for your eating god then with a giant cutout that he himself signed?

I know that the men get all the glory in events like this, and sure they don’t eat as much as the men. However  the women are out there doing things that most men can’t do, no matter how much of a good old boy that you think you are. Above Michelle Lesco shows how she won the title this year and below she shows off the prize. .

I was asked what the experience of the event was like. I kept saying that it was a very American contest, it was washed in America themes and American pride. Like a Trump rally was people’s next step, and it wasn’t at all. This event was not about putting others down or trolling out some of the dumbest lies you have ever heard. No this was pure glory to honor one thing, the hot dog. As the numbers of dogs eaten kept going up, the louder the crowds chanted USA! USA! USA! The wave broke out and at any moment I was ready for a monster truck rally to break out. This wasn’t the celebration of one person who was gonna save us from some made up boogeyman, no this was the crowd all living the dream of New York glory thru the bites of the men and women up on the stage. 7,000 people sounded as loud as 50,000, and all together people yelled for more. People of different classes, races, genders came together. From in state and from out of state they came, by foot, car, train and boat. All to cheer and eat hot dogs. 

Bros drinking beer, cheering on the hero of the day. And yes they came with girlfriends in tow, Also ready to take in the Brooklyn sun.

The winner of the day. The 37 year old native of Vallejo, California is a Construction engineer when not setting records. In 2005, while still a student at San Jose State, gained his first taste of the limelight when he ate 6.3 pounds of deep-fried asparagus in 11.5 minutes. That same year he took part in his first battle at Coney Island and placed in 3rd place. At the Arizona State Fair he set a record for eating 32.5 grilled cheese sandwiches in ten minutes. In 2007 he ate 182 chicken wings at Wing Bowl XV, and no I did not make that event up. In 2008 he ate at the famous Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas and ate a 4.5 ribeye steak, salad, baked potato, shrimp cocktail and roll in under 9 minutes! By the way, this was the record for a man, the overall record is by Molly Schuyler who did it in 4 minutes and 18 seconds!. Now I’m not going to go into every record he has, and it is a lot of them, but he did say something that I found interesting about why he does it, “This sport isn’t about eating. It’s about drive and dedication, and at the end of the day, hot dog eating challenges both my body and my mind.”

Let those golden curls fly!

76 hot dogs down the hatch. Think about what 76 looks like and probably feels like. This is a walking god among us. Too often people get famous for no reason, just a pretty face and no talent. Here is someone who not only does something most people can do, no matter how drunk they are, but does to keep the glory of the mustard belt here in America.

In the end, the crowds lingered to bask in the harsh light of this July day. They poured out into the street and boardwalk, maybe to ride a few rides or to grab a breeze to cool them down after baking in the sun. Or maybe they went home like me, to make sure that it wasn’t all a dream, with the ringing still loud in my ears from all the chanting of,  USA! USA!

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