NORFOLK — Everybody loves a good contest, and seriously, what’s more entertaining than watching a bunch of people cram hot dogs into their mouths?
Sunday residents of Hampton Roads will have the opportunity to see it happen in person, as a bunch of brave souls do their best to qualify for the 2018 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.
That contest takes place on July 4 at the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand in Coney Island, New York, with as many as 35,000 people expected to be there to watch in person. The finals will also be televised on ESPN.
The local qualifier will begin at 12:15 p.m. on the Main Stage during Harborfest in Town Point Park, near the corner of Main Street and Waterside Drive.
One of the local contestants is 27-year-old Virginia Beach resident Jack Saladino, who always watches the July 4 contest on television with his dad.
“I’m really excited. I’m getting a lot of support from my family and friends, and not in an ironic way,” said Saladino, who began training about three weeks ago after finding out he had been selected. The training routine for eating massive amounts of hot dogs and buns is, he said, a little strange.
“There’s nothing routine about it. I always try to stay in shape, but I have noticed that a lot of the guys who do well aren’t necessarily big heavy dudes.”
Although he declined to share his training secrets, they include expanding stomach capacity, working on the gag reflex, and building jaw muscles. He does the latter by chewing gum hard for about 10 minutes, resting, then doing it again and again over a one hour period of time.
Saladino isn’t in the contest just for the fun of it.
His goal is to win.
“I’m a very competitive person,” said the former high school and college athlete.
While he knows he probably won’t set a world record, he plans to give the contest his best effort.
“I don’t know what the competition will be like, but I have a number (of hot dogs that he hopes to eat) in my head,” he said.
Not all of his training efforts have been enjoyable.
“I ate 1.5 pounds of pasta and then ran four miles. I highly recommend you never do that,” Saladino said.
Registration for the contest closed last week as the number of contestants signed-up had already reached capacity at 11.
“The launch of the annual Nathan’s Famous hot dog-eating contest circuit signals the arrival of summer,” said Scott Harvey, executive vice president of Nathan’s. “Some of the most accomplished eaters in the world will compete at this event, but we also are seeking new talent in Norfolk to represent our nation on the most patriotic day of the year.”
The top male and female finishers in Norfolk will qualify for a spot to compete in the July 4 contest at Coney Island.
Legend has it that Nathan’s first contest took place at his Coney Island stand in 1916, when four immigrants – anxious to prove who was the most patriotic – battled to see who could eat the most hot dogs.
Last year’s winner was Joey Chestnut, who in just 10 minutes consumed 72 hot dogs and buns. Miki Sudo won the ladies title with 41 hot dogs and buns in the same amount of time.
Chestnut holds the world’s record, forcing down 73.5 hot dogs and buns in just 10 minutes.