After Joey Chestnut ate 66 hot dogs in Coney Island, N.Y., on the Fourth of July, his life changed. He already was well known in the competitive eating world. But by upsetting Kobayashi on national TV in a duel that reminded some of Ali-Frazier and others of Flair-Steamboat and others of Woods-Mickelson and others of Chevy-Ford, he attained a new level of fame.
Reporters sought him, talk radio shows sought him, CNN found him and so did New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Almost everybody I know watched.
He rarely gets recognized on the street, but he is recognized in restaurants. When people think about eating, they think about him.
What’s the appeal of your sport? (And, yes, it is a sport.)
"It’s a natural competition," Chestnut says Tuesday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. "Everybody loves to eat. And everybody tries to eat more than the other guy. It’s wholesome. Nobody’s trying to hurt each other, there’s not name-calling."
To be the best in the world is, I think, an amazing thing. At what activity are you, the reader, the best in the world? Have you ever met anybody who was the best in the world at a particular endeavor?
How odd and how cool would it be to know that you, and not somebody from New York, North Dakota, Japan, Germany, Australia or West Virginia, is No. 1?
"It’s great," Chestnut says. "As weird as it is, people can acknowledge it. Every time I go to a contest, I look at every eater and they all know that if I’m eating hard I’m going to beat them."
Chestnut, 23, was in town to promote the new all-you-can-eat grandstand at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He competed at the track in a Vienna sausage eating competition when he was a rookie. He ate 4.8 pounds and finished fourth.
Don’t typecast him. His skills transcend hot dogs. He has eaten 182 wings in 30 minutes and drank a gallon of milk in 41 seconds. A civil engineering student at San Jose St., he figures he has eight to nine years to successfully compete.
Chestnut flew back to California Tuesday afternoon. If he had stayed, and if I offered to buy him dinner at any restaurant in town, what kind of cuisine would he have chosen?
He thinks for a few seconds and says, "Barbecue."
Man, you came to the right town. And I know the right place.