Having left home at 7:20 a.m. last Sunday to make it to Sonoma Raceway in time for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, I made my way to the “Winner’s Circle” contest area and sat in the hot sun for more than an hour to report on its happenings. The Sonoma Raceway contest was an elimination heat, the winners of which go to Coney Island to compete against world champion hot dog downers Joey Chestnut and Miki Sudo.

Chestnut was at the contest Sunday as a “judge,” but really just brought star attraction. I asked him if he is making a living as a hot dogger and he said yes, and thought it was funny because he graduated from San Jose State with a degree in civil engineering and is clearly riding this big wave.

Joey told me he got into the hot dog eating biz because his little brother egged him on saying, “I could eat more than anyone.” When I asked what happens to the hot dogs and buns he consumes, without getting too graphic, he said it takes about three days for him to digest them, then he does a cleanse for several days that includes lemon grass, “pure liquids,” and lots of water.

I sat next to a woman on the front row bleacher whose husband was competing, and they actually follow eating contests around the country. Her husband, a big bearded guy competing Sunday, was among those competitors who looked as if they were either going to barf or pass out, or both.

Brian Dudzinski won the men’s division by downing 21.5 hot dogs and buns, after dipping them into a liquid he brought to the stage and finishing mid hot dog when time was up. Lesley Ryder, the only woman entry who thereby became the women’s winner with eight hot dogs, will go to the nationals in Coney Island to compete with last year’s champion Miki Sudo of Las Vegas, who last year ate 40 dogs in the specified 10 minutes.

Gross.

Bottom line, this is a pretty strange promotion for Nathan’s Hot Dogs, and definitely a “first world” sport of abundance with a loud and energetic British announcer/barker. Pass the mustard.