“Hopefully the butterflies in my stomach don’t take up too much room,” said Todd Schumacher as he prepared to compete in Sunday’s hot dog eating contest at North Side Summerfest.
Schumacher was one of fifteen entrants — 14 men and a lone woman — who took to the stage for the six-minute challenge, which was emceed by local competitive eating legend Tim “Gravy” Brown; you may recall the nearly eight pounds of ribs he gnawed back in June. The rules: no “reversal of fortune” (think about it) and for every dog consumed competitors also had to swallow the bun, which they were permitted to dunk in nearby pitchers of water. Paramedics were on hand in case of digestive emergency and mothers warned their children away from the front of the stage — what one could gently term the up-chuck zone.
The precautions, mercifully, proved unnecessary, and three hundred-sixty seconds later, Frank Wach of Norwood Park emerged the winner, with 17 hot dogs, and buns, to his credit. The tally bested last year’s first-place finisher by five hot dogs in two fewer minutes. (To compare, the current world record, held by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, is 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes.)
The 58-year-old Wach is an amateur of some repute, keen on proving youth and size are no match for his experience and technique. Separating dog from bun, Wach chewed the meat into little pieces before chasing it with sodden dough.
“I didn’t really train,” said Wach, who downed a breakfast of bagel, cereal and coffee in preparation for the big event. More like he’s been training for the past 30 years: Way back in 1983, Wach peeled and consumed 17 bananas in two minutes. “That was my triumph,” he said.
Truth be told, Wach prefers his hot dogs with all the trimmings, particularly the dogs served up at Pop’s on South Kedzie. Having earned a cool $250 in cash for his efforts at Summerfest, Wach is already eying his next challenge: a pizza eating contest in Burbank. What’s the allure, apart from the grand prize trip to Las Vegas? “Competing with other people, your adrenaline gets going,” he said. “Age is no limit.”