NASCAR races at Charlotte, Pocono and Sonoma to serve as qualifying events for renowned hot dog eating contest

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If you’re going to upcoming NASCAR races at Charlotte, Pocono or Sonoma, come hungry and bring your appetite.

The three races will serve as qualifying events for the big daddy of hot dog eating contests, the  July 4 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest at Nathan’s Famous on Brooklyn’s (N.Y.) Coney Island.

The first NASCAR-themed qualifier will be on May 24, the day before the Coca-Cola 600. But instead of taking place at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the event will be part of the Speed Street celebration in downtown Charlotte.

The second NASCAR-themed qualifying event will be at Pocono Raceway on June 7, and the third and final qualifier will be at Sonoma Raceway on the morning of June 22, just a few hours before the start of that day’s scheduled Toyota/SaveMart 350 Sprint Cup race.

“This will be a terrific, entertaining element to add to the NASCAR party this year,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager. “We are excited to bring this to our fans in Northern California and know it will be a great addition to our weekend.”

All told, there are 13 qualifying events for the overall eat-off on July 4. The male and female contestant who eats the most hot dogs at each qualifier will be headed to the Big Apple to be part of the final field for the big contest.

If you think you, your appetite and stomach all have what it takes, go to NathansFamous.com for more information and instructions on how to register.

But be forewarned: the reigning champ is Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., who holds the Nathan’s record of downing 69 hot dogs — yes, you read that right, 69! — and buns, as well, in 10 minutes in last year’s championship event. Chestnut has won the event each of the last seven years.

It’s not like we’re counting, but that translates into nearly seven hot dogs per minute, or one every eight-plus seconds.

Sonya Thomas of Alexandria, Va., won the female class last year, downing 36 3/4 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Those interested in competing in a Nathan’s Famous qualifier should visitwww.nathansfamous.com to obtain information and register. All competitors must be over 18 years of age.

Official Listing of 2014 Nathan’s Famous Qualifiers:

April 26Las Vegas, NV (New York-New York Hotel & Casino)

May 3: Houston, TX (Memorial Mall)

May 17: St. Louis, MO (Busch Stadium)

May 24: Charlotte, NC (Speed Street celebration)

May 31: Bloomingdale, IL (Kmart)

June 1: St. Paul, MN (Dixie’s Stage, 695 Grand Avenue)

June 7: Long Pond, PA (Pocono Raceway)

June 7: Savannah, GA (River Street)

June 15: Queens, NY (Citifield Plaza)

June 21: Boston, MA (Government Center)

June 21: East Rutherford, NJ (State Fair Meadowlands)

June 22: Sonoma, CA (Sonoma Raceway)

June 29: Cleveland, OH (Crocker Park Shopping Center)

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Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato welcomes ‘Baby Borg’ to the family

Photos: Michael L. Leavitt
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Takuma Sato cast a big shadow on the world of IndyCar racing last May when he became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

But there was another shadow of sorts cast along with Sato’s Indy 500 win: he and the prestigious Borg-Warner Trophy, given to each year’s winner of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, are virtually identical in size.

The Trophy is the same height as Sato, 5 feet, 5 ¾ inches tall. And the respective weight of both the Trophy and Sato are the same: approximately 113 pounds.

Try putting that on a mantle in your house.

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

That’s why Sato was so happy to receive the Baby Borg Trophy — a miniature version of the Borg-Warner Trophy — Wednesday night in Detroit. It’s much more manageable for the mantle in his house: 18 inches tall and five pounds.

“It’s such an honor to win the Baby Borg finally, eight months after the race, it’s been an unbelievable journey,” Sato told NBC Sports. “It’s an unbelievable feeling to win the 500 and it has just gone on and on. It’s just a significant moment in my life. It’s been fantastic.

“Right now, I haven’t really decided yet (where he’ll put the coveted Baby Borg). It’s going to my home in Indiana right now. But of course, everybody wants to see it. After that, I haven’t decided, but I’m sure it’ll get a special place.”

Even though the Baby Borg is a pint-sized version of the real trophy that was presented to Sato in victory lane in Indianapolis last May, it also has the same meaning as the big trophy and served to get Sato’s excitement pumping to where he’s already counting down the days to the 2018 Indy 500.

And even more important, it will be the first time he returns to Indianapolis as the defending champion.

“(Winning the 500) has changed my life,” Sato told NBC Sports. “But what I do is exactly the same, to try and be as fast as possible when racing.

“But all the environment, the people, all the cheering and being called an Indy 500 champion, I never imagined how deep and how far it goes, just the power and energy that the Indy 500 had.

“I just never realized how much the tradition and the prestigiousness of it. It’s been fantastic and I’m sure when I go back there to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in four months as the defending champion, it’ll be a whole other dimension. I’m sure it’s going to be a whole lot of pressure, but I’m sure to enjoy the moment.”

Sato, who turns 41 on January 28, will return to the 500 this year, but with a new team. He left Andretti Autosport after last season and returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, for whom he previously raced for in 2012.

Now that he’s won one Indy 500, Sato wants to make it two in a row.

“It’s a huge, another task and a new dream,” he said. “I’m excited for the new season and to go for another 500 (win), it’s another completely new dimension. Like Michael (Andretti, who he drove for last season) said, obviously, we’ll be competing against each other in the new season, but tonight we celebrated together. I think it’s going to be a real good season for me. I’d love to get another win there, of course.”

2018 BorgWarner Baby Borg Presentation to 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and team owner Michael Andretti. 17 January, 2018, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
Michael Andretti celebrates his 5 Indy 500 wins as a team owner, and Takuma Sato celebrates his first Indy 500 win
©2018, Michael L. Levitt

But not if Andretti has anything to say about it.

“He’s not allowed to win again,” Andretti laughed while also speaking to NBC Sports.

Sato enjoyed a victory lap of another sort last month when he accompanied the Borg-Warner Trophy to his native Japan for a two-plus week tour of the nation.

It marked the first time in the Trophy’s 82-year existence that it has ever been outside the U.S.

Everywhere Sato and the Trophy went drew large crowds, from Honda Racing “Thanks Day” at the Twin Rings track at Motegi to a visit to Mount Fuji, a meeting with 850 members of Sato’s fan club, and also included a two-day run in the atrium of Honda’s World Headquarters in Tokyo that had fans lined up for hours to see the Trophy and take photos of it and Sato.

“The reaction was just massive,” Sato said. “For myself, it was a dream come true, but at the same time, for a country with that history, it was an unbelievable moment, particularly the first time when Hiro Matsushita did it (drove in the Indy 500 in the 1990s) so many years ago.

“So many Japanese drivers have tried to win such a historic race, I was just so proud to be part of it. The people were really excited. The passion, I’m really particularly happy to bring it to Japan.

“To go to Japan was a massive commitment by from Borg Warner and Honda. So many Japanese fans were able to see it physically and now they’re really looking forward to this year’s Indy 500 again. It was a great moment to us.”