Dee Martin overcame her shy temperament and landed a trip to the 2012 Nathan’s Famous July 4 International Hot Dog-Eating Contest on Coney Island in Brooklyn after scarfing down 10 hot dogs in 10 minutes at a regional qualifier in Charlotte recently, which marked her second attempt in the competitive eating circuit.
“I was really surprised and excited. I was glad that none of the ranked women eaters came down to compete against me, because then I wouldn’t have had a chance,” Dee said. “There’s six women in the top 50 right now of ranked eaters. They’re very impressive. But they were all competing up north somewhere in other places, so I didn’t have to compete against them.”
Today’s holiday showdown throwdown begins at 11:30 a.m. for the women, followed by the men’s championship at noon. Both dog-devouring dig-ins will air live on ESPN.
Steve “Pie Guy” Martin, a math teacher at Carrollton High School, is the 48th ranked competitive eater in the United States and he’s taken part in contests sponsored by Krystal and Hooters, as well as doing the Nathan’s qualifiers every year. But he’s never made it to the big show, so he is ultra excited that his wife has the opportunity to take center stage at Coney Island today.
“I got into it with the Krystal’s thing and it was just for fun. The kids got a kick out of it at school. I’d go to qualifiers and never could get to the big thing. But I did Krystal’s every year that they had it, then I did Nathan’s and then Hooters started having a wing-eating championship this year. You just can’t beat it,” Steve said.
Steve actually had to talk his wife into competing last year when the regional qualifier was held in Newnan, where she ate nine dogs in her first attempt and fell just short of earning a trip to Coney Island.
“I did really good for the first time, but not quite good enough to get to Coney. So this year we decided we would travel and go to Charlotte and compete again hoping that I could make it and I was fortunate enough to make it up to Coney,” Dee said.
On her second go-around, Dee upped her total to 10 dogs this year, which captured first place in Charlotte and has her en route for Brooklyn with some of the big names of the industry, including defending men’s champion Joey Chestnut and women’s reigning title-holder, Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas.
Thomas, who weighs just 100 pounds, inhaled 40 hot dogs last year in the first-ever women’s championship, while Chestnut, the five-time reigning men’s champion, wolfed down 68 dogs last year.
There will be 30 competitors in all today — 15 men and 15 women — and first place in each division wins $20,000. Coney Island is expected to draw a crowd of 40,000 spectators to enjoy the annual holiday feeding festivities.
“Coney Island has not been this hot since lines formed around the block to enter the Steeplechase,” said Major League Eating Chairman George Shea on the Nathan’s web site. “It appears that we are entering another golden age for Coney Island.”
Dee is hopeful of making a good showing today, but she understands she is the underdog — no pun intended — as the fresh-faced newcomer on the national scene.
“They have good prize money up there. Fifth place will get you $1,000. That will be probably just out of my reach, though. Like I said, there’s six ranked women eaters that will be there that can eat like 17 and up,” Dee said.
Of course, every eater has his or her strategic approach when it comes to getting down as many dogs as possible, and Dee has developed her own M.O. during the past year.
“Oh, yes. There’s got to be strategy. You can’t just go up. You’ve got to separate the dogs from the buns. I dunk the buns in chicken broth instead of water. They’ll give you water, but it’s hard to take a soggy bun without any kind of flavor,” Dee said.
Dee admits being a little nervous competing at Coney Island on national television — especially given her introverted personality. But having done it twice now, it’s helped her come out of her shell a little bit.
“It’s a lot of energy. Just the anxiety of going up there ready to eat. But when it’s eating time, you’ve just got to stay focused and do what you can. The next thing you know, that 10 minutes is up and you are full,” Dee said.
The Martin’s two daughters — Kaydee, 8, and Autumn, 6 — have also enjoyed mom’s new-found fame and are looking forward to watching her on TV today.
“Oh, they’re super excited. They can’t wait to see it,” Dee laughed. “They’re really excited.”
Steve said it was fun for the entire family to watch his wife win in Charlotte, but especially for the girls.
“They got to go watch and holler when mommy’s up there. They were just out of their minds excited that mommy won because we knew she was going to Coney Island to be on ESPN,” Steve said.
And as Dee looks to pull off the holiday upset today, her family is both excited and proud to see her soak up — and choke down — some Americana all in the festive spirit of the Fourth of July.
“This is super-awesome. In case you can’t tell, this is not easy for her. She’s the introvert. I, myself, am not. It’s just very out of character for her. So we’re just really excited,” Steve said.