NATHAN’S HOT DOG CONTEST TITLE BELT: A SYMBOL OF PATRIOTISM
It’s an iconic annual scene that has become, in many ways, just as much a part of the celebration of our nation’s independence as fireworks and Uncle Sam. Amid the blistering heat of July 4, on the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues on Coney Island, a champion is crowned. Drenched with water, crumbs, and his own sweat, an elite performer – having just consumed more hot dogs in 10 minutes than any other human on the planet – slings a title belt over his shoulder.
The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is held each year on the Fourth of July and is broadcast nationally on ESPN. The world’s most skilled competitive eaters gather to compete for fame, prize money, and a highly sought-after, mustard yellow belt. In 2020, Joey Chestnut set a
world record when he housed 75 hot dogs and buns, before hoisting the belt in victory. That belt, created by Wildcat Championship Belts, is now an iconic symbol of competitive eating, the Nathan’s contest and, in some ways, even Independence Day itself. It’s essentially the Lombardi Trophy of the competitive eating world.
“Nathan’s was my first really big account,” said Andrew Lazarchik, owner of Wildcat Championship Belts. “We had them as an account even before we had WWE.” Lazarchik founded Wildcat Championship Belts in May 2005. About a year later, he got a call from Ray Kuchinka, a friend who was watching the 2006 installment of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest. At that time, Nathan’s was presenting the champion with a homemade title belt that was essentially a bedazzled weightlifting belt.
“Ray called me and said, ‘I’m watching the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, and the belt they give to the winner, well, you could do something so much better,’” Lazarchik recalled.
As coincidence would have it, Lazarchik was watching the Food Network the very next day when Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs President Wayne Norbitz came on as a guest. That nudged Lazarchik to pursue the idea. He found the company’s address, sent them a letter and some photos of his
work, and offered to create a belt more worthy of a world champion.
Initially, Nathan’s sent Lazarchik a “thanks but no thanks” letter. However, on June 24 of the next year, things changed in a hurry.
“I got a frantic phone call from Major League Eating,” recalled Lazarchik. “The current champion at the time, Takeru Kobayashi, had somehow lost the belt over in Japan. Nathan’s contest was in
less than two weeks, and they didn’t have a belt. They asked me, ‘Can you do something for us
“It was one of those ‘when opportunity knocks’ situations … I said, ‘Yes, I can do that.’ Then I hung up the phone and said to myself, ‘OK, now I have to figure out how to do this.’”
Wildcat Belts worked feverishly and completed the belt by July 2. They had it shipped to New York City in time for the contest, meaning it was a Wildcat Belts’ creation that was awarded to Joey
Chestnut when he won the 2007 championship.
Nathan’s wanted that initial title to look somewhat like their old belt. So Lazarchik crafted it to be the same shape as the previous belt, with one center plate, the MLE logo, the Nathan’s logo, and ‘1916’ engraved in Roman Numerals, commemorating the year the contest started.
Now, Wildcat makes a new belt for the contest every year. In 2010, MLE launched a female division, and Wildcat began creating pink women’s title belts, as well.
In 2016, when Nathan’s Famous celebrated its 100 Year Anniversary, the belt design was upgraded to more of a
traditional title belt style, with four side plates and artwork featuring Uncle Sam holding a hot dog.
Securing Nathan’s as a client was a major break in Wildcat’s emergence. “It’s one of these things where it gave us a lot of credibility,” said Lazarchik. “It wasn’t so much that people would see it on TV and then call me saying they wanted a belt, but when I would call people and tell them ‘we make the belts for the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest,’ and people would say, ‘Oh wow, these guys are legit.’ It took our business to a whole other level.”