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Nathan’s Famous to Hold Qualifying Round for Hot Dog-Eating Contest in Front of Boardwalk Location on March 23

Man bites dog — on March 23

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The Fourth of July is coming early this year — for competitive hot dog-eaters at least!

For the first time in history, Nathan’s Famous will hold the initial qualifying round for its summer frank-gobbling contest on March 23 in front of its location on the Coney Island Boardwalk.

Organizers call it a celebration of the People’s Playground’s bottomless appetite for fun — in spite of Hurricane Sandy.

“There is no better way to show our commitment to Coney Island and all its businesses, residents and fans than to kick off the summer season with a great event on the boardwalk,” said Nathan’s prez Wayne Norbitz.

Since 1997, the preliminary competition has gone down at the Brooklyn Bridge section of the New York, New York Hotel in Las Vegas — kicking off a tour of North America’s greatest gullets that includes pit stops in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Calgary, Boston, Miami, St. Paul, and the Meadowlands. But this year, the gluttony will begin and end in Sodom by the Sea — and nobody’s happier about it than George Shea, president of Major League Eating and host of the dog-devouring challenge.

“There is nothing that I like more than hosting the Nathan’s Hot Dog-Eating Contest. It’s all I want to do,” said Shea. “To do it this early, and to do it on the Boardwalk, and to be part of this resurgent Coney Island is extremely exciting.”

Shea said he’s expecting numerous food-cramming fan favorites such as Eater X, Crazy Legs Conti, Badlands Booker, and Michelle Marie Mele to turn out for the event. He also thinks that the Coney starting round could become a new tradition.

“There’s a certain emotional comfort to it, when you start off here and end it here. I could see us doing it again,” said Shea.

The Boardwalk hot dog outpost is due to open March 18, while work continues at the Sandy-swamped flagship store at the corner of Surf and Stillwell avenues. Sources said that the main frankfurter emporium is aiming to open on Memorial Day.

Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest qualifying round at Nathan’s Famous on the Boardwalk [Corner of W. 12th Street and Boardwalk West] March 23, 1 pm.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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