Editor in Chief of the Guinness Book of World Records...

Editor in Chief of the Guinness Book of World Records Craig Glenday and Joey Chestnut Credit: Editor in Chief of the Guinness Book of World Records Craig Glenday and Joey Chestnut. (Getty)

The 97th annual Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest kicks off at noon July 4, and as usual, five-time reigning champion Joey Chestnut is the heavy favorite to win.

Chestnut, 27, of San Jose, Calif., set the world record for hot dogs eaten in 10 minutes at 68 in 2009, and unlike the past two years, Chestnut said he'll actually try to break that record when he faces off against about a dozen competitors at Coney Island.

"The last few years I've been kind of lazy," Chestnut told amNewYork. "There were a few years here where nobody was close to me, but it's about time I make a new record," he said, adding that in practices leading up to the contest he's been right around the record.

Chestnut, who chomped down 62 dogs last year, faces stiff competition from the likes of New York City native Tim "Eater X" Janus, Matt "Megatoad" Stonie and Pat "Deep Dish" Bertoletti, who came in second last year.

But absent again this year is Chestnut's most formidable rival, Takeru Kobayashi, the Japanese eating phenom who won the contest every year from 2001 to 2006 until Chestnut dethroned him in 2007 and beat him again the following two years.

As was the case last year and in 2010, Kobayashi won't participate because of a contract dispute with Major League Eating, the primary governing body for competitive eating.

Still, George Shea, a spokesman for MLE, said this year is shaping up to be one of the biggest in the contest's history, and he expects between 30,000 and 40,000 spectators.

"It is more than an eating contest, it really is just an institution," he said. "It is both real and dramatic, but it is also comedic and absurd. There's a balance of those four elements that is always maintained, and that's why people really come."

He added: "It's a very emotionally charged and exciting event."

Drama aside, Chestnut is just ready to eat some hot dogs.

"My stomach's very loose, I feel good," he said. "If my body's working for me, I'm gonna blow 'em away."

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