By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
BUDA – As time goes by, the Buda wiener dog races become less of a novelty. Yet, the event grows bigger and bigger.
While official figures from the weekend event weren’t immediately available, the anecdotal evidence suggests that this year’s event smashed previous records at City Park Saturday and Sunday. Downtown visitors reported thick volume, especially on Saturday.
Buda Fire Chief Clay Huckaby, cautioning that the true numbers are unknown, said the 11th annual races drew 15,000 to 20,000 on Saturday and 4,000 to 5,000 on Sunday. Typically, the Sunday crowds are much lighter as dogs are eliminated from the races.
“I think the rain (Sunday morning) hurt them a little,” Huckaby said.
One race volunteer said an ATM machine dispensed more cash this year on Saturday this year than for the whole weekend last year. A group of senior citizen women set up an iced tea concession, figuring they would just have a nice time a raise a little money. They ended up working, selling about 1,000 glasses of iced tea on Saturday.
Race officials said the event accommodated 187 merchant booths, 18 food booths and 59 entrants in a barbeque and chili cook-off. Crowds stayed thick through the dance and fireworks show on Saturday night.
By 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the concessions were all but packed up as vendors already had made plenty of money and a Sunday morning rain left puddles on the ground.
But the deciding races had yet to be run and it was down to the hard core spectators, the fastest dogs and their handlers.
“It gets serious on the second day,” said David Cardeil of Austin, who owns four-year-old Tyson.
In the end, the championship went to Tyson, who just missed winning each of the previous two years. In both of those races, Tyson finished second to Copper, who won five straight races. When Copper’s owner, Brian Shocklee of Georgetown, announced the dog’s retirement last year, Tyron became the early favorite in this year’s race.
However, it wasn’t that easy. Tyson actually finished second in his semifinal heat this year to Willie, owned by Jamie Flores of San Antonio. The pressure was on.
“I think the owners and handlers are more nervous than the hounds,” said Cardeil, who works in the marketing department at Hoovers, a publication that profiles businesses.
So, Cardeil changed out his lure toy, as is his custom, picking a yellow squeaky ball over a blue squeaky ball. And Tyson covered the 70-foot course in a hurry, running toward Cardeil, who encouraged him at the finish line with the yellow ball. Tyson beat out runner-up Willie and the third-place dog, Ullie, owned by Joy Brown of Austin.
“It feels good to break that barrier,” Cardeil said.
Cardeil has owned dachshunds all his life and never saw one who likes to run with Tyson’s enthusiasm. Cardeil noticed Tyson’s prowess when he was just a pup. One day, Cardeil noticed an ad somewhere saying they run wiener dog races in Austin, so he gave it a try.
In past years, Cardeil went so far as to rig a sponsorship deal with Tyson Foods, the company that makes frozen chicken. The company would pay the race entry fee and provide Cardeil with tee shirts. This year, Cardeil said he simply forgot to call the company, so Tyson ran without sponsorship.
But Tyson also won the race this year. Cardeil figured it had to happen some time.
“We have a field next to our house and he runs distances a lot longer than this like nothing,” Cardeil said. “This year, we even trained running uphill. And he swims. If you get him near a pond or a lake, he’s in there.”
Naturally, Cardeil plans to bring Tyson back next year.
“We have to defend that title,” Cardeil said.