Dachshunds: they’re intelligent, athletic and cute as heck running down a pint-sized race course, with short legs churning and ears flapping.
Lovettsville’s annual wiener dog races are a crowd favorite every year at the western Loudoun town’s beloved Oktoberfest celebration. And this year’s competition promises to be even more exciting as a pair of hometown youngsters gear up to take on the three-time reigning champ.
Leesburg-based Kaiser, a gorgeous short-haired 4-year-old, has earned the title of top dog for the past three years thanks to his uncanny ability to focus on the finish line. But this year, he’s getting a challenge from a pair of local favorites: Winslow, a handsome wire-haired 1-year-old with a strong local fan base (and his own line of Team Winslow T-shirts), and an adorable pup named Otto. The three competitors will take on 13 other challengers at the Sept. 23 celebration.
The wiener dog race, launched in 2013, is the brainchild of the festival’s entertainment chairwoman Stephanie Burget, with support from Mayor Bobby Zoldos and Town Council member and Oktoberfest chairman Jim McIntyre. The event draws bigger crowds each year and has gotten so popular the races were moved from the event’s main tent to a special wiener dog stadium, featuring a 40-foot track, built by Zoldos and a team of volunteers.
“I think [the race] is immensely popular partly because our fun Mayor Zoldos and the entire committee have made it a big deal, so the participants and fans alike feel like they’re involved in something special. … But mostly I think people love it because dachshunds run funny,” said Winslow’s owner Ed Felker.
The event, which started out with a handful of local pups four years ago, now features 16 dogs running in two-dog heats using a bracket system. Here’s a glimpse at just a few of the pups vying to be top dog:
Three years ago, Susan and Angelo Stambules of Leesburg happened to read about Lovettsville’s event and decided to enter their 1-year-old pup on a lark.
“We just thought it would be kind of a fun afternoon,” Susan Stambules said. “We really didn’t know what to expect.”
Kaiser, now 4, won his first event and has gone on to win for the past three years, making him the undisputed king of wiener dog racing in Lovettsville—and the pup to beat this year. For Stambules, the key is not his legs but his presence of mind.
“He’s a very, very focused dog,” she said. “A lot of the dogs are very sweet but they sort of look around. … He doesn’t take his eyes off me until the door opens and then he runs as fast as his little feet can carry him.”
Like most of the races, the promise of a treat at the end is key. Stambules’ husband Angelo stays with Kaiser on the release end of the race while Susan holds his beloved stuffed alligator (that’s nearly as big as he is) at the finish line.
“He wants that toy,” Stambules said. “Everything else around him he just zooms out and zooms right in on his little toy.”
But Kaiser’s success hasn’t gone to his head—organizers and fellow competitors say Kaiser and his parents are gracious victors and a great addition to the event—not that a few aren’t itching to see him dethroned.
Lovettsville’s in love with the athletic social media darling Winslow, who lost in the second round last year as an inexperienced five-month old pup. With a year of training under his belt, he’s ready to give it his all, Felker said. Winslow has been doing stairs for cardio and tug of war for strength. For variety, he’s also doing some tracking training and is starting to work on bird hunting to keep him from getting burned out, Felker says.
But for the energetic Winslow, like for so many teen boys, focus is everything.
“We obviously have some work to do between the ears, but he’s training well, staying focused, and we have cut back on his media appearances and other distractions leading up to the race,” said Felker, who’s known for his humorous and entertaining social media posts about Winslow’s regimen.
For Felker, who will be waiting at the finish line for Winslow, success comes down to the following: “20 percent genetics, 20 percent fitness, and 60 percent willingness to absorb an impossibly fevered and overwhelming environment on race day and focus on the prize at the far end of the track, which will be me. You can wave toys and treats all you want, but from 30 feet away they really just need to want to run for you.”
But win or lose, working with Winslow has been a joy, Felker said: “He is genuinely the happiest dog I have ever met in my life. His willingness to explore every challenge I present to him with confidence and enthusiasm, whether it’s practicing obedience, learning a new trick or tracking game in the field, is as endearing a quality in a dog as you’d ever want.”
Erica Reck and her husband Lucas have owned dachshunds for their entire 19 years of marriage, and when the Lovettsville wiener dog races started, they were the proud parents of four dachshunds from the same family (along with four human kiddos). Their older dogs were proud participants in the inaugural Lovettsville race, but when the last dog from that family died in February, they adopted a long-haired German dachshund named Otto. The sweet-faced, sweet dispositioned Otto is a promising racer and was the surprise winner in a friendly exhibition race against Winslow this summer.
Like Felker and Susan Stambules, Erica Reck will be the “catcher” at the finish line, with Otto’s favorite treat—a Kong toy filled with peanut butter.
For Reck, Otto’s youth could be a benefit or a drawback, but she thinks it will be more of an asset: “He’s very agile, he’s very light, he doesn’t have a lot of weight behind him, so he can just fly.”
Whatever the results on race day, spectators are sure to get their fill of thrills, excitement and plenty of adorable dogs.
“Everybody loves their cuteness, their alertness, their perkiness,” Reck said. “But they’re tough little dogs. … They’re incredibly intelligent and very loyal. They follow you around all day long. They’ll go after an intruder in your house even though they are bite sized. The loyalty of the owners is just as strong as the loyalty of the dogs, that’s why people are passionate about their dachshunds.”
Lovettsville Oktoberfest takes place Saturday, Sept. 23 from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. at locations around town. The wiener dog races take place at 5 p.m. near the main tent at 6 E. Pennsylvania Ave. For details and a full schedule including pre-fest and post-fest fun on Friday, Sept. 22 and Sunday, Sept. 24, go to lovettsvilleoktoberfest.com.