June 29, 1998 12:00 PM

And they’re off—eight of the-fleetest dachshunds on the West Coast, scuttling toward a finish line 50 yards away, owners whooping, whistling and brandishing chew toys. Joey, the Anaheim entrant, loses interest and stops running. Local favorite Spike, a miniature who placed second the last two years, surges to victory. “Top dog!” exults owner Mitchell Christensen, 14.

At the racetrack in Los Alamitos, Calif., the dogs, for once, are having their day—well, actually their evening—in the third annual Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals. Sponsored by a fast-food chain, the charity event on May 30 drew more than 8,000 railbirds to the track, where, over a period of two hours, the original field of 64 was whittled down to eight finalists.

Originally bred in Germany to hunt badgers, dachshunds, like Volkswagens, are rarely taken for greyhounds. Still, the event gets hundreds of applications. The field is chosen based on the cleverness of the owner’s letter. “We didn’t care if they were fast,” says Orlando Gutierrez, publicity director for Los Alamitos racetrack, which usually hosts quarter horses. “Some doggies got in because their owners told me how slow they were.”

For 5-year-old Spike, glory was fleeting. Soon after his victory, he competed in the Champion of Champions race against previous winners. Game but exhausted from his earlier efforts, he finished dead last behind Baron, last year’s champ, and Pea-Nut, who won in 1996. Not that it mattered. “You’re a good dog, Spikey,” cooed Sandy Christensen, 44, Mitchell’s mother, adding, “He doesn’t know he didn’t win it—and I’ll never tell him.”

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