THE SIGN at the ticket booth read "No Racing Today," but the sign lied, as signs so often do. Sure, there was no racing of cars or horses Sunday at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. But there was indeed a race. A race of simultaneously diminutive and grandiose proportions.

It was the summer qualifying round of the 2007 Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals, which would suggest a competition of curious tubular meat vehicles propelled along a course of sesame buns using some sort of internal sauerkraut combustion.

That would be cool too. But no, these were wiener dogs. Actual dogs. You know, dachshunds. Sausage dogs. The canines of comedy. See, wiener dogs are just plain hilarious. They can be doing nothing more than merely being and you can't help but look at them and laugh. Like Tim Conway. Or your paycheck. OK, my paycheck.

And when you put a whole bunch of them together on a 50-foot turf course — a patch of grass marked with ketchup-red and mustard-yellow flags out beyond the landscape exhibit at the fair — "woof!" It's instant laugh-ification.

The competition was fierce. Bad to the rawhide bone. For some, this day would be a tail of triumph. For others, the agony of not knowing where they were going or why they were even there and just happy to get a Snausage at the end.

There were dozens of them. Low to the ground and built for speed. Pounds of puppies. A plethora of pooches, checking in for the race with help from their respective humans, who were much taller and could reach the registration table. As race time approached, 160 wienies had signed up. Nearly double the entries from last year. Organizers were stunned. "I'm stunned," said organizer Barbara Flinn of Wienerschnitzel.

Soon, many contestants had gathered in the sunny staging area. All those cute little hot dogs. Must ... resist ... squirting with giant hose of mustard!

I resisted, as I had neither mustard nor hose. The tension mounted, and so did a couple of wieners, but their humans put a quick stop to that. Some entrants were getting hot under the collar. Some, overconfident, lounged in the shade. Others hydrated. One rolled around on his back.

"That's a tournament-approved stretching move," said Tamara Mello of Pleasant Hill, assistant to her wiener, Old Dan. This would be Dan's second try at a win. "Wiener dogs are fast," Mello said. "They run like gazelles with sawed-off legs. Last year, he ran fast, but sideways into the crowd."

This time, Dan's support crew brought bait. "I'm the bait," said wiener-dog breeder Charliene Smith of Pacheco. "Usually when I see Dan, I'm bringing him girlfriends. So he comes running to me."

I see. So you're the Heidi Fleiss of the wiener-dog community?

"Yes," she boldly admitted. "I am a wiener madam."

By now, the crowd was getting unruly. The race announcer tossed T-shirts and hot-dog-shaped antenna balls into the stands. One man tried to get a chant going: "Start the wieners! Start the wieners!" It didn't work. They wanted those shirts and balls. The desire for swag is great.

Then, with Wienerschnitzel's giant hot-dog mascot looking on, it was time. The plan was to run eight wienies at a time. They would burst through a small yellow chute and dash to their owners at the finish line. That was the plan. I considered calling a bookie. They bet on football, Lindsay Lohan and greyhounds. I say add to the evil! But it was too late.

The announcer shouted, "Get ready. Get set. Go!" They were off! Zero to hilarious in 1.2 seconds. One darted straight to the finish. Others meandered like so many Wrong Way Feldmans. Some made U-turns. One relished the limelight and merely panted at the gallery. Another looked as though he could make use of the landscape exhibit. One never left the gate. One tried to bite the checkered flag. Two stalled mid-track and barked at each other — wiener road rage. The giant hot dog looked frightened.

Granted, there were many distractions. Cheers from the audience. A barrage of squeak toys. Grass tickling their tummies. A giant hot dog.

And that was just the first heat. This canine Keystone Kops routine continued for 19 rounds, plus finals, all with similarly silly results. The winning wiener was a hometown dog, Sammy Davis of Pleasanton, earning $250 and a trip to the finals in December at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

Frankly, I shoulda bet on Sammy. Lucky dog.